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Getting Your Kid Ready for School?

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A comprehensive review of 32 trials spanning from 1967 to 2021 reveals negligible benefits of center-based early education programs, raising questions about their effectiveness and the need for further research to inform parents and caregivers worldwide.

A video report about the Making Of this post is available from Write in Stone, a research transparency platform. Also, be sure to check Publication Notes to learn more about the Zheln process.

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Effects of Early Education on School Readiness

The age of entry to school (kindergarten) varies from country to country and can be anywhere between 3 and 7 years. At this age, some kids experience difficulties starting school education, so early education centers exist that provide preschool preparation services, which are supposed to improve school readiness. Thus, this topic impacts more than 100 million preschool children and their parents worldwide.

Exploring the Impact of Early Education on School Readiness

School readiness can be measured with a number of scales, for example, the IDELA tool or Larson’s Kindergarten Readiness Test. A new study, published in December 2023, looked at trials that evaluated the effectiveness (and safety!) of early education for improving school readiness, and they identified 32 such trials. The earliest of the trials was published in 1967, and the most recent was published in 2021. Two of the studies were conducted in Canada, one in Pakistan, one in France, and the rest was done in the United States. The types of early education included “Head Start,” “Bright Beginnings,” “Creative Curriculum,” “Montessori,” “PATHS,” and “Tools of the Mind,” among others. The trials encompassed a total of almost 16,900 children and followed them up anywhere from 1 to 6 years, and here is what they found:

Compared to visiting daycare without any enriched school readiness curricula, kids who received early education did not differ in school readiness as measured by the above-mentioned standardized tests after 1 year from the start of the trials. Additionally, cognitive and physical development metrics, emotional well-being, and social skills were not different between these groups.

Moreover, compared to staying at home without any structured home-based education or being on a waitlist, kids who received early education only differed slightly. Curiously, the cognitive skills were only a quarter-a-point to 6.3 points higher among these children, which could advance them at most one level on the scale used (Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale). Emotional well-being and social skills were no different, and physical development and school readiness were not measured. Also, early education raised the probability of kids receiving a health check-up in one trial, with no information as to how useful these additional visits were.

The researchers also noted that most of the current evidence is too uncertain to draw firm conclusions, due to the poor conduct of some of the trials. This means that the conclusions might change if new, better studies are conducted. The authors were moderately certain about only one piece of evidence: the lack of differences in physical development after 1 year spent at a center with enriched curricula compared to those without (1 trial involving 336 children). None of the studies looked at the potential harms of early childhood education, e.g., anxiety.

In summary, the benefits of center-based early education programs were negligible for improving school readiness, mostly studied in the U.S. setting. Even though the absence of evidence does not equal the evidence of absence, parents and caregivers should consider the lack of support for the effectiveness and no information about potential adverse effects of early childhood education after the completion of 32 trials.

Written in Stone

Publication Notes

  • The initial draft of this post was written by Claude 2 AI and then revised substantially before publication. In the interest of transparency, a full changelog is available.
  • The opening summary was generated by prompting ChatGPT 3.5 to “write an engaging one-sentence description for this post.”
  • The image for this post was generated with DALL·E 3 via Microsoft Bing Image Creator Preview by copying and pasting the post description as a prompt. Four images were generated, of which the most suitable was selected manually.
  • Please refer to the video report for the methodology behind the research underpinning this post. The original Zheln methodology is available as a preprint.
  • This publication is a piece of volunteer research and journalism. To express support, you can donate or reach out.


Zhelnov P. Getting Your Kid Ready for School?. Zheln. 2023 Dec 24;50(2):t3e14. URI:

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