A girl puts flowers in her and a caretaker's hairIn this paper, we explored the concept of school readiness and the overall developmental competence of very young children related to preparing for transitions and challenges along the journey to adulthood. We presented four concepts, supported by the Head Start Program Performance Standards (Office of Head Start, 2016), to guide your program in fostering developmental competence in very young children:

  1. Social and emotional development connect to other areas of development; all areas of development are interrelated.
  2. Relationships facilitate learning, and the adult serves to focus and regulate the child’s experiences.
  3. Curriculum is delivered through relationships, and how the curriculum is delivered is as important as the learning goals.
  4. Staff members who support parents as their child’s first and most important teachers provide the best chance for children to reach their greatest developmental potential.

However, no single program or initiative on its own can accomplish the goal of fostering competence in the earliest years. The authors of From Neurons to Neighborhoods (Institute of Medicine, 2000) emphasized the importance of social and emotional functioning for overall developmental competence and made three specific recommendations to support the early learning and social and emotional development of young children. These recommendations are as relevant today as they were when this report was released:

  1. Resources equal to those devoted to the development of literacy and numeracy skills should be available to develop “effective strategies for fostering the:
    1. Development of curiosity, self-direction, and persistence in learning situations
    2. Ability to cooperate, demonstrate caring, and resolve conflict with peers
    3. Capacity to experience the enhanced motivation associated with feeling competent and loved” (387–388).
  2. School readiness initiatives must pay equal attention to how well they improve the performance of those who participate and how effectively they decrease any gaps in skills that are typically observed when children of diverse backgrounds enter kindergarten.
  3. Substantial investments are necessary to address the mental health needs of young children. Resources should be devoted to the full continuum of prevention, screening and early detection, and intervention for mental health problems. 

Additionally, staff wellness must be addressed so they can be fully present in the lives of children and families.

The foundations for school readiness are clearly set in the earliest years of life. Through significant relationships, babies and young children acquire the skills that are necessary for competence in all areas of development and later success in school.