Imagine being able to predict a toddler’s success in life before he or she enters kindergarten. Studies show that students’ prospects in adulthood have a lot to do with their younger years. In many cases early learning specialists see the achievement gap broadening before a child can even pronounce the word “success.”
According to a study published by the Center for Public Education, low-income children who attended preschool programs tested higher in literacy as adults, were less likely to be arrested for a violent or drug-related crime, were more likely to be employed, were more likely to own homes and were far more likely to have a savings account.
While many things influence a person’s success, there is one simple factor that can critically impact it — kindergarten readiness. The prospect of a fruitful life starts early.
“You can and should be reading to your child from the day they’re born,” said Amy Blondin of the Department of Early Learning in Olympia. “I talk to parents sometimes who say, ‘It seems so silly to be reading a book to my newborn.’ Well, even at that early age, they’re listening to your voice; they’re hearing those new sounds that are going to be part of their language development over time.”
About 85 percent of the brain is developed by age 3. As many as 700 new neural connections are formed every second in the early years of life. And at 9 months old, a child can show signs of falling behind in his or her development if not given the tools to learn.
Many educators agree the best things parents can do to prepare their children for kindergarten is to read to them and get them socially ready for the classroom. Read Aloud, a nonprofit that encourages parents to read to their children, claims that 15 minutes of reading aloud a day can strengthen a child’s likeliness of being successful. Only 48 percent of American kindergarten-aged children are read to every day.
Kirkland resident Joy Brooke, a former kindergarten teacher and now a doctorate student of educational leadership at Seattle University, also believes reading aloud is imperative to a child’s early development.
“There’s been a lot of talk about your child needs to know how to read before they get to kindergarten, which is not true,” she said. “But they do need to have foundational literacy skills. The best thing to prepare your child for school is to read aloud to your child every day.”
According to Brooke, reading aloud also starts a positive relationship with the learning experience.
“I tell people all the time, I’d way rather have a child who came into my classroom who loved to read and loved books than one that has been skilled and drilled with flashcards … It’s way easier to take a child who loves to read, who is interested in topics, and teach them skills on phonics and sight words than having a child who has most of the skills, but isn’t making meaning.”
In Washington, the only kindergarten entry requirement is the student must be 5 years old by Aug. 31. And the state’s guidelines for what should be mastered by kindergarten are fairly loose. Washington’s official kindergarten readiness tips pamphlet starts with, “all children develop in their own way.” Blondin says that’s by design.
“What we know about young kids is that they all enter kindergarten at different stages of development. And that’s OK. It’s our job as a state to meet kids where they are,” she said.
While the state’s guidelines for kindergarten readiness are pretty open-ended, they still provide some valuable information for parents. Some kindergarten characteristics they identify include the ability to learn new words, count to 10, sort like objects and memorize or participate in reading familiar books.
There is also an assessment test many of the 80,000 or so Washington kindergarteners take within their first eight weeks of school to analyze where they are developmentally. The assessment asks things like: Can the child count, understand shapes, write his or her name, demonstrate knowledge of the alphabet and identify and name letters? Some teachers feel the assessment can be a good measuring tool for parents to help prepare their child for kindergarten. But math and literacy questions make up less than half the document. The majority of it focuses on social and emotional skills, physical skills, speaking skills, motivational skills and the ability to problem solve.
“It’s not just about the traditional ABCs, one, two, three, cognitive skills that we think about when we think about kindergarten readiness. It’s also about social, emotional growth,” said Blondin.
For Brooke, a kindergartener’s manners and respectfulness can make all the difference in the classroom.
“Ready means more than academics,” she said. “I will tell you I appreciate those parents who have worked with their children to get them socially ready, who keep their hands to themselves, who have good manners, who respect other children, who respect their property; those things are part of school.”