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Empowering

Key findings

Of the 27 programmes evaluated, six showed strong evidence of effectiveness: Curiosity Corner; Direct Instruction; Early Language and Literacy Model; Interactive Book Reading; Let's Begin with the Letter People; and Ready Set Leap! These programmes all have explicit academic content, a balance of teacher-led and child-initiated activity, and significant training and follow-up support.

Aspects of both cognitive developmental and academic approaches have benefits that can inform the creation of comprehensive preschool programmes. Academic approaches generally have more clearly defined objectives and are easier for teachers to monitor. Cognitive developmental approaches emphasise the importance of giving children choice and fostering their autonomy and self-regulation. Whatever the approach, it is important that teachers receive ongoing support to learn to implement innovative forms of teaching.

The review also shows that children learn what they are taught. The programmes focusing on mathematics improved mathematics achievement; those focusing on phononogical awareness increased those skills. Many of the effective programmes focus on oral language development, particularly for EAL children, to provide a strong vocabulary and oral language base for success in reading. When choosing programmes, educators and policy makers should consider what support children require in their context.

The authors also summarise the long-term impact of studies conducted in the 1960s and 70s. The findings indicate that positive effects of participation in high quality early childhood programmes can be enduring.

The findings of this review add to a growing body of evidence that early childhood education programmes can have an important impact on increasing the school readiness of young children. However, there is a need for further research, particularly into programmes in use in the UK.

UK context

All but one of the studies reviewed were conducted in the US, many in large urban areas. However, the similarities of the challenges of large inner-city communities in the US to those in the UK suggest that the findings would generalise to the UK. Of the programmes included in this review, seven are currently available in the UK.