Mother and daughter working together


Five Must-Reads on Child and Youth Development

Much has changed for young people in the last 20 years—some of it for the better and some for the worse, which you can read about here—and one major plus is that experts now know more than ever about what causes young people to fall behind and what can keep them on track. 

In the report Our Work, America’s Promise analyzed what exactly the field of child and youth development has learned over the past two decades and compiled a list of must-reads for anyone interested in supporting positive outcomes for youth. Here are five to start.

Ready by Design: The Science (and Art) of Youth Readiness

The Forum for Youth Investment spent three years studying the science of readiness, and they walked away with a lot of lists that begin with the number four.

For example, there are four things that determine a young person’s readiness: developmental environments, relationships, experiences, and space and time (young people need to be able to observe and explore, practice and learn from mistakes, and reflect and improve).

There are also four cultural and policy traps that often serve as false markers for readiness: allowing age to be a proxy for stage, completion a proxy for competence, time a proxy for progress, and access a proxy for quality. These traps fuel the gaps seen in readiness: achievement, expectations, opportunities, and skills.

So that’s the science of readiness. To learn more about the art of applying it, read the full report.

Relationships First: Creating Connections that Help Young People Thrive

For the past 20 years, Search Institute researchers have found that the number and intensity of developmental relationships that young people have with caring adults and peers can increase student engagement and improve academic motivation. But what exactly does a development relationship look like?

Search Institute offers definitions and guidance in their framework, including five critical elements of developmental relationships expressed through 20 actions. Download the resource for free here.

Becoming Brilliant

Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children

In this book, authors Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek introduce the “6Cs” parents can use to raise their kids to compete in a 21st century economy: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. (Five of these are featured in another book on Our Work’s full list, The Good Teen: Rescuing Adolescence from the Myths of the Storm and Stress Years.)

“We're training kids to do what computers do, which is spit back facts,” Pasek said in an NPR interview. “And computers are always going to be better than human beings at that. But what they're not going to be better at is being social, navigating relationships, being citizens in a community. So we need to change the whole definition of what success in school, and out of school, means.” Buy the book here.

Building Blocks for Learning: A Framework for Comprehensive Student Development

“Which skills do we need to build in children for them to be successful in school? And if we know what they are, can they be taught? How does growing up with adversity impact the acquisition of these critical skills?”

These are the questions the nonprofit Turnaround for Children answers in their framework, which they hope researchers, policymakers, and practitioners will use to build a more comprehensive approach to student development. Learn more about the building blocks here.

Building Blocks

Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework, University of Chicago Consortium on School Research

Over the course of five years, a Chicago high school that parents used to avoid managed to significantly improve everything from grad rates to the number of students who enrolled in college, as Ed Week reported earlier this year. One of the ways they did it was by relying on research defines student success by their agency, integrated identity, and competencies.

Here’s an excerpt from the report that explains what the means: “These factors capture how a young adult poised for success interacts with the world (agency), the internal compass that a young adult uses to make decisions consistent with her values, beliefs, and goals (an integrated identity), and how she is able to be effective in different tasks (competencies). The three key factors allow a young adult to manage and adapt to changing demands and successfully navigate various settings with different cultures and expectations.” Read the framework here

And to check out the full list of must-reads from Our Work, head to

This story is part of the #Recommit2Kids campaign, marking the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance and calling the nation to recommit to action on behalf of children and youth.