Physical Health and Social Skills Are Key to School Readiness

Washington, DC – Literacy and numeracy are important parts of what a child needs to succeed in school, but they are not the only factors. New analyses indicate that physical and social and emotional health are also key to a child’s successful transition to school.

These findings, from Naturally Occurring Patterns of School Readiness: How the Multiple Dimensions of School Readiness Fit Together, were presented by Child Trends researchers at the 2003 meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development. This study found that:

  • It is best for children to enter kindergarten healthy, with social and emotional skills and with cognitive skills. These children performed the best on math and reading assessments at the end of first grade and their teachers more often reported that they “usually or always” performed at their best ability.

  • Among the children who entered kindergarten with fewer cognitive and literacy skills, those who were also in particularly poor health and had few social skills performed the lowest on math and reading assessments at the end of first grade.

  • There was no sizable group of children who started kindergarten with high language and cognition skills and low health and social skills.

“Research has come a long way in recent years to show that school readiness includes cognitive skills, physical and mental health and social skills,” said Elizabeth Hair, Ph.D., senior research associate at Child Trends. “What this study found was that children’s physical and emotional health are highly important. In fact, children with health and social problems had a harder time acquiring necessary cognitive skills.”

This paper presented two sets of analyses using a nationally representative cohort of kindergartners who entered kindergarten in the fall of 1998 (i.e., the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten Class of 1998, ECLS-K). The first set of analyses examines the different domains of school readiness and determines if there are naturally occurring patterns of the school readiness domains among this cohort of kindergartners. The second set of analyses examines how these patterns predict first grade outcomes.

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers. This project, Examining the Naturally Occurring Patterns of School Readiness, is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.