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FINE Newsletter, Volume IV, Issue 1
Issue Topic: New Developments in Early Childhood Education

Harvard Family Research Project Commentary

In this Commentary, HFRP’s Christine Patton explores how new developments in early learning research, policy, and practice reflect a national “coming together” around the importance of early childhood experiences and their role in later school success.

This is an exciting time for early learners and their families in the United States. Nationwide, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers are converging around the importance of quality early learning experiences. At the state level, state departments of education are creating and expanding offices of early learning to improve early childhood education (ECE) and setting statewide agendas to prepare young children and their families for school. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are jointly pushing states and agencies to align programs and services and deliberately position families as critical partners. Many of their efforts will be streamlined through the newly-proposed Office for Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education. At the local level, practitioners are implementing innovative programs to meet the developmental needs of children from birth to age 8. In the research arena, researchers and evaluators are working to assess the outcomes of these programs and generate knowledge about the children and families the programs serve.

Why now?

While doing research for a forthcoming brief on the transition to kindergarten, we asked educators, administrators, and staff from advocacy organizations and state departments of education to consider the reasons behind this national “coming together” on the importance of ECE. All of their answers revolved around the notion of school success. Respondents told us that stakeholders at all levels are beginning to recognize that important foundations for school success should be laid prior to kindergarten; that the curriculum that educators are required to teach in kindergarten and beyond is getting more rigorous; and that as a nation, we need to look at early learning initiatives to prepare children and families for later success.

At HFRP, we have long recognized the importance of families in fostering early learning. We see this heightened emphasis on preparing children for school success as further illustration of the pivotal roles that families play in (a) helping children develop important cognitive skills like counting, (b) fostering social and emotional skills such as turn-taking and following directions, and (c) providing a source of continuity for children as they transition from early care settings to kindergarten.

To address the issue of school success, key people and agencies are driving new developments in early childhood. These developments include the literal creation of new early education and care offices in state and federal agencies; the implementation of sustained relationship-based transition practices that occur prior to the start of the kindergarten year; the creation of National Centers and the use of research-based, family-focused tools in Early Head Start/Head Start programs; and the use of interventions such as home visiting and in-home parenting skills training. These developments acknowledge the importance of all configurations of ECE (including home-based, preschool, Head Start, and state- and privately-funded programs) in offering children and their families opportunities for learning that, in turn, prepare children for later achievement.

In this Issue

This FINE Newsletter looks at several of these new developments through the lenses of policy, practice, and research. In Voices from the Field, Jacqueline Jones discusses the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge grant competition and the push for grant applicants to think about families as important partners in their early childhood education programs. Kiersten Beigel, meanwhile, describes the new Head Start Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework and highlights opportunities for other early care programs to utilize the tool; and Anne Duggan explains how organization- and individual-level factors can influence the delivery of home visiting services and family outcomes. We also feature an Emerging Leader profile of Ken Smythe-Leistico, who discusses a transition program that engages families and the community in creating a successful transition into kindergarten, and lays the groundwork for school success in elementary school and beyond.  

This issue is filled with exciting new resources from HFRP, including a resource guide for Early Learning Challenge grant recipients, a set of teaching cases focused on family engagement in early learning settings, and a review of the new book by Mark Warren and Karen Mapp, A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform. In addition, we include a new Research Digest from Susan Landry and her team at the Children’s Learning Institute, which highlights results from a study about a responsive parenting intervention.

As you read these entries, we encourage you to:

  • Learn more about your state’s approach to early learning. Does your state department of education have a dedicated office of early learning? What resources are available to families and educators?
  • Identify the practices your schools utilize to transition children from early care to kindergarten. How can you get involved as a parent, educator, or community member?
  • Find out about what kinds of services are available to families with young children in your community. As an educator, how can you connect families to these services? How can you bring your shared vision of supporting young learners together in shared work?

We welcome you to share your ideas and responses to these questions on our Facebook page or by contacting us at


This resource is part of the March 2012 FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family involvement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access our archive of past issues, visit

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project