We adopt a broad definition of early childhood as the entire first decade of life, from prenatal development up to age 10 . . . The historical convention of the preschool period from ages 3 to 5 as defining early childhood has encouraged an unfortunate classification of programs and experiences that limit integration. The focus on the continuum of experiences supports a more complete spectrum of services and research approaches. (Reynolds & Temple, 2019, p. 13)
Drawing on the P-3 (Prenatal through 3rd grade) and community schools movements, communities across the country are working to improve teaching and learning in the early grades while strengthening family partnerships and providing comprehensive services to young children and their families. The innovations these communities are implementing suggest the outlines of a promising place-based model, here called First 10 Schools and Communities (see figure below). We follow Reynolds and Temple (2019) in adopting a broad definition of early childhood as including roughly the first decade of life.
Using the term First 10 Schools and Communities to refer to this convergent model offers several benefits:
- The school and community initiatives described in this study suggest the need for a term that refers to the combination of three essential supports and services: high-quality teaching and learning in the early grades, family engagement and partnership, and comprehensive services for children and families.
- “First 10,” understood as roughly the first decade of life, signals the importance of school district and elementary school collaboration with other early childhood programs. School principals, district leaders, and leaders of other child-serving organizations are all critical to improving the quality and alignment of teaching, learning, and care across the full early childhood continuum, yet terminology that leaves out fourth and fifth graders is an obstacle for many elementary school principals.*
- The elementary schools discussed in this study demonstrate the importance of incorporating early-grades improvement work into schoolwide improvement strategies. They also illustrate the potential of First 10 initiatives as a whole-school change approach. For example, that principals in Metro Omaha think of their schools as “Birth Through Grade 5” hubs suggests the level of buy-in that is possible with this work and the extent to which it can become part of a school’s identity.
- While some children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” as they move from grade 3 to 4, there is and should be much continuity in teaching and learning practices, family engagement and partnership, and comprehensive services as children transition to fourth grade and beyond.
* While most elementary schools go up to fifth grade (ages 10 and 11, typically), some go up to sixth grade and some to eighth. The latter often have a separate unit dedicated to grades 6–8