10.4 School Readiness

What Is It?

School readiness means that "children are ready for school, families are ready to support their children’s learning, and schools are ready for children."1

For infants and toddlers, school readiness refers to the developing capacity of children to self-regulate; develop close, secure personal relationships with adults and peers; demonstrate curiosity in, pay attention to, and explore people and objects in the environment; demonstrate a sense of self-confidence; and communicate effectively. These developing capacities depend on the child having good health and receiving proper nutrition. And it all happens within the context of close, nurturing, culturally responsive relationships with parents, caregivers, extended family, and community.

All EHS and HS programs, regardless of program option, are required to establish program goals aligned with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework for improving the school readiness of participating children. To achieve these goals, programs take the following steps [45 CFR 1304.1(b)(1)(i)]:

  • Establish goals for improving school readiness across five essential domains: perceptual, motor, and physical learning and development and health, social and emotional learning and development, language and literacy learning and development, cognition and general knowledge, and approaches toward learning. The Home Visitor’s Handbook (see Chapter 10, “School Readiness”) describes how home visitors support young children’s development, within the context of secure parent–child relationships, in each domain.
  • Create and implement an action plan for achieving the established school readiness goals. This includes establishing an ongoing assessment process that connects to an appropriate curriculum that supports children’s progress toward school readiness goals.
  • Assess child progress on an ongoing basis and aggregate and analyze data at multiple times throughout the year.
  • Examine data for patterns of progress for groups of children in order to revise, or develop and implement plans for program improvement.

As a supervisor, your involvement in all of these steps includes doing the following:

  • Ensure that the school readiness goals meet the requirements outlined in the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, are appropriate for and representative of the infants and toddlers in your home-based program, and that parents are engaged in the goal setting process.
  • Work with program staff to develop a plan for achieving school readiness goals that outlines what will be done, who will do it, when it will be accomplished, and what resources are needed.
  • Make sure home visitors are completing child assessments accurately and in a timely manner so that your program has quality child data to aggregate and analyze.
  • Review child-level data with home visitors and work with them to connect the data to individualizing curriculum experiences and services for each child and family.
  • Look at child data in combination with other program data such as health, parent engagement and family outcomes, and attendance to identify trends, determine if the services your program provides are supporting child and family growth and progress, and direct continuous improvement efforts related to curriculum, responsive care strategies, professional development, program design, and other program decisions.

  1. Office of Head Start, Head Start Approach to School Readiness – Overview (Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 2011). 

Learn More

Learn how meaningful family engagement contributes to children’s school readiness and healthy development. School readiness is the process of early learning when children gain the skills and attitudes to learn and thrive in school. Early learning is rooted in strong parent-child relationships and family well-being. Explore the research on the link between family engagement and school readiness. Find strategies and additional resources to support staff and programs in boosting their family engagement and school readiness practices.

Head Start health services support school readiness and make sure that health issues do not affect children's learning. Program leaders can use this online tool to design school readiness goals that integrate meaningful health strategies. Program leaders can also use it to identify the link between their school readiness goals and health service plans. Health promotion, prevention, and access to treatment can help achieve those goals.

This paper addresses the importance of keeping goals alive. It also includes frequently asked questions about the relationship between program goals and school readiness goals.

This document will help Head Start agencies providing birth-to-three services meet the needs of infants and toddlers when using the Four Strategic Steps outlined in ACF-PI-HS-11-04.

This resource supports Step One of the School Readiness Action Steps as outlined by the Office of Head Start. Early Head Start program staff can use it to learn more about the unique characteristics of infants and toddlers that should be considered when developing a program's school readiness goals. It also provides examples of school readiness goals for infants and toddlers related to the five essential domains of the Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework.