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The Headstart/REDI Program: Promoting Executive Functions Through Prevention Programs

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Karen Bierman, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University

A significant number of children (up to 20 percent to 30 percent of children living in poverty) start school without the social-emotional and behavioral maturity that fosters "readiness to learn," contributing to delays in school progress and increasing disparities in school attainment. Conceptually, adaptive learning behaviors depend on the development of the executive regulatory systems during the preschool and early school years, which enable children to organize thinking and behavior with increasing flexibility, decrease their dependence on immediate cues, and enhance their capacity to regulate affective arousal. Several recent studies suggest that preschool interventions designed to enhance social-emotional learning and self-regulation skills have the potential to strengthen neurocognitive executive functioning (EF) as it develops. Results from two of these studies, the Head Start REDI Program (Bierman, Nix, Greenberg, Domitrovich and Blair, 2008) and an evaluation of the PATHS Curriculum (Riggs, Greenberg, Kusche and Pentz, 2006) were highlighted, showing that "universal" classroom-level interventions that promoted young children’s social-emotional competence also produced improvements in their executive function skills and learning engagement. A synchronized, social-emotional intervention designed as a peer-based remedial intervention for children who enter school with high levels of disruptive behavior ("Friendship Group," currently under trial in two projects) were also described. These studies illustrate how a developmental neuroscience framework can enrich school readiness intervention designs and, conversely, how intervention trials can test hypothesized causal links between social/school experiences, EF skill acquisition, and behavioral school readiness (social-emotional competencies and learning engagement).

Bierman Presentation Slides (PDF - 1.11 MB)

Biosketch for Karen L. Bierman, Ph.D.

Dr. Karen L. Bierman is a distinguished professor of child-clinical psychology and director of the Child Study Center at The Pennsylvania State University. Her research program focuses on social-emotional development and children at risk, with an emphasis on preventive interventions that promote competencies and reduce risk. She is particularly interested in the design and evaluation of school- and community-based programs that promote social-emotional skills and positive peer relations, school readiness and academic achievement, and that reduce disruptive behaviors. Currently, she is involved with five preventive intervention trials, evaluating combinations of classroom, parent, and/or peer-based interventions to promote school readiness.

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Last Reviewed: 11/30/2012
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