This systematic review of research on early childhood programs seeks to identify effective approaches, both specific programs and types of programs, capable of improving literacy and language outcomes for preschoolers. It applies consistent methodological standards to determine the strength of evidence supporting a wide variety of approaches, which fell into two main categories: Balanced approaches, which include phonemic awareness, phonics, and other skills along with child-initiated activities, and developmental approaches that focus on child-initiated activities with relatively little emphasis on pre-reading or other skills. Study inclusion criteria included use of randomized or matched control groups, evidence of initial equality, and study duration of at least 12 weeks. Studies had to use valid measures of literacy and language outcomes that were independent of the experimental treatments. 32 studies evaluating 22 programs met these criteria. Balanced programs had the strongest evidence of positive literacy and language outcomes at the end of preschool and on follow-up measures. Programs with a more developmental focus had less evidence of positive outcomes. The findings support a conclusion that early childhood programs that have a balance of skill-focused and child-initiated activities enhance both literacy and language outcomes better than do programs without a focus on phonemic awareness, phonics, and other skills.
Chambers, B., Cheung, A., Slavin, R.E. (2015, June) Literacy and Language Outcomes of Balanced and Developmental Approaches to Early Childhood Education: A Systematic Review. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.