Early Steps to School Success (ESSS)

About This Program

Target Population: Families living in rural, geographically isolated communities

For children/adolescents ages: 0 – 5

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 0 – 5

Program Overview

ESSS provides parent education and support, home visiting and pre-literacy and language development services for families in rural, geographically isolated communities. ESSS is a model designed to be culturally relevant and provide early childhood education services to pregnant women and children from birth to age five, education services to parents, and ongoing staff training to community early childhood educators. It not only recognizes the essential role families have in preparing their children for school, but also reinforces parents' roles as advocates in raising awareness for community-wide efforts that support school readiness. It does this through community collaboration and by creating strong connections between parents and the schools their children will attend.

Program Goals

The overall goals of Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) are:

  • Children will enter school with the skills necessary for school success
  • Parents will have the knowledge and skills to support their children's education
  • Home/school connections will be strong
  • Early childhood knowledge and skills in communities will be significantly increased

Logic Model

The program representative did not provide information about a Logic Model for Early Steps to School Success (ESSS).

Essential Components

The essential components of Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) include:

  • ESSS provides education and family support through home visits, group meetings, school connections, a book exchange, and community events. Save the Children Early Childhood Program Specialists work directly with locally hired paraprofessionals who are trained and become Early Childhood Coordinators to implement the following components:
    • Home Visits
      • The core activity for children 0-3 and their parents/caregiver are home visits. The early childhood home visits help build a strong foundation of learning for children and support parents with knowledge and skills to foster their children's healthy development and education. Each ESSS Early Childhood Coordinator (home visitor) makes regularly scheduled, ongoing home visits and regular child screenings and goal planning based on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire(ASQ).
        • During a typical visit, the Early Childhood Coordinator will bring a book bag with age and culturally appropriate books to leave with the child and family.
        • The Early Childhood Coordinator and the parent talk about child development activities that the family has done since the last visit and what developmental gains the child has made.
        • Together, they focus on a child development area that the parent selected and that fits the child's individual development plan.
        • All visits are conducted with an approach that is culturally appropriate for the family.
    • Parent-Child Education and Support Groups
      • Regularly scheduled parent-child support and education groups are held at the local school. The recommended size for parent-child groups is up to 50 children, prenatal to 5 years and their parent(s). Parent-child groups consist of:
        • Toddler storybook hours and play groups
        • Parenting education groups
        • Family Nights
        • Building connections with school personnel
        • Building connections with community services
    • The Family-School Connection:
      • All of the sites are located at or very near the primary school that the child will attend.
      • Each ESSS program has regularly scheduled ongoing parent group meetings at schools, and storybook hours or child play groups for toddlers and three-year-olds.
      • These groups and meetings help parents/caregivers to become acquainted with school staff and feel comfortable in the environment.
      • Sometimes the principal will come and read to children and the parents/caregivers may be included in other school parent groups.
      • Building this home-school relationship for children, parents, and school staff early on is one of the important cornerstones of ESSS.
    • Positive Transition to School
      • By partnering with the local school, connections between home and school are created at the time a family is pregnant. Through the ESSS's continual system of delivery, program staff work with the family until the child enters kindergarten.
      • Transition to Preschool: The Early Childhood Coordinator helps parents/caregivers develop an individualized transition plan for each child as he/she approaches three years of age. When applicable, the Coordinator assists the family in choosing and applying for preschool (Head Start, Pre-K, childcare, etc.). Information from the child's portfolio is given to the school to help teachers recognize and respond to each child's interests and abilities.
      • Transition to Kindergarten: As the child approaches kindergarten, the Early Childhood Coordinator helps parents/caregivers develop an individualized transition to school plan. Transition activities include helping parents/caregivers and children know what to expect, visits to the kindergarten classroom, meeting the kindergarten teacher, meeting other children who will be in the class, etc. When the child is ready for kindergarten, information from the child's portfolio is given to the school to help teachers recognize and respond to each child's interests and abilities. Often parents of the children in ESSS have not had positive school experiences themselves and almost all teen parents in ESSS have not yet finished high school. ESSS supports a positive and strong connection of home and school from pre-birth right up to when the child enters kindergarten.
    • Book Exchange
      • All children, birth to five, enrolled in ESSS participate in the Early Steps Book Exchange. For 3 to 5 year olds, ESSS program staff partner with a local agency, usually a center-based Head Start or State Preschool program, and provide the Book Exchange to a classroom of children. Each week the Early Childhood Coordinator provides the child with a book bag and models with the parent/caregiver the following topics:
        • Age and culturally appropriate books
        • Training for parents/caregivers in dialogic reading
    • Community Collaboration
      • ESSS Early Childhood Coordinators are hired from the community, and Save the Children trains and supports them by letting them know what services are available and how they can connect families to the services in respectful, culturally appropriate ways. ESSS Early Childhood Coordinators teach families to build local resource connections so that they are able to advocate for themselves in a sustainable way--with services that will continue to be there for them in their community. Additionally, ESSS Early Childhood Coordinators work with community partners to:
        • Conduct child screenings regularly during home visits and make referrals to community providers for follow-up assessment as needed.
        • Establish partnerships and coordinate with community programs, local schools, and other community agencies.
        • Promote awareness and understand referral processes, service availability, and criteria for participation.
    • Early Steps Curriculum
      • ESSS is a home visiting, family support, and language and pre-literacy development model. The Early Steps to School Success Curriculum was co-branded and co-developed with ZERO TO THREE (ZTT): National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, a national nonprofit organization that informs, trains, and supports professionals, policymakers, and parents in their efforts to improve the lives of very young children. Through this partnership, Save the Children has also developed ESSS curricula materials for:
        • Plan and Play Sets
        • Parent/Child Groups
        • Child Transitions into Public Schools
        • Dual Language -- specific to the populations Early Steps serves
        • Coordinator Guide
        • Early Steps Program Specialist Guide
        • Portfolio Templates

Program Delivery

Child/Adolescent Services

Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:

  • Has a parent(s) who does not have the knowledge or means to adequately support her/his infant and young child's development – particularly language development – in the critical window for brain development during the first 5 years of life

Parent/Caregiver Services

Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) directly provides services to parents/caregivers and addresses the following:

  • Need for information, support, and coaching in the parent role possibly due to the pressures of poverty, isolation, age, inexperience, and lack of knowledge

Recommended Intensity:

Home Visits: 2 per month for 60 minutes each Parent and Child Education and Support Groups: 1 per month for 60 minutes Literacy Activities for 3 -5 Year Olds: 2 per month for 30 minutes each

Recommended Duration:

From when the parent is expecting a child (prenatal) until the child enters kindergarten

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Birth Family Home
  • Foster / Kinship Care
  • Community-based Agency / Organization / Provider
  • School Setting (Including: Day Care, Day Treatment Programs, etc.)


Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) includes a homework component:

It is an essential part of the program that parents and children engage together in sharing books and stories and practicing targeted activities at home.


Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) has materials available in a language other than English:


For information on which materials are available in this language, please check on the program's website or contact the program representative (contact information is listed at the bottom of this page).

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

Since the core of this model is home-based, there is not a great need for space. Sites are connected at each site to local school districts and are provided space in-kind through these partnerships. Schools receive sub grants from Save the Children to cover the cost of: vehicle or mileage reimbursement for home visiting travel, early childhood materials, books, and curricula materials.

Manuals and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Early Childhood Program Specialists must have extensive training and experience in infant/toddler development, in training and mentoring, and some experience with rural, home visiting programs.

No qualifications for home visitors (Early Childhood Coordinators), because Save the Children provides all of the training onsite, but desired characteristics includes: flexibility, desire to learn, nonjudgmental, good boundaries and emotional availability.

Manual Information

There is a manual that describes how to deliver this program.

Training Information

There is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training Type/Location:

Training is provided through ongoing, onsite mentoring, training, and technical assistance. This is done both one-on-one and, at times, regionally.

Number of days/hours:

Length of training is tailored to each community and dependent on need(s) of each client/agency but all sites receive a 3-day orientation where they are exposed to the curricula and learn about their roles and responsibilities. Save the Children provides ongoing onsite support, and distance learning and support through monthly audio conference calls and electronic "live meetings."

Additional Resources:

There currently are additional qualified resources for training:

Judith Jerald, Early Childhood Advisor
Save the Children
email: jjerald@savechildren.org

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Iruka, I. U., Brown, D., Jerald, J., & Blitch, K. (2018). Early Steps to School Success (ESSS): Examining pathways linking home visiting and language outcomes. Child & Youth Care Forum, 47(2), 283–301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10566-017-9430-1

Type of Study: One-group pretest–posttest study
Number of Participants: 5,046


  • Age — Birth–3 years; Caregivers: Not specified
  • Race/Ethnicity — Children: 43% White, 25% African American, 20% Latino, 7% Native American, and 5% Other; Caregivers: 46% White, 25% African American, 21% Latino, 7% Native American, and 2% Other
  • Gender — Children: 49% Male; Caregivers: Not specified
  • Status — Participants were families who participated in the ESSS home visiting program from 2006 to 2014.

Location/Institution: 160 sites across 14 states

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
The purpose of the study was to assess the Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) program using secondary analysis data to examine the pathway through which home visiting participation is associated with children's early language outcomes and whether this pathway varies by quantity of risk factors. Measures utilized include the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (HOME) and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Fourth Edition (PPVT-IV). Results indicate that participation in home visiting was indirectly associated with children's receptive language through a responsive and language-rich home environment. Limitations include the limited information about the specific focus of the home visits, the study does not account for children and families' experiences of risks changing over time, and more robust measures are needed to examine parenting practices and home environment.

Length of controlled postintervention follow-up: None.

Additional References

No reference materials are currently available for Early Steps to School Success (ESSS).

Contact Information

Barbara Lunnemann
Title: Advisor
Agency/Affiliation: Save the Children
Website: www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.8193011/k.4505/Early_Steps_to_School_Success.htm
Phone: (618) 972-4387

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: January 2024

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: November 2019

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: August 2010