Pre-K/Elementary School

Elementary school

Pre-K/Elementary School, the start of children’s formal education, is the springboard for future academic engagement and success.

Early experiences, including early relationships and learning environments, serve as the foundation for later educational and life outcomes. Successful Pre-K/elementary school experiences are affected by contextual factors unique to each child and family, as well as the design of the child's learning environment. For that reason, Pre-K/elementary school programming is closely aligned with the core principles of safe, supportive learning environments and serves as a model for other education levels.

A key element of Pre-K/elementary school programming is developmentally appropriate practice, a framework that promotes young children’s optimal learning and development.

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) recognizes that decisions made about materials, interactions, curriculum, and instruction affect how children learn and develop. DAP meets children “where they are” with respect to age, ability, and culture and builds their ability to participate and be engaged in the classroom environment. DAP entails planning and delivering educational content and supports that cut across all domains of development, whether cognitive skills, executive function, social-emotional skills, or problem-solving skills. Supports include the use of positive discipline approaches, respecting and responding to cultural and linguistic diversity, and offering appropriate accommodations when necessary.

Families, schools, and communities all play roles in enhancing young children’s development and academic performance.

Working together as partners, families, schools, and communities can create and improve opportunities for children to develop social, emotional, and academic competencies. Partnership entails reciprocal relationships in which schools make efforts to support and strengthen families, families engage in their child’s education, and communities offer resources and supports that will enhance children’s development and learning.

School-based efforts to promote protective factors can foster children’s optimal health and development and improve academic outcomes.

Research has demonstrated the value of protective factors in facilitating children’s well-being. These include resilience, concrete support in times of need, social and emotional competence, and positive school connectedness. Risk factors, such as exposure to violence, parental mental health issues, and negative attitudes toward school, can increase the chances a child will experience social-emotional, behavioral, or academic issues. In addition to promoting children’s learning and development, protective factors can serve as a cushion or buffer against these types of challenges. 


Howes, C., Bryant, D., Burchinal, M., Clifford, R., Early, D., Pianta, R., Ritchie, S. (2006). National Center for Early Development and Learning (NCEDL) issued statement. Chapel Hill, NC: NCEDL, FPG Child Development Institute.


Featured Resources

Using Developmental Science to Transform Children’s Early School Experiences report cover

Reviews four foundations for young children's development that appear to underlie children's competence and predict success in school from Prekindergarten through Third Grade: self-regulation, representation, memory, and attachment.

Kelly Maxwell, Sharon Ritchie, Sue Bredekamp, and Tracy Zimmerman
Thumbnail image - Using Data for R2 Accountability and Improvement

Reviews four key categories of data collected in early childhood settings, clarifies the information each provides, and illustrates how the data are meant to be used to improve practice and quality.

Nonie K. Lesaux, Stephanie Jones, Julie Russ Harris, Robin L. Kane
Social-emotional Development in Early Childhood: What Every Policymaker Should Know cover page

Outlines the risks faced by young children with social, emotional, and behavioral problems, as well as barriers to eligibility, access to services, and service utilization. The authors conclude by recommending policy improvements needed by young children and their families. 

Janice L. Cooper, Rachel Masi, Jessica Vick
School-Family Partnership Strategies to Enhance Children's Social, Emotional, and Academic Growth coverpage

Provides educators with an overview of social and emotional learning (SEL) and school-family partnerships (SFPs), a discussion of the important relationship of SFPs and SEL, and strategies to promote children's social, emotional, and academic development using school-family partnerships.

Showcases a series of clues for students to follow about location—including landmarks, weather, and population. Utilizes a U.S. Census Bureau data tool called “State Facts for Students” to answer questions leading students steps closer to finding their answers.

United States Census Bureau
Cover of the resource

Dives deep into nine years of school tragedies, and it advocates for schools to establish comprehensive targeted violence prevention programs. Provides prevention measures to identify students of concern and assess their potential risk for engaging in violence or other harmful activities.

Resource for teaching and learning to use real-life Census Bureau data through school visits and other modes of outreach. The program is broken out into five core subjects: math, geography, sociology, English and history. Each of these subjects are clearly designated for K-12 grade-level appropriateness.

United States Census Bureau
Thumbnail cover - Four Important Things to Know About the Transition to School

Defines transition as a process—not just a one-time event—that begins during children’s preschool years and continues into and through 3rd grade. This transition is also a time when children begin to take part in an increasing number of learning settings, both in and out of school. The article highlights four important things research indicates about the transition to school,  equity issues, smooth transitions to school, the role of families, and partnerships among families, schools and communities.

Margaret Caspe, M.Elena Lopez, Chalatwan Chattrabhuti
Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 report cover

Outlines position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Includes literature, guidelines, and recommendations for creating developmentally appropriate practices targeted to this age group.

Logo for the U.S. Department of Education

States that the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education have withdrawn statements of policy and guidance regarding the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline, dated January 8, 2014, and related documents dated 2014, including the Guiding Principles. (Note: Previously posted School Discipline Guidance Package related materials posted on the former SSDCoP website are being revisited; the website will be updated on an ongoing basis.)

U.S. Department of Education

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