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What is school readiness?

School readiness traditionally includes several factors that, when combined, indicate how prepared a child is to succeed in formal schooling. As further described below, these factors span across physical, social, emotional, and cognitive areas of measurement.

Ready to Learn” became a national mantra in the early 1990s when the National Education Goals Panel adopted its first goal: “by the year 2000, all children will enter school ready to learn.”30 The panel identified readiness in the child as determined by a set of interdependent developmental trajectories. Three components of school readiness were broadly described as: 1) readiness in the child, 2) schools’ readiness for children, and 3) family and community support that contributes to child readiness. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends assessing school readiness in children by examining five key domains that span across physical, social, emotional, and cognitive areas of measurement.31 Although there are many ways to define school readiness, this playbook highlights the school readiness domains recommended by the AAP, as they also reflect the original intent of the National Education Goals Panel. Although we recognize the racial, ethnic, and other disparities previously documented in studies of school readiness,32 school readiness data are already available in many states and districts and therefore have the potential for careful scale-up as indicators of population-level mental health among young children.

The term “school readiness” often is used interchangeably with “kindergarten readiness” and refers to the readiness in the child as well as the readiness by the school to teach the child. This playbook focuses on readiness in the child and uses the term “school readiness.”

What is the connection between school readiness and health?

Healthy children are ready to learn. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has developed the following three key science-based messages that can help explain the connection between school readiness and health.33

  1. The brain and all other systems in the body interact with each other as they adapt to the environment.
  2. Experiences during the prenatal period and first two to three years after birth affect lifelong health at least as much as they affect school achievement.
  3. Inflammation, as part of the body’s stress response, helps defend against infection, injury and acute threat—but persistent inflammation in response to chronic adversity can have long-term, disruptive effects on physical and mental well-being.