The Importance of Continuity for Children Birth Through Age 8
Children benefit when there are consistent high-quality learning environments and learning experiences across settings and sectors from birth through third grade.
Early learning standards or guidelines, which are designed to represent developmentally appropriate expectations of what children should know and be able to do at various ages, will be most beneficial when accompanied by an educator’s understanding of each child’s developmental pace and trajectory. These expectations should not be used to punish or hold back children who are not meeting the expectations and should not be used to predict a child’s future success in learning.
Concepts such as school “readiness” or other markers of a child’s “readiness” for various levels of education often leave out the readiness of educators and schools to support the child. Educators should be ready to recognize where children are along their individual trajectories and to provide appropriate learning experiences based on those competencies.
Educators need to develop shared understandings of the expectations and instructional approaches used across settings (such pre-K, kindergarten, first grade, etc.). This is particularly important during transitions between pre-K and kindergarten as well as between other grade levels, when adjustments for children and risk of inconsistencies are greatest.
Education leaders should prioritize interprofessional practice and collaboration to address the gaps and weaknesses in connecting children and families to services across sectors.
Most children experience a variety of early care and education settings during their first eight years, starting in the home, then possibly at a child care center or pre-K program, followed by the start of formal education. As children grow and develop, a continuity of learning is essential for ensuring that early academic success and development are built upon by consistent educational experiences. Vertical continuity refers to the consistency of care and education up through the programs that children experience as they grow up. Horizontal continuity refers to consistency across different services or entities that serve children and families during a particular period of their lives. Both are essential to children’s success.
Communication, planning, and coordination across settings and programs and between educators within the care and education sector allow those working with children to be aware of the learning experiences that have come before and those that will follow, as well as the support they are currently receiving. Continuity also helps align expectations for children’s experiences and creates shared understanding of the interconnected quality of developmental processes.
Here's how school districts in Omaha, Nebraska work to build continuity long before kindergarten:
All adults working with young children should share the same foundation of knowledge and competencies to promote learning and development. When states align early learning guidelines across the continuum and across sectors, they help to ensure that professionals share an understanding of developmentally appropriate practices that support child development. In addition, creating standards for research-based instructional strategies that are linked to a developmental trajectory provides continuity in learning experiences across settings.
High-quality learning environments are organized, safe, supportive, and culturally relevant and diverse. In these settings, assessments that are developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate can help inform the instructional paths or interventions needed to support a child. Assessments should be aligned across the continuum to provide accurate data about how a child is progressing. Child assessments should be used in conjunction with other data sources to improve instructional practices, the provision of services, school programs and systems, professional development, and the allocation of monetary resources.
Kindergarten is the first major transition into formal education for young children. Bridging activities ease the transition to a new setting from year-to-year or grade-to-grade and reduce the adverse consequences that result due to changes in personnel, expectations, and settings. Kindergarten readiness involves not only the individual child, but also families, communities, and elementary schools. It is important to establish a dialogue with families so that parents feel like partners rather than spectators.
Bridging activities provide an opportunity to share and maximize resources and training programs across professional roles, settings, sectors, and policies relating to early care and education. But, rather than making existing systems change and increasing the scope of work for current practitioners, programs can introduce a professional role specifically responsible for coordinating services among sectors.
“When there is a consistency from one learning environment to the next and communication and collaboration among educators, children are able to establish connections between lessons, between ideas and processes within a topic, between topics, and between learning from one year to the next.” (pg. 216)
Questions for Policymakers, Higher Education, and the Workforce
Does the state have policies that encourage joint planning time and professional learning opportunities for educators in pre-K and kindergarten to encourage smooth transitions?
Do programs collect and share the child-level data (such as assessment data and data on prior early learning settings) that educators at each grade level should review to meet children’s needs?
Do the state’s K–12 standards align with the state’s early learning standards?
Are educator preparation programs preparing teachers to use, analyze, and respond to the results of developmentally appropriate assessments?
Are field experiences for future teachers designed to introduce them to expectations and developmentally informed practices starting in the early years and across different grade levels?
What information do educators have about the children entering their classrooms each year?
How can you identify and build relationships with the early care and education programs that feed into your elementary school and vice versa? How might you share information about curriculum, assessment, and instructional strategies to help better align what and how children are learning across these settings?
This is a multimedia guidebook inspired by and drawn from the Transforming the Workforce for Children From Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation(National Academies Press, 2015). This guidebook adds to that volume with key takeaways, videos, interactive tools, a glossary, and more. We have designed it with three doorways for three different but overlapping audiences: educators who work directly with children, educators in higher education who prepare those educators, and policymakers interested in improving early learning settings for children from B–8.