Second Step® Early Learning

About This Program

Target Population: 4- to 5-year-old children in preschool

For children/adolescents ages: 4 – 5

Program Overview

The Second Step Early Learning program for PreK children is a universal, classroom-based program designed to increase children’s school-readiness and decrease problem behaviors by promoting social-emotional competence and self-regulation. It offers direct instruction and teaches skills that strengthen students’ ability to learn, have empathy, manage emotions, and solve problems.

The Second Step Early Learning program provides developmentally appropriate explicit skills instruction, offers content and media that is age-appropriate, and is designed to engage students in developing skills to enhance their emotion management, situational awareness, and school readiness.

Program Goals

The goals of Second Step Early Learning are:

  • Improve executive functioning skills.
  • Increase skills for learning.
  • Increase empathy.
  • Improve emotion management.
  • Increase friendship skills.
  • Improve social-emotional skills.
  • Increase self-regulation.
  • Improve classroom behavior.
  • Increase on-task behavior.
  • Increase school-readiness.

Logic Model

View the Logic Model for Second Step® Early Learning.

Essential Components

The essential components of Second Step Early Learning include:

  • Direct instruction led by the teacher or other staff member (implementer):
  • The implementer follows the provided script for each of the 28 Weekly Themes.
  • The Weekly Themes activities are presented on large photo cards with an overview and lesson objective for the teacher and the teaching script (in bold font) for each daily activity printed on the back.
  • There is a different activity for each day of the week that each teaches the Weekly Theme:
    • Day 1: Puppet script
      • Reviews concepts from previous weeks
      • Introduces new concepts
      • Can be done at a group time
    • Day 2: Story and Discussion
      • Focuses on the photo on the front of the card which is displayed to the children while the teacher reads the script on the back
      • Teaches more about the week’s skills
      • Can be done at a group time.
    • Days 3 and 4: Skill practice
      • Encourages children to practice one or two specific behaviors or objectives
      • Varies between small and large group activities
      • Reinforces skills by having the teacher recognize children who use the skill during the day
    • Day 5: Storybook:
      • Reinforces Weekly Theme and asks children the provided questions during the story. Recommendations for storybooks related to each theme are provided.
    • The Weekly themes are divided into five units:
      • Skills for Learning
      • Empathy
      • Emotion Management
      • Friendship Skills and Problem Solving
      • Transitioning to Kindergarten
    • The daily activities can be taught in 5-7 minutes each.
  • Brain Builders: The Brain Builder games are:
    • A fun way for students to develop and practice the executive functioning skills:
      • Attention
      • Memory
      • Inhibitory control
      • Executive functioning skills which help them:
        • Listen
        • Remember directions
        • Control their behavior
    • Included on printable PDFs that:
      • Lay out the steps of the game and instructions for the teacher
      • Include suggestions for any elements the teacher will need to make up (e.g., for a Brain Builder in which the children copy the teacher’s motions includes a list of simple motions and a list of more complex motions).
      • Include instructions for how to increase the challenge of the game as children get better with practice.
    • Played twice a day throughout the week
  • Posters illustrating primary concepts and strategies:
    • Aligned to the units’ primary concepts and strategies
    • Provided for implementers to hang and have on display both during the lesson and as a reference for skill reinforcement throughout the day
    • The concepts and strategies included are:
      • Feelings Cards (all displayed on one poster)
      • How to Calm Down
      • Fair Ways to Play (i.e., share, trade, take turns)
  • Song CD:
    • Songs developed specifically for use in Second Step lessons are provided on a CD.
    • The teaching script indicates when implementers play each song.
    • The songs are catchy and reinforce what the students are learning in the unit.
    • Spanish translations of all student-facing content and materials are available at no extra cost.
  • Two puppets (a boy and a girl) that are used to review and introduce key concepts.
  • A set of feelings cards show children displaying facial expressions of:
    • Happiness
    • Sadness
    • Anger
    • Fear
    • Surprise
    • Worry
    • Frustration
    • Disappointment
    • Excitement
    • Calmness.
  • Teaching Materials Notebook: The notebook includes:
    • 28 Home Link activities which extend Second Step into the home which:
    • Let parents know what their children are learning in Second Step
    • Provide an activity to reinforce the lessons at home
    • Provide parents with the same SEL vocabulary that their children are learning at school
  • Song lyrics
  • Brain Builder games
  • Resources for classroom teachers
  • Online resources and supports:
    • All implementers of Second Step have access to the program’s online resources including:
      • Preparation supports (key words, lesson objectives, teaching notes)
      • Daily activities for each weekly theme (puppet script, story and discussion, skill practice activities, and recommended storybooks related to the weekly theme):
        • The scope and sequence
        • Brain Builders (including demo videos for some)
        • Songs
        • Song lyrics
        • Posters
        • Home Links
        • Program introductory letter for families
        • Family letters

Program Delivery

Child/Adolescent Services

Second Step® Early Learning directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:

  • Children in preschool
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:

This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: Second Step Early Learning includes family letters and Home Link activities. The family letters inform families that their child’s class is doing Second Step, gives an orientation to the Home Links, and provide families with an end-of-year summary of what the children learning in Second Step. The Home Link activities extend Second Step into the home. Home Links let parents know what their children are learning in Second Step, provides an activity to reinforce the lessons at home, and provide parents with the same SEL vocabulary that their children are learning at school.

Recommended Intensity:

Activities are 5-10 minutes and taught daily.

Recommended Duration:

28 weeks

Delivery Setting

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • School Setting (Including: Day Care, Day Treatment Programs, etc.)

Homework

This program does not include a homework component.

Languages

Second Step® Early Learning has materials available in a language other than English:

Spanish

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:

The Second Step Early Learning classroom kits include all necessary printed lessons. It also includes the songs CD for which a CD player is needed and online streaming media for which an internet connection and projector is needed. A photocopier is needed for the Family Letters and Home Links.

Manuals and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

No additional qualifications are needed for teachers or other staff to deliver the program. Training and Orientation PowerPoints and videos are included with the Second Step Early Learning license.

Manual Information

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

Program Manual(s)

There is a manual for the site director:

  • Committee for Children. (2011). Staff training toolkit. Author.

The Staff Training Toolkit is designed to support site director-led meetings throughout the year, so site leaders can:

  • Kick off the Second Step program successfully
  • Check in with staff and monitor progress
  • Reflect on accomplishments and how to improve

Training Information

There is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training Type/Location:

The Second Step Early Learning training PowerPoint is included with the purchase of the curriculum. The PowerPoint and other training materials are available on SecondStep.org. Teachers complete the training which consists of a kick-off meeting and watching subject matter videos as a group.

Number of days/hours:

Less than 3 hours

Implementation Information

Pre-Implementation Materials

There are pre-implementation materials to measure organizational or provider readiness for Second Step® Early Learning as listed below:

There are a number of pre-implementation tools and assessments available on the Second Step website.

Formal Support for Implementation

There is formal support available for implementation of Second Step® Early Learning as listed below:

Second Step’s Education Partnerships and Client Success and Support teams are available for initial and ongoing support around implementing Second Step. There is no cost for this service.

  • They provide:
    • A 1-800 phone number on which implementers and site leaders will receive knowledgeable answers and recommendations to questions and requests
    • Webinars on a variety of topics (e.g., introduction to the program, booster session after implementation has begun) are done by members of our highly trained Education Partnership team

Fidelity Measures

There are fidelity measures for Second Step® Early Learning as listed below:

Second Step provides a self-report implementation fidelity checklist for Second Step activities. The teacher implementing Second Step Early Learning answers the 20 survey items using a 5-point scale (Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree, plus a Not Applicable option).

Second Step also provides a Weekly Theme Completion checklist for each unit. The teachers indicate the weekly themes they completed in that unit and answer questions about their implementation of the activities for that unit (e.g., teaching the weekly themes in order, the percentage of the activities they taught, and modifications they made to the activities or unit).

Implementation Guides or Manuals

There are implementation guides or manuals for Second Step® Early Learning as listed below:

An overview of implementation fidelity and information about types of evaluation design, the use of data for evaluation, how to use evaluation findings, and outcome measures are provided online with the program materials.

The kick-off meeting PowerPoint walks the teachers through implementation fidelity and their role in success implementation of Second Step.

Implementation Cost

There are no studies of the costs of Second Step® Early Learning.

Research on How to Implement the Program

Research has not been conducted on how to implement Second Step® Early Learning.

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Child Welfare Outcome: Child/Family Well-Being

Upshur, C. C., Heyman, M., & Wenz-Gross, M. (2017). Efficacy trial of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum: preliminary outcomes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 50, 15–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2017.03.004

Type of Study: Randomized controlled trial
Number of Participants: 31 classrooms (492 children)

Population:

  • Age — Mean=3.96 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 233 Anglo-American; 130 African-American, 191 Hispanic-American, 9 Asian, and 18 Other
  • Gender — 247 Males and 245 Females
  • Status — Participants were children from low-income families, as well as children whose families were involved with protective services or were homeless in 7 community-based preschool and 6 Head Start programs

Location/Institution: Not specified

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
The purpose of the study was to examine Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum for four-year-old children independently assessed for executive functioning (EF) and social-emotional skills (SE) in fall and spring of the preschool year. Head Start and community preschool classrooms enrolling low-income children were randomly assigned to deliver SSEL (n = 16 classrooms; 252 children) or usual curricula (n = 15 classrooms; 240 children). For the current study, only data for four-year-olds were utilized. Measures utilized include the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, 4th Edition (PPVT-4), the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders Task (HTKS) task, the Backward Digit Span task, the Challenging Situations Task (CST), and the Emotion Matching Scale. Results indicate that controlling for baseline EF; SE; cognitive ability; parent income; child sex, age, and ethnicity; children receiving the SSEL curriculum had significantly better end-of-preschool EF skills and marginally significantly better end-of-preschool SE skills. Limitations include some children were assessed before they received all weeks of the curriculum; the focus of the study was specifically on establishing efficacy, and therefore a higher level of training and coaching was provided to teachers in order to assure that a minimally adequate dose of the curriculum was achieved; data was only reported from the first cohort of the study; and lack of follow-up.

Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

Wenz-Gross, M., Yoo, Y., Upshur, C. C., & Gambino, A. J. (2018). Pathways to kindergarten readiness: The roles of second step early learning curriculum and social emotional, executive functioning, preschool academic and task behavior skills. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, Article 1886. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01886

Type of Study: Randomized controlled trial
Number of Participants: 972 children attending 63 preschool classrooms within 13 low-income Head Start or community preschools

Population:

  • Age — 53 months (4 years, 5 months)
  • Race/Ethnicity — 42% Anglo-American; 26% African-American, and 40% Hispanic-American
  • Gender — 51% Male
  • Status — Participants were pre-Kindergarten children recruited from 63 preschool classrooms within 13 childcare sites serving children.

Location/Institution: Not specified

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This study used the same sample as Upshur et al. (2017). The purpose of the study was to longitudinally examine the effects of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum on low-income preschool children’s kindergarten school readiness through the hypothesized mediating role of executive functioning (EF) and social-emotional (SE) skill in improving preacademic skills and task behavior in preschool. Participants were randomized into either the SSEL intervention (n=501) or the control group (n=471). Measures utilized include the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders Task (HTKS) task, the Less Is More Task (LM), the Preschool Self-Regulation Assessment (PSRA) Assessor Report, the Backward Digit Span task, the Challenging Situations Task (CST), the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement III (WJ III), and the Emotion Matching Task-Short Form (EMT-Short Form). Results found no direct effects of SSEL on either preacademic or on-task behavior outcomes in preschool, nor on later kindergarten readiness. However, SSEL significantly increased EF, and as expected by SSEL’s theory of change, growth in EF predicted gains in both preacademics (particularly premath), and on-task behavior in preschool. End-of-year preacademic skills and on-task behavior in turn predicted better kindergarten readiness. Further, SE (although not impacted by SSEL) had direct and indirect effects on kindergarten readiness. Limitations include sample size at the kindergarten follow up; only children entering the study during the first 3 years were followed into kindergarten and there were a sizeable number of children for whom school kindergarten screening data was not able to be obtained; randomization of classrooms occurred in years 1 and 3 (the 1st year of each cohort), but in year 2, program administrators placed children in classrooms as needed; the relationship between task behavior and individually assessed SE and EF may be inflated; and lack of follow-up.

Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

Upshur, C. C., Wenz-Gross, M., Rhoads, C., Heyman, M., Yoo, Y., & Sawosik, G. (2019). A randomized efficacy trial of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 62(May-June), 145–159. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2019.02.008

Type of Study: Randomized controlled trial
Number of Participants: 770 students

Population:

  • Age — Mean=53 months (4 years, 5 months)
  • Race/Ethnicity — 42% Anglo-American; 26% African-American, and 40% Hispanic-American
  • Gender — 51% Male
  • Status — Participants were children in 7 community-based preschool and 6 Head Start programs.

Location/Institution: Not specified

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This study used the same sample as Upshur et al. (2017). The purpose of the study was to examine Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum for four-year-old children independently assessed for executive functioning (EF) and social-emotional skills (SE) in fall and spring of the preschool year. Head Start and community preschool classrooms enrolling low-income children were randomly assigned to deliver SSEL or usual curricula. Participants were randomized into either the SSEL intervention (n=393) or the control group (n=377). Measures utilized include the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, 4th Edition (PPVT-4), the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders Task (HTKS) task, the Backward Digit Span task, the Challenging Situations Task (CST), and the Emotion Matching Scale. Results indicate that a significant effect (effect size of 0.15) for EF and a nonsignificant effect for SE were found. Secondary analyses found no significant differences on preacademic skills. SSEL appears to have a meaningful impact on at-risk children's EF skills that supports its continued dissemination. Limitations include the issues of potential selection bias of children into classrooms already assigned to intervention and control condition in the second year of each cohort (Years 2 and 4); more frequent in-classroom coaching might have further strengthened teacher delivery, especially in classrooms where there was turnover; the control classrooms began to implement additional SE and EF activities that reduced the potential differences in exposure to related activities between intervention and control children; and due to the logistics of collecting extensive individual child assessments, outcomes represent the effects of receiving a majority, but not all the SSEL weekly lessons.

Length of postintervention follow-up: Varies.

Additional References

No reference materials are currently available for Second Step® Early Learning.

Contact Information

Second Step Customer Support
Agency/Affiliation: Committee for Children
Website: www.secondstep.org/early-learning-curriculum
Email:
Phone: (800) 634-4449 x1

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: August 2021

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: March 2022

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: April 2022