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Table 6 Peer-reviewed empirical studies of skills-based SEL interventions

From: Fostering socio-emotional learning through early childhood intervention

Citation Interventions Sample Outcomes by CASEL domain Major findings Major study limitations
SA SM SoA RS RD
Denham and Burton (1996) Intervention that included teacher training and classroom curriculum. Based on PATHS, prosocial activity guide, and I Can Problem Solve IG: 70 children in private child care centers using the High/Scope curriculum model
CG: 60 children from the same child care programs
X X X X X IG exhibited decreased negative emotion, higher levels of skills interacting with peers, higher levels of productive involvement (e.g., task initiation) at post-test
Children with lower pre-test scores benefited most in the areas of peer skill, teacher-rated social competence, and productiveness
No random assignment
Teachers not blind to group status
CG was 4 months younger than IG, on average
No long-term follow-up
Webster-Stratton et. Al. (2001) Incredible Years: parent training program and teacher training program IG: 191 families in 23 classrooms across 9 Head Start centers
CG: 81 families in 13 classrooms across 5 different Head Start centers
   X X   By the end of the school year, IG were rated as more socially competent and prosocial than the CG
For example, 71% of IG children who had been rated as having problems with social competence at baseline fell in the normative range at the end of school, compared to 36.6% of the CG children initially rated as lower in social competence (χ2 [1, 26] = 4.12, p < 0.04)
IG families had more risk factors than CG families and were more likely to report high stress and child behavior problems at baseline
IG had higher percentage of minority families
Only 50% of eligible families elected to participate
No long-term follow-up reported
Lynch et. al. (2004) Al’s Pals: teacher training, classroom curriculum, and parent education IG: 17 intervention classrooms (n = 218)
CG: 16 control classrooms (n = 181)
X X X X X IG classrooms showed positive changes on teacher-rated prosocial skills, positive coping, and distract/avoid skills
CG classrooms received higher mean ratings on the problem behavior scales at the end of the school year than at the beginning
Teacher report only
No long-term follow-up reported
Han et. al. (2005) The prekindergarten RECAP program IG: 83 preschool students in 6 classrooms at 3 school sites
CG: 66 preschool students in 6 classrooms at 3 school sites
X X X X X IG showed greater improvements in teacher-rated social skills (F[1, 144] = 5.73, p < 0.05), including cooperation
(F[1, 144] = 3.99, p < 0.05) and assertion (F[1, 144] = 7.12, p < 0.01), than the CG
IG showed significant improvements in teacher-rated internalizing and externalizing problems
Parents and teachers were aware of their intervention status
IG and CG children differed significantly on teacher-reported levels of problems and skills and on family income
IG parent group attendance was extremely low
Domitrovich et. al. (2007) Preschool PATHS IG: 10 Head Start classrooms
CG:10 Head Start classrooms
246 children overall across both groups
X X X X X IG exhibited greater improvements in emotion knowledge than the CG
IG exhibited greater improvements in teacher-rated social competence and internalizing problems than the CG
IG exhibited greater improvements in parent-rated social and emotional competence
No long-term follow-up
Bierman et. al. (Bierman, Domitrovich, et al., 2008) Head Start REDI 44 Head Start classrooms and 356 children overall. Classrooms were randomly assigned to the IG or CG X X X X X IG exhibited greater improvements in emotion knowledge and social problem-solving skills than the CG Parent component was minimal and not separately tracked or assessed
Izard et. al. (2008) Emotion based prevention program Study 1:
IG: 9 classrooms
CG: 7 classrooms
Over 6 Head Start centers
N = 179
X X X X   Intervention participation was associated with increased emotion knowledge and regulation skills for children who were at least four years old at pre-test
Teacher ratings and independent classroom observations also showed that the IG evinced reduced negative emotionality and maladaptive behavior compared to the CG
No treatment effects on measures of positive behavior
Parent component was not successfully implemented
Webster-Stratton et. al. (2008) Incredible Years Series: Dinosaur School 42 Head Start classrooms in Seattle; wait list control   X X X X IG participants exhibited significant improvements in social competence, self-regulation, and aggressive behavior Study did not include parent reports, making it impossible to determine whether treatment effects generalized to the home environment
Pickens (2009) Peace Education Foundation (PEF) socio-emotional development program for teachers and parents IG: 246 preschoolers who attended sites that used the PEF curriculum, and their parents
CG: 50 children matched on IG demographic characteristics, who did not attend PEF sites
  X   X   IG showed significant improvements in positive behavior (including social cooperation, social interaction, social independence; F(1294) = 17.52, p < 0.001) over time, relative to the CG Reliance on teacher ratings
Teachers were not blinded to intervention status
Conner and Fraser (2011) Parent and teacher training through the making choices and strong families programs IG: 31 children
CG: 36 children
All children from a coalition of centers providing part-day preschool services using the HighScope preschool curriculum
X X   X X IG group exhibited significantly greater improvements in social competence, academic competence, depression, and aggressive behavior than the CG Very small sample sizes
Moderate to high attrition rates
Parents and raters were not blind to treatment assignment
Wilson et. al. (2012) Tuning in to Kids (TIK) parenting program IG: 62 parents of Australian preschoolers (ages 4–5 years)
CG: 66 parents of Australian preschoolers (ages 4–5 years)
    X   At follow-up, teachers rated the IG as having significantly better social competence than the CG (F(1119.80) = 43.72, p = 0.000) Outcomes were not assessed immediately post-intervention
Sample comprised parent volunteers, with limited socioeconomic and cultural diversity
Stefan and Miclea (2012) Fast Track program IG: 89 preschoolers
CG: 69 preschoolers
X X X X X Medium-to-large treatment effects for social and emotional competencies and problem-solving. Children from medium- and high-risk subgroups benefited the most from intervention participation Teachers were responsible for both implementation and evaluation of child outcomes
Did not parse effects of child, teacher, or parent-focused intervention facets
Morris et. al. (2013) Foundations of Learning IG: 26 classrooms
CG: 25 classrooms
All from Head Start centers, community-based child care centers, and public schools
   X X X IG classrooms were rated as having significantly higher levels of emotional support (ES = 0.65) and lower levels of child–teacher conflict (ES = − 0.40)
No treatment effects were detected for social competence outcomes
Potentially limited generalizability, given unusually small class sizes and high levels of teacher credentialing
Teachers were responsible for both implementation and evaluation
Unable to determine the impacts of specific intervention components on outcomes
Stefan and Miclea (2013) Socio-emotional prevention program IG: 89 Romanian children and their parents, drawn from a local preschool
CG: 69 children from the same classrooms who did not receive any intervention
X     X At follow-up, IG exhibited greater expressive emotion recognition (d = 0.50), receptive emotion recognition (d = 0.36) and social problem-solving skills (d = 0.62) than the CG Potentially limited generalizability, given limited socioeconomic diversity in the sample
Reliance on teacher and parent reports of child outcomes
Upshur et. al. (2013) Second Step pre/kindergarten social and emotional learning curriculum Four community-based childcare centers participated. Two were randomized into the IG, and two into the CG
195 children were randomized into the IG and 146 were randomized into the CG. Sample sizes varied based on outcome and time-point (ranging from 53 to 133)
    X   No significant between-group differences in teacher-rated prosocial skill development Small sample sizes and high rates of missing data
Reliance on teacher ratings of child outcomes
Researchers were not able to fully document the socio-emotional curricula that CG members were exposed to
Flook et. al. (2015) Kindness Curriculum (KC) IG: 30 children from 3 classrooms
CG: 38 from 4 classrooms
  X X X   IG exhibited greater improvements on teacher-rated social competence than the CG, (d = 0.26), particularly in prosocial behavior (d = 0.29) and emotion regulation (d = 0.25)
IG exhibited greater improvements in sharing behavior (d = − 0.33), delay of gratification (d = 0.23), and cognitive flexibility (d = 0.43) than the CG
Very small sample size
Teachers were not blinded to study condition
No long-term follow-up
Hemmeter et. al. (2016) Pyramid Model for promoting young children’s socio-emotional competence IG: 252 preschool students and 20 teachers
CG: 242 preschool students and 20 teachers
  X X X   IG children exhibited significantly higher teacher-rated social skills and significantly lower problem behaviors (d = − 0.29) than CG children at post-test (d = 0.43) Reliance on teacher ratings of child outcomes
Unable to determine impacts of specific intervention components
Poehlmann-Tynan et. al. (2016) Kindness Curriculum IG: 15 preschool students across two classrooms
CG: 14 preschool students across three classrooms
  X X    IG children exhibited increased attentional focus and self-regulation from pre- to post-intervention. Increases in self-regulation were found to persist at 3-month follow-up
No significant differences in empathy or compassion were observed between groups at follow-up
Small sample
All students enrolled in concurrent reading intervention
The two IG classrooms each had a different mindfulness intervention instructor
Muratori et. al. (2017) Coping Power IG: 84 children
CG: 80 children
   X X   IG children exhibited significantly greater decreases in teacher-rated behavioral difficulties (ES = 0.36) and parent-rated behavioral difficulties (ES = 0.38) over time than the CG. The IG also exhibited greater increases in teacher-rated prosocial behavior (ES = 0.30) over time No direct observation of children’s SEL skills
Teachers were not blind to children’s intervention status. They delivered the intervention and also assessed outcomes
No long-term follow-up
Bierman et. al. (2017) Head Start REDI-C (classroom intervention) and REDI-P (home-visiting intervention) IG (REDI-C): 288 children
IG (REDI-C + REDI-P): 105 children
CG (usual practice Head Start): 173
X X   X   Long-term follow-up of REDI-C suggested sustained benefits in classroom participation, relationships with peers and teachers, and social competence
The addition of REDI-P was associated with improvements in child perception of social competence and relations with peers
REDI-C + REDI-P only compared to REDI-C alone; no direct comparison with a no-treatment group
48% of eligible parents declined to participate in parent intervention
Jensen et. al. (2017) VIDA IG: 29 preschools
CG: 29 preschools
  X X X   No difference between IG and CG on SEL outcomes Outcomes limited to teacher ratings on a single measure (the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire)
Kemple et. al. (2019) Second Step IG: 17 preschool-aged children
CG: 20 preschool-aged children
  X   X   IG exhibited significant improvements in teacher-rated total social skills (t(35) = 2.19, p = 0.04), cooperation (t(35) = 2.14, p = 0.04), assertion, and self-control over time, relative to the CG, with some differences based on baseline social competence Non-randomized design
Small sample size
Reliance on teacher reports of child outcomes
Williams and Berthelsen (2019) Untitled rhythm and movement intervention, aimed at improving self-regulation and executive functioning Three early childhood centers serving low-income preschoolers (ages 4–5 years). One classroom per site was assigned to the IG; one classroom per site was assigned to the CG. Total sample size = 113 children   X     IG exhibited significant improvements in emotion regulation over time, relative to the CG (d = 0.35) Non-randomized design
Reliance on teacher reports of child outcomes
  1. Articles are listed in chronological order by publication date. Coding of CASEL domains was based on the information provided in the published article and (when possible) publicly available information about specific measures
  2. IG intervention group, CG control/comparison group, SA self-awareness, SM self-management, SoA social awareness, RS relationship skills, RD responsible decision-making