Early childhood curricula and interventions

Strategy overview

  • Preparing children for kindergarten: Evidence-based early childhood curricula and interventions are designed to help young children develop a wide range of skills that will better position them to succeed in elementary school and beyond. Many curricula and interventions are integrated into a child care center or preschool’s daily routines, though some may also include at-home activities. Typically, programming is divided by age: 0-2 (infants and toddlers) and 3-4 (preschoolers).
  • Developing children’s learning skills: There is significant variance in the breadth and depth of evidence-based curricula and interventions; some are comprehensive, covering everything from academics to problem-solving to social-emotional learning. Others, which may supplement a broader curriculum or be delivered in tandem with other interventions, focus on a specific subject area, like literacy or numbers. Many models embed significant flexibility, allowing them to be delivered in half- or full-day programs.
  • Playing and learning: Evidence-based curricula and interventions are delivered through a range of methods, including teacher-led content lessons, interactive software programs, and more. One increasingly common, evidence-based approach to skill-building is through play-based learning. Broadly, learning through play can take two forms: child-directed and teacher-guided. For instance, children may be encouraged to explore their creativity and interpersonal skills by playing with blocks; after a certain period, a teacher may add some structured learning to the activity, such as asking children to count the number of blocks or to describe what they are building.
  • Providing training and classroom materials: Many curricula and interventions offer direct training from program staff or online modules to prepare teachers to deliver the model. This is often supplemented with professional development workshops, coaching and mentorship opportunities with curriculum experts, and access to peer communities of practice. In some cases, teachers may also become certified or accredited in specific curricula or intervention models.
  • Offering individual and group learning: Evidence-based early childhood curricula can be delivered in three settings: with individual students, small groups, or an entire class. Comprehensive curricula often include programming for all three. Many curricula also supplement in-school learning with home-based activities to be delivered by a parent or caregiver.
Issue Areas
Early childhood
Target Population
Children under 5
Key Stakeholders
District or School Leadership, Instructional Coaches, Teachers, Program Evaluation Staff

What evidence supports this strategy?

Proven

Two program-based systematic reviews and one general meta-analsyis demonstrate that evidence-based and skills-focused curricula and interventions improve a variety of school readiness outcomes, including social-emotional skills, language and print knowledge, cognitive abilities, and pre-academic skills.

  • A 2020 meta-analysis of early childhood education programs found that skill-based curricula improved school readiness, especially cognitive abilities and pre-academic skills. Smaller but significant effects were found on behavioral, health, and social-emotional outcomes.

  • A 2013 systematic review found that Doors to Discovery, a preschool curriculum that focuses on literacy, was associated with significant improvements in print knowledge and oral language.

  • A 2010 systematic review found that Literacy Express, a preschool curriculum for 3-5 year olds, is associated with significant improvements in oral language, print knowledge, and phonological processing.

How do early childhood curricula and interventions impact economic mobility?

  • Building a foundation for long-term success: Research shows that delivering evidence-based early childhood curricula and interventions can increase children’s school readiness and position them for stronger academic and career outcomes. Without it, children are more likely to struggle in elementary and middle school, drop out of high school, and less likely to attain a post-secondary degree.
  • Preparing children for kindergarten: Evidence-based curricula and interventions focus on teaching children the skills they need to succeed in kindergarten. Compared to children who enter kindergarten unprepared, children who are ready to learn are more likely to master basic academic and social skills by age 11 and less likely to repeat a grade or be placed in special education.

Best practices in implementation

  • Align curriculum selection with local conditions: Evidence-based early education curricula and interventions vary significantly in terms of scope, skills, and pedagogical approaches. Evaluate a range of curricula and interventions before selecting one or more for implementation. Criteria for selection should include alignment with state and local benchmarks (especially the local school district) for age-appropriate skills development; a high degree of cultural responsiveness; and frequent opportunities for measurement and evaluation.
  • Invest in frequent teacher training: Many evidence-based early childhood curricula and interventions include substantial training and materials prior to delivering the model; they may also offer in-year workshops and subject matter learning opportunities. Position early childhood educators to leverage those opportunities frequently, including paid time for training and lesson planning. Early education programs should also provide regular assessments for teachers with actionable feedback for improvement.
  • Collaborate with families: Families can play a major role in reinforcing and supplementing classroom learning. From its earliest phase, the implementation process should include a formal family engagement component. This can include soliciting input and/or feedback on curriculum/intervention selection, which can also help build trust; setting student goals in consultation with family; and offering workshops to train caregivers on how to deliver components of the curriculum at home.
  • Include social-emotional learning: Many evidence-based curricula and interventions focus on helping children develop academic skills, like recognizing letters and numbers. To provide children with a holistic experience, dedicate regular class time (at least a few times each week) to interventions that focus on social-emotional learning skills, like regulating emotions or sharing with classmates. Such skills will better position young children to learn and develop at an age-appropriate rate once they reach kindergarten.

Evidence-based examples

Nine-month intensive bilingual program for child development
Stable and healthy families Kindergarten readiness
Proven
Supplemental math curriculum that uses software, manipulatives, and print material
Kindergarten readiness
Proven
Interactive, computer-based program intended for children age 3–7
Kindergarten readiness
Strong
Supplemental curriculum intended to help children build oral language, phonological awareness, and other early literacy skills
Kindergarten readiness
Strong
Early literacy program teaching phonological awareness, vocabulary, and comprehension skills
Kindergarten readiness
Strong
Play-based, child-centered early education curriculum
Kindergarten readiness
Strong
Home-based program providing parents with a curriculum to build their children's cognitive and early literacy skills and social, emotional, and physical development
Stable and healthy families Kindergarten readiness
Proven
Preschool curriculum primarily intended to improve language development and early literacy
Kindergarten readiness
Proven
Early childhood, family-centered intervention that takes place in schools and early childhood centers
Stable and healthy families Kindergarten readiness
Strong
Partnership with medical providers to incorporate early literacy promotion programming into regular checkups
Kindergarten readiness
Proven
Supplemental curriculum designed for preschoolers and kindergarteners having trouble with reading
Elementary and middle school success Kindergarten readiness
Proven