Building Blocks for Preschool Success

Building Blocks for Preschool Success

Success in preschool requires educators, psychologists, parents and caregivers working together to keep our youngest learners in the classroom.

Preschool is a critical period to nurture curiosity, a sense of discovery and achieve key learning milestones among our youngest students in order to establish overall school readiness. Denying young children the opportunity to attend preschool flies directly in the face of this. Many people are unaware that preschool suspensions and expulsions dwarf those during grades K through 12 by a factor of more than three to one.

Expulsions and suspensions from our early care and education programs show significant racial and gender disparities (PDF, 2MB). These disparities in discipline set the most vulnerable members of our society on a path to failure feeding the preschool-to-prison pipeline.

  • African-American children are 18 percent of preschool kids, but 48 percent of children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.
  • African-American preschool children are 3.6 times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white preschool children.
  • Boys make up 54 percent of enrolled preschoolers, but 79 percent of children suspended once and 82 percent of children suspended multiple times.
  • African-American boys represent 19 percent of the male preschool enrollment, but represent 45 percent of male preschool children receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions.
  • African-American girls represent 20 percent of female preschool enrollment, but 54 percent of female preschool children receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions.

Research tells us (PDF, 401KB) that implicit biases are at the root of these disparities in discipline. No one is immune to implicit bias, but to address this issue — we need all hands on deck. Educators, psychologists, and parents/caregivers can and should work together to prevent preschool suspensions and expulsions. For each of these groups, this page lists resources for supporting the social and emotional development of our youngest learners and effectively addressing challenging behaviors in the classroom that lead to suspension. At the end of the day, we must keep all of our kids in preschool and ensure they have the necessary building blocks for later success.

School Suspensions Are an Adult Behavior


What do experts say about keeping our youngest learners in preschool?
Reducing challenging behaviors

"It is our responsibility to look for what's good, right and best in every single child… Imagine a world where we intentionally taught children prosocial skills, gave them many opportunities to practice, and positively reinforced them every time they used those skills. Challenging behaviors would be greatly reduced. Actually, the Pyramid Model for social emotional development of infants and young children has proven this to be true time and time again. When we use these strategies, we can disrupt the preschool-to-prison pipeline, we can eradicate preschool suspensions and we can mitigate the negative impact of preschool suspensions on the child and on our society." — Rosemarie Allen, EdD (assistant professor, Early Childhood Education — Metropolitan State University of Denver)

Parent and teacher relationships

"I've been studying children being expelled and suspended from preschool programs for a very long time and I'll tell you one thing that I've never seen. I thought I'd seen it all, but one thing I've never seen is a child expelled or suspended from a preschool program when the teacher and the parent knew and liked each other. In our very young child and preschool programs, we don't really expel children, we expel the parents. So one of the remedies actually might be forming better relationships between the entities that care for this child during a significant portion of their waking hours." — Walter Gilliam, PhD (director, The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University)

Practice Based Coaching and the Pyramid Model

"In our work, behavior coaches use a systematic model referred to as "Practice Based Coaching" to support teachers to implement the Pyramid Model practices. When teachers receive this coaching, they use the Pyramid Model practices with higher levels of fidelity and report positive changes in children's social skills and challenging behavior. When we work with programs to implement the Pyramid Model program wide, they make a commitment to ensure that teachers have the support to ensure that all children receive the support they need to be successfully included in the program. When teachers received support from a behavior coach, they implement effective practices and children's social skills and problem behavior improve." — Mary Louise Hemmeter, PhD (professor, department of special education at Vanderbilt University)

Positive relationships with adults

"Young children thrive through positive relationships with adults around them. As early childhood educators create a culture where all children are encouraged, supported, safe and learning, they can rely on developmentally-appropriate and culturally-relevant practices to guide their responses to challenging behavior - and, above all, form meaningful, respectful and positive relationships with parents and families." — Lauren Hogan (senior director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Early Learning Systems, National Association for the Education of Young Children)

Identifying family and community expectations

"We keep young children in school when we don't make assumptions that they know exactly what we want them to do. Instead, we can identify expectations that families and community members value, teach them directly, and acknowledge when they do things the right way. When children engage in behaviors we don't want, we can support them better by treating it as an instructional opportunity, not willful defiance." — Kent McIntosh, PhD, NCSP (director, Educational Supports at University of Oregon)

What is the scope of the preschool suspensions and expulsions problem?
Where can I find models and tools for addressing challenging behavior?
Where can I find technical assistance and training?
What policy changes have occurred on preschool suspensions/expulsions?
I'm a parent/guardian of a preschooler, what resources are available for me?
Recent research
Videos and presentations
Graphics on racial/ethnic and gender disparities in preschool discipline
Useful Blog Posts
Useful News Articles
Additional Resources