This research project seeks to improve the school readiness of children at risk for reading difficulties as they enter kindergarten. It will provide a parent-focused intervention, Focus on Learning, that combines parent-child activities (interactive reading, letter and sound games) and computer-based tutoring (targeting emergent literacy skills) with social-emotional support activities (targeting parental warm involvement, sensitive-responding, emotion coaching, and support for child self-regulation). The goal is to improve parent support for child learning at home, thereby fostering gains in child oral language skills, emergent literacy skills, and adaptive approaches to learning. The program has been field-tested and informed by the input of school-community teams in three diverse communities. Efforts have been made to package, pace, and organize the delivery of the program in a manner that optimally supports and engages parents, without overwhelming them with cognitive or behavioral demands. Pilot testing has validated "proof of concept" for the intervention approach, producing high rates of parent and child engagement, including substantial use of the learning activities at home, with reasonably high quality of implementation by parents (as rated by home visitors and documented on computer logs). Hence, the program is feasible and is now ready for an efficacy trial which can evaluate its impact on the targeted parenting skills and on child learning and achievement in a rigorous randomized trial. The proposed research project will screen all of the children attending kindergarten in three school districts serving primarily low-income families in order to identify 270 children who score one standard deviation below the national mean on standardized tests of literacy and language skills. These children will be randomly assigned to the intervention or control group. Children and their families in the intervention condition will receive 15 home visits during kindergarten and 6 "booster" home visits during first grade. We will follow children through second and third grade, the point at which they should have mastered reading and be fully adjusted to the behavioral demands of the school setting. Assessments will utilize a multi-method, multi- informant strategy to monitor improvements in parental support for learning as targeted by the intervention, and in child oral language and literacy skills, as well as approaches to learning and academic achievement. We anticipate that children in the intervention condition will show greater gains in language, emergent literacy skills, adaptive approaches to learning, and learning behaviors at school, when compared with children in the control condition. We hypothesize that the gains in these skills will maintain over time, foster improved behavioral and social adaptation at school, and contribute to higher levels of academic achievement. Furthermore, we anticipate that parents who receive the intervention will improve the quality and quantity of learning support they offer their children at home, and that improvements in parent support for child learning at home will mediate intervention effects on child outcomes.
Children who enter elementary school with cognitive and social-emotional delays are at an increased risk for reading problems, academic underachievement, and school disengagement, as well as for concurrent school behavior problems and conflictual relationships with teachers and peers (Campbell &von Stauffenberg, in press;Pianta &Castaldi, l989). The achievement gap widens over time, such that children living in poverty experience elevated rates of serious learning problems and underachievement as they move through the educational system, and many drop out prior to completing high school (Ryan et al., 2006). With rates of child poverty near 20 percent and climbing in the United States(Children's Defense Fund, 2005), the development of interventions to promote school readiness and reduce the achievement gap represents a national priority.