Children enter school with a range of knowledge and skills in multiple domains-physical, social, emotional, linguistic, and cognitive. There is no exact profile of a child who is “ready” for school.1Nevertheless, children whose skills are far behind those of their new classmates do enter school at a disadvantage. If they are unable to catch up, they face greater challenges throughout their school careers.2 Social development is an important, often over-looked factor in children’s transition to kindergarten. A child who is socially ready for school should be able to make friends, get along with peers, and communicate well with peers and teachers.3 Children who arrive at kindergarten with social competencies generally have an easier time forming relationships with their peers and better school outcomes.4
This school readiness indicator taps three skills related to entering kindergartners’ social interactions with their peers: ease in joining others in play; ability to make and keep friends; and positively interacting with peers.
Overall, over four in five children in kindergarten often or very often practice positive social behaviors with their peers, such as joining others in play, making and keeping friends, and interacting positively with other children (See Figure 1). These data were collected for the first time in 1998, and no trend data will be available.
Male kindergarteners are somewhat less likely to exhibit these positive social behaviors upon entry to kindergarten (79 percent) than female kindergartners (83 percent). (See Table 1)
Non-Hispanic white children are the most likely to exhibit positive social behaviors often or very often (85 percent), followed by non-Hispanic black children (81 percent), and Hispanic and Other, mostly Asian, children (73 and 75 percent, respectively). (See Table 1)
The quality of children’s social interactions increases as their mothers’ education levels increase. Seventy percent of kindergartners whose mother had less than a high school diploma had positive social interactions with their peers often or very often, compared with more than 80 percent of those whose mothers possessed a high school diploma or college degree. (See Figure 2)
Children from the lowest income levels are the least likely to have quality social interactions upon entrance to kindergarten. Only 71 percent of children in the bottom fifth of the income distribution exhibited positive social behaviors often or very often with their peers, compared with 81 percent in the second fifth, and 84 percent in the top fifth of the income distribution. (See Figure 3)
Though now outdated, in 1990 the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) established its first National Education Goal: “By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.”5 As conceptualized by the NEGP, children’s school readiness encompasses multiple components. The NEGP elaborated on five dimensions of school readiness: (1) physical well-being and motor development; (2) social and emotional development; (3) approaches to learning; (4) language development; and (5) cognition and general knowledge.6
1Lewit, E. M., & Schuurmann Baker, L. (1995). “School readiness,” The Future of Children, 5(2), 128-139. http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=59&articleid=367
2Entwisle, D. R., & Alexander, K. L. (1993). “Entry into School: The Beginning School Transition and Educational Stratification in the United States,” Annual Review of Sociology, 19, 401-423.
3Huffman, L. C., Mehlinger, S. L., & Kerivan, A. S. (2000). “Risk Factors for Academic and Behavioral Problems at the Beginning of School,” as found in A Good Beginning: Sending America’s Children to School with the Social and Emotional Competence They Need to Succeed (monograph). Bethesda, MD: The Child Mental Health Foundations and Agencies Network.http://www.nimh.nih.gov/childhp/monograph.pdf; See also Child Trends (2001). School Readiness: Helping Communities Get Children Ready for School and Schools Ready for Children (Research Brief). Washington, DC: http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/pdf/7_PDF.pdf Child Trends; or Zaslow, M., Calkins, J., & Halle, T. (2000). Background for Community-Level Work on School Readiness: A Review of Definitions, Assessments, and Investment strategies. Part I: Defining and assessing school readiness-building on the foundation of NEGP work. Report prepared for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Washington, DC: Child Trends. This publication is available for purchase through the Child Trends website https://www.childtrends.org/store/prodage.cfm?CategoryID=1#2.
5National Education Goals Panel (1997). Special early childhood report, 1997. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. P. 3. http://www.negp.gov/Reports/spcl.pdf
6National Education Goals Panel (1995). Reconsidering children’s early development and learning: Toward common views and vocabulary. Washington, DC: National Education Goals Panel.http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/negp/reports/child-ea.htm
7Gresham, F. M., & Elliott, S. N. (1990). Social Skills Rating System. Circle Pines, MN: AGS.
8Meisels, S. J., Atkins-Burnett, S., & Nicholson, J. (1996). Assessment of social competence, adaptive behaviors, and approaches to learning with young children. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/ecls/kindergarten/studybrief.asp
The Social Rating Scale was adapted from the Social Skills Rating System7 (SSRS; Gresham & Elliott, 1990) by the ECLS-K study team. The SSRS is considered to be a reliable, valid measure of children’s social development. The ECLS-K study team conducted field trials of their adaptation of the measure before the official ECLS-K data collection began.
The ECLS-K Social Rating Scale response categories range from 1 to 4 (1=Never exhibits behavior…4=Very often exhibits behavior). The scale includes three items (ease in joining play, ability to make and keep friends, positively interacting with peers). All children with a score of 3 or more are considered to exhibit these behaviors “often or very often.”
Original analyses by Child Trends of the Earl Childhood Longitudinal Survey, Kindergarten Cohort.
Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort (1998-1999) http://nces.ed.gov/ecls/kindergarten/studybrief.asp
Child Trends Databank. (2005). Kindergartners’ social interaction skills. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=kindergartners-social-interaction-skills
Last updated: August 2005