Latino Childhood Development Research: Strategy—School Readiness


frustrated stress anxiety latina student in class
Share On Social!

This is part of the Salud America! The State of Latino Early Childhood Development: A Research Review »

Head Start Centers as School Readiness Havens

Many children attend Head Start programs, which were founded to promote school readiness for children of low-income families.

In recent years, the Head Start curriculum has been challenged to enhance children’s language and preliteracy skills using interactive reading with active discussions.

One of these programs, the Research-based, Developmentally Informed (REDI) classroom intervention, uses evidence-based curricula that center on preschool attainment of language, preliteracy, and social-emotional skills considered essential for later achievement.

In a study of 356 children (17% Latino) enrolled in Head Start programs, children exposed to the REDI intervention had significantly improved vocabulary and social-emotional skills compared with those who were not exposed to the REDI intervention,109 and these skills were sustained throughout kindergarten.110 REDI-P, the parent program of the REDI, was introduced to teach parents to engage their children in directed talk and play sessions and included bi-weekly home visits. In two randomized controlled trials (N = 200, 19% Latino;111 N = 556, 19% Latino);102 children exposed to both REDI and REDI-P showed significant gains in literacy and social-emotional skills compared with children not exposed to both interventions, and these gains were sustained into kindergarten112 and second-grade, with improved classroom participation, student-teacher interactions, and friendships.102

Another randomized study (N = 200; 20% Latino) showed similar findings but also found that REDI-P was augmented by pre-intervention parental support for learning, with children receiving greater baseline parental support faring better, suggesting that parental support is a key contributor to child learning in preschool programs.112

The Effects of Preschool on Latino Kids

The Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP) was a large public preschool program that examined the effects of preschool curricula on kindergarten readiness in 7,045 Latino children (and 6,700 black children).113

Latino early childhood development - what's working - learningThe program involved the use of two different curricula: the more conventional and widely used High/Scope curriculum, which balances child-initiated and teacher-directed activities in small- and large-group settings, and the Montessori curriculum, which individualizes learning to each student and fosters independent, child-directed learning with fewer teacher-directed activities.

Although all children made progress in pre-academic, socioemotional, and behavioral skills regardless of curriculum, the Montessori program appeared to be more beneficial for Latino children who, despite being at the highest pre-academic and behavioral risk at baseline, finished the preschool year with test scores above the national average.

One potential reason that the Montessori program was such a success in Latino children is that it incorporates a child’s culture into the classroom, which some say is essential for preschool success in Latino children. And, since black children seemed to fare better in the High/Scope program, these data suggest that preschool curricula should be tailored to racial, ethnic, and cultural differences. It has also been suggested that Montessori teachers may be more educated and more culturally aware than teachers of other preschool programs, which may be another contributor to the positive findings in this study.

Bilingual Literacy Promotion

The Little by Little (LBL) program is a bilingual literacy promotion and supplemental nutrition program provided as part of the WIC program.

In LBL, parents receive brief counseling on the importance of reading to and verbally interacting with their children, handouts on developmental milestones and appropriate interaction methods for promoting optimal child development, and an age-appropriate children’s book or toy for use during parent-child interactions. Reading materials are provided in English or Spanish, depending on the family’s primary language.

LBL was implemented in Los Angeles, California, in 118,000 3- to 4-year-old, predominantly Latino (92%) children in the WIC program; its effectiveness on kindergarten readiness was evaluated by randomly selecting WIC families and dividing them into three groups based on their exposure to the intervention: no intervention, 2-year intervention, and 4-year intervention.100

Parents in the intervention groups received the intervention when children were 2 years old (2-year intervention) or when the mothers were in their third trimester of pregnancy (4-year intervention). Although no significant differences were observed between intervention groups among English-speaking families, Spanish-speaking families received significant benefit from the intervention. Children in both intervention groups were significantly more prepared for kindergarten (measured by Bracken School Readiness score) than those in the no intervention group, with the 4-year group receiving the greatest benefit. The program also improved the awareness in Spanish-speaking parents of the importance of promoting early reading and verbal interaction with their children and providing a literature-rich home environment to improve their child’s literacy skills and school readiness.

Providing Safe Environments for Learning

ParentCorps, another preschool program that involves both school-based and parenting-centered interventions, aims to promote safe, nurturing, and predictable environments for children.

Latino early childhood development - waht's working - stimulating early careThe program involves professional development for preschool teachers and parent counseling administered by teachers and mental health professionals during after-school hours.

ParentCorps was evaluated in a randomized study of 4-year-olds (N = 1050; 9.8% Latino) from 99 preschool programs in New York City.114

By second grade, children in this program had fewer mental health problems, better student-teacher interactions, and higher academic performance than peers who did not receive this intervention.

Other examples of interventions aimed at improving school readiness in Latino children include home visits, “Zero to Three” programs, Pre-K 4 San Antonio, and First 5 LA.2,115–118

Latino Fathers and Literacy Preparation

Latino men are often less willing to talk about their problems, like parenting insecurities or health issues, which can result in decreased engagement in their children’s life and decreased attendance in parenting programs, which may hinder early childhood development.

Researchers in New York created a parenting class for 126 low-income, Spanish-speaking Latino dads, but framed it as an academic-readiness program for children.119

The eight-week training intervention, which revolved around shared book reading, increased Latino dads’ parenting skills by 30 percent, and increased Latino children’s language development and school readiness by 30 percent.

Additionally, the 79-percent parent attendance rate was high, researchers indicated. The finding suggests it is critical to develop culturally relevant, engaging, and sustainable parenting interventions for Latino fathers.

Teaching Social, Emotional Skills Can Improve Kids’ Academic Development

Social and emotional learning is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions,” according to a Penn State and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report.120

Latino early childhood development - what's working - social emotional skillsThe report indicates that, when learned early, social and emotional skills can help children overcome challenges and avoid unhealthy behavior, improving a variety of outcomes into adulthood, and have significant economic impact for individuals and society overall.

The report cites research that indicates that students with strong social and emotional skills:

  • do better in school;
  • are more likely to graduate college and get a well-paying job;
  • support healthy functioning and help people avoid problems like crime and substance use; and
  • have a greater likelihood for long-term success as an adult.

Another report indicates that evidence-based programs can optimize the teaching of social and emotional skills in preschool through professional development for teachers, apparent involvement, and integration with academic enrichment initiatives, which can spur greater benefits for children with delays in social-emotional skill development associated with early socioeconomic disadvantage.121

Much of the Latino-focused research in this area specifically involves social and emotional development in Spanish and English dual language learners.122

Still, one study found that teaching social and emotional skills to inner-city students contributes to their academic achievement. The study involved all students enrolled in regular or bilingual education in an inner-city school system where 2 out of 3 students qualified for a free or reduced price lunch and 9 out of 10 students were black or Latino.123

Another study found that classroom programs designed to improve elementary school students’ social and emotional skills can also increase reading and math achievement, even if academic improvement is not a direct goal of the skills building. The benefit held true for students who qualified for free and reduced-priced lunch.124

More from our The State of Latino Early Childhood Development: A Research Review »

References for this section »

102. Bierman, K. L., Heinrichs, B. S., Welsh, J. A., Nix, R. L. & Gest, S. D. Enriching preschool classrooms and home visits with evidence-based programming: sustained benefits for low-income children. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry 58, 129–137 (2017).

109. Nix, R. L., Bierman, K. L., Domitrovich, C. E. & Gill, S. Promoting Children’s Social-Emotional Skills in Preschool Can Enhance Academic and Behavioral Functioning in Kindergarten: Findings from Head Start REDI. Early Educ. Dev. 24, (2013).

110. Bierman, K. L. et al. Effects of Head Start REDI on Children’s Outcomes 1 Year Later in Different Kindergarten Contexts. Child Dev. 85, 140–159 (2014).

111. Bierman, K. L., Welsh, J. A., Heinrichs, B. S., Nix, R. L. & Mathis, E. T. Helping head start parents promote their children’s kindergarten adjustment: The research‐based developmentally informed parent program. Child Dev. 86, 1877–1891 (2015).

112. Mathis, E. T. B. & Bierman, K. L. Effects of parent and child pre-intervention characteristics on child skill acquisition during a school readiness intervention. Early Child. Res. Q. 33, 87–97 (2015).

113. Ansari, A. & Winsler, A. Montessori public school pre-K programs and the school readiness of low-income Black and Latino children. J. Educ. Psychol. 106, 1066–1079 (2014).

114. Brotman, L. M. et al. Effects of ParentCorps in Prekindergarten on Child Mental Health and Academic Performance: Follow-up of a Randomized Clinical Trial Through 8 Years of Age. JAMA Pediatr. 170, 1149–1155 (2016).

115. City of San Antonio. Pre-K 4 San Antonio. (2017). Available at: (Accessed: 12th June 2017)

116. First 5 LA. First 5 LA. First 5 LA (2017). Available at: (Accessed: 12th June 2017)

117. NBC News. Chicago Program Uses Home Visits To Boost Latino Early Education. (2015). Available at: (Accessed: 12th June 2017)

118. Zero to Three. Advancing the proven power of early connections. ZERO TO THREE (2017). Available at: (Accessed: 12th June 2017)

119. Chacko, A., Fabiano, G. A., Doctoroff, G. L. & Fortson, B. Engaging Fathers in Effective Parenting for Preschool Children Using Shared Book Reading: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J. Clin. Child Adolesc. Psychol. Off. J. Soc. Clin. Child Adolesc. Psychol. Am. Psychol. Assoc. Div. 53 1–14 (2017). doi:10.1080/15374416.2016.1266648

120. Jones, D., Crowley, D. M. & Greenberg, M. T. Improving Social Emotional Skills in Childhood Enhances Long-Term Well-Being and Economic Outcomes. (Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University, 2017).

121. Bierman, K. L., Greenberg, M. T. & Abenavoli, R. Promoting Social and Emotional Learning in Preschool: Programs and Practices that Work. (Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University, 2016).

122. Center for Early Care and Education Research—Dual Language Learners (CECER-DLL), Chapel Hill: The University of North & Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute. Social-Emotional development in dual language learners: Annotated bibliographies from a critical review of the research. (2011). Available at: (Accessed: 17th August 2017)

123. Schonfeld, D. J. et al. Cluster-randomized trial demonstrating impact on academic achievement of elementary social-emotional learning. Sch. Psychol. Q. 30, 406–420 (2015).

124. Rimm-Kaufman, S. E. et al. Efficacy of the Responsive Classroom Approach: Results From a 3-Year, Longitudinal Randomized Controlled Trial. Am. Educ. Res. J. 51, 567–603 (2014).

By The Numbers By The Numbers



of Latino parents support public funding for afterschool programs

Share your thoughts