The ECLS-B was designed to describe children’s first experiences and relationships. The study provides descriptive data on 1) children's growth and development in critical domains; 2) children's transitions to child care and early childhood education programs and kindergarten; 3) children's health status at birth and at regular intervals during early childhood; 4) father involvement; and 5) school readiness. The longitudinal nature of the study enables researchers to study children's physical, cognitive, language, social, and emotional development and to relate children's growth and development to their early learning environment.
A central focus of the ECLS-B is children's development during the critical years before formal schooling begins. The study sought to better understand children's physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and language development in relation to important influences in their lives (e.g., mother's prenatal behavior, health care, home environment, child care environment, and school environment). Direct cognitive, socioemotional, motor skill, and physical assessments enable analysis of child development and its relationship to early learning environments over time.
Of particular interest to the ECLS-B is the transition that occurs as young children first receive care and education on a regular basis from persons other than their parents. Transitions of interest include the transitions to group-based early childhood programs and other forms of nonparental care and education, and from preschool to kindergarten.
Children's early growth, development, and readiness for school are influenced by many health factors. Variations in children's development were examined in light of their health status and care, both prenatally and after birth. Additionally, the ECLS-B collected information about children’s experiences with health care and the prevalence of several health conditions (e.g., asthma, ear infections, etc.), special needs, and receipt of services. The ECLS B also collected information regarding children’s nutrition and eating habits. The longitudinal nature of the data allows for an examination of changes in children's health status, including the identification of health issues and special needs as children age.
The role parents play in the lives of their children is of special interest in the ECLS-B. Therefore, it was important to obtain information on both fathers’ and mothers’ involvement with their children. Rather than rely on proxy reports from mothers, who were most often the respondent to the parent interview, fathers’ involvement in their children's lives was examined by directly gathering information from the fathers (or father-figures) themselves. The ECLS-B captured information about activities that fathers engage in with their children as well as their feelings about being a father.
For some children, the first formal school experience is kindergarten. However, the nature of children's early experiences in and before kindergarten is quite variable, and expectations for children differ across preschool and kindergarten programs. The ECLS-B examined children's preparation for school by studying the different characteristics of children, their families and home learning activities, and their nonparental care and early educational experiences.