What helps children make a successful move from Head Start to kindergarten?

Strong systems that rely on sound policies and practices.

Figuring out how to build these systems is the work of the Understanding Children’s Transitions from Head Start to Kindergarten (HS2K) Project. And now the project is sharing several briefs and a report on how best to do this work in Head Start programs and other early childhood settings.

It’s research that promises to guide policymaking and program practices.

Launched in 2019, the project “is a systems approach that recognizes that effective transitions require intentional engagement from both the sending programs (Head Start) and the receiving programs (elementary schools),” its website explains.

The HS2K project is “organized around four prominent mechanisms (‘4Ps’) that can influence the transition experience: perspectives, policies, professional supports, and practices.”

These practices “must be implemented at multiple levels — among classroom teachers in Head Start and kindergarten, families and teachers, elementary school principals and Head Start directors, Head Start grantees and school districts, and state and federal agencies.”

The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with NORC (a nonpartisan research center at the University of Chicago), the National P-3 Center, and Child Trends.

This project was co-led by principal investigators Stacy Ehrlich and Kyle DeMeo Cook, who is a proud Strategies for Children alum. She served as Strategies’ Early Childhood Field Director from 2008-2009.

The project’s latest briefs and reports cover a number of areas. Here’s a summary of four of them:

Understanding Cross-System Transitions from Head Start to Kindergarten: A Review of the Knowledge Base and a Theory of Change (Fall 2021)

This report reviews existing research and draws on interviews with early childhood practitioners and federal staff. It reinforces the idea that “Transition practices that are coordinated across the systems are more likely to lead to the most successful transitions for teachers, families, and children.”

Facilitating Kindergarten Transitions: The Role of Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) Between Head Start and LEAs(Fall 2022)

This brief presents an analysis of 23 memoranda of understanding (MOUs) from 10 Head Start programs that participated in the Office of Head Start & Public Schools Collaboration Demonstration Project (CDP).

The analysis revealed that the MOUs tended not to mention perspectives, policies, and professional supports related to kindergarten transitions. However, there were more explicit mentions of specific practices that support kindergarten transitions. This creates an opportunity for policymakers to provide specific guidance on what MOUs should contain to promote successful transitions to kindergarten.

Supporting Transitions in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (Fall 2022)
This brief explores the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) programs that serve families who work in the nation’s agricultural industry. “Operating in 34 states, MSHS programs strive to provide coordinated services to mobile families as they migrate from state to state,” according to the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association.

Studying Combinations of Kindergarten Transition Activities Available to Children and Families (Fall 2022)

This brief looks at the impact of combining kindergarten transition activities and finds that “Children and families with more of a variety of transition activities provided showed better outcomes” in “children’s initial school adjustment and parent involvement in kindergarten.”

The report’s findings suggest “that providing more information to families about what to expect in kindergarten, engaging in more face-to-face transition activities, and making schedule adjustments to ease transitions could improve children and families’ experiences.”

There’s more to come. Later this year, the HS2K project will publish the results of a study that looks at transitions from five communities across the country.

Please share these resources with your networks to help pave a supportive path from early childhood programs to kindergarten.