Social competence is an essential capability to bring to school because of its relationship to academic success. Development and consolidation of social understanding in early childhood ensures that young children have a solid foundation of social expertise when they begin formal schooling. Social expertise, conceptualized within the framework of Case's neo-Piagetian theory and focused on how young children understand others' intentions, provides the framework for a 'design for development.' Social expertise is discussed from the perspectives of intentional understanding, intersubjectivity, expert versus novice performance, and the conceptual bridging approach to instruction. By targeting core conceptual understanding in the social domain, this instructional approach has potential to help build social understandings that relate to the acquisition of skills. Development also can be tracked in a fine-grained fashion, leading to deeper understanding of individual pathways to social expertise.