Led by Pamela Morris, National Study on Head Start CARES Shows Positive Impact on Teacher Practice and Children’s Behavior

A large national study of strategies for promoting the social and emotional development of preschoolers showed positive impacts on teacher practice and on children’s social and emotional outcomes.

By improving social and emotional skills among preschoolers, the researchers hope that the children will have stronger peer relationships later on, and will perhaps spend more time engaged in learning.

The report, titled Impact Findings from the Head Start CARES Demonstration, was led by Steinhardt professor of applied psychology Pamela Morris.

Approximately 100 Head Start centers across the country participated in the study. Each center was assigned to one of three interventions aiming to improve social and emotional learning:

  • The Incredible Years Teacher Training Program focuses on teachers’ management of the classroom and of children’s behavior.
  • Preschool PATHS uses structured lessons to help children learn about emotions and interact with peers appropriately.
  • Tools of the Mind–Play, a one-year version of the Tools of the Mind program, promotes children’s learning through structured “make believe” play.

Both The Incredible Years and Preschool PATHS showed small positive effects on children’s knowledge and understanding of emotion, social problem-solving skills, and social behaviors. Tools of the Mind-Play proved the hardest to execute in a classroom and showed the fewest positive effects.

The researchers noted that the effects seen in the Head Start study were small to moderate.  But, Morris said, “It was certainly not a given that these programs, when implemented across a range of Head Start programs on a large scale, could produce impacts on outcomes for children within striking distance of those found in prior, smaller-scale efforts.” And, while there was not an observable impact on the children’s pre-academic skills, the study may be influential in the growing debate over quality preschool.

Morris told NPR that one of the most interesting outcomes was that the Head Start teachers saw the children engaged in more learning behaviors. The researchers suppose when children can better regulate their emotions and behavior, they can better focus on learning.

The study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and was conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit education and social policy research organization.

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Caption: A large national study of strategies for promoting the social and emotional development of preschoolers showed positive impacts on teacher practice and on children’s social and emotional outcomes. © iStock/monkeybusinessimages