Story by Lyndsey Schley
Preparing a child for a successful career starts even before they begin formal schooling. The first step the Summit Education Initiative, or SEI, has identified in their Cradle to career pipeline is Kindergarten Readiness.
SEI chairs a team that created strategies to increase Kindergarten Readiness. SEI Executive Director Derran Wimer said the team has been focusing on three strategies. These are expanding and filling the capacities of preschools, increasing communication between preschools and kindergartens and defining what it means to be ready for kindergarten.
What is Kindergarten Readiness?
For the past four years, Wimer said, preschools have been issuing reports called Transition Skills Summaries. In the past, each school had their own exit materials for children going into kindergarten. He said this new system allows all local preschools to show their childrens’ progress in the same way.
“That way, there is some consistency for the parents,” Wimer said. “And there’s a way at a higher level to say ‘What’s the overall readiness for children who are leaving early childhood education programs and entering kindergarten?’”
Four years ago, only 114 children were given this common report. Wimer said that number is now about 2,800. Wimer said this is so parents can better prepare their children.
“Every parent receives a customized, student-specific, four-page report that describes their child’s readiness in each of the five early learning categories,” Wimer said. “So, a parent will get an understanding of her child’s readiness in pre-academic skills or social skills or motor skills or classroom-setting skills, so they will then have an idea of what they can be working on over the summer to help position their child to get ready.”
Kindergartens also get these reports. Within the first few weeks of kindergarten, the children take a Kindergarten Readiness test. Using these two pieces of data, Wimer said SEI created a predictive model to shows what skills are needed to be ready for kindergarten. These are:
• Point out at least 10 different colors
• Identify and name common shapes
• Recognize upper case and lower case letters
• Retell stories and events in order
• Use and follow location words
• Talk about quantities
• Talk about qualities
• Group objects together based on object shape, or sizes
• Produce rhyming words for common pictures
• Recognize when words begin with the same sound
• Hold books the proper way
• Count to twenty by ones
• Read numbers 0 to 10
• Count up to 10 objects in a pile
• Compare quantities of objects
• Think about and solve problems
Working to Gain These Skills
Wimer said 49 percent of kids do not attend preschool. Patricia Cronin, early learning program coordinator at Akron Public Schools, said children who have a good preschool experience do much better in school than peers who have not.
“They’re learning to communicate, they’re verbalizing more and, when we have children in a preschool setting, they can interact with other children,” Cronin said. “That will also help that socialization piece of growth and development.”
The skills children learn in Preschool are often not what we associate with school, such as socialization, motor skills, verbal skills and remaining focused. She said the most important skills children learn in preschool is not necessarily how to count or read, but how to learn in a classroom environment. Cronin said these skills are crucial for a child’s success later in school.
“They don’t necessarily have to go to kindergarten having everything, but we really want them to have that willingness and that motivation,” she said.
Parents can play an important part in developing that motivation by keeping their children positive about school despite challenges.
Akron Public Schools runs preschools in various elementary schools throughout the city, along with several other buildings owned by the district. APS’s program aims to combine students with learning disabilities or developmental delays with typical students. The idea is that the on-track students can act as mentors to their peers. Their goal is to combat some delays, so these students are performing on the level of their peers by the time they get to kindergarten.
One major barrier to preschool is availability. Wimer said many parents have difficulty getting their children to a quality preschool because of transportation issues. Cronin said APS has the capacity to serve more children, but often parents cannot get children to their locations. This issue is why many of the APS preschools are located within elementary schools, and these classrooms tend to have more children from the local area whose parents can walk them to school.
“We still have some parents who are unable to get students to our programs because of transportation issues,” Cronin said. “It is frustrating because we do have the ability to serve children who have a low income, but we also do not transport children except our children with disabilities.”
Outside of School
Unanimously, the experts encourage parents to read to their children. Wimer said parents should do this at least 15 minutes a day. He noted that literacy is not only about reading, but also about hearing different words. The National Association for the Education of Young Children said by the age of three, there is a 30 million word gap between the poorest and wealthiest children.
Wimer said it is not all about numbers, but also quality. Low-income children tend to hear more negative words than their peers, which seems to have a negative effect on development. Wimer said it can be helpful for adults to have positive conversations with their children to help develop vocabulary.
For children who are behind, SEI has developed 16 For Success kits. These are bookbags filled with games and activities that are made available to organizations in the community. The organizations give these kits to parents, along with training. Wimer said they aim to help parents help their children catch up with these skills over the summer before Kindergarten.
The Summit County Public Library system has also created a list of books that help children develop each of these skills. They are available at every library across the county.
SEI is encouraging Learning Centers to participate in Step Up to Quality, a program from the Ohio Departments of Education and Job and Family Services. The program gives each center a star rating, 5 being the highest, for the quality of the education.
Wimer said they want to improve the ratings of local centers. They hope to do this by providing training to teachers to help them give their students a better education. They are currently looking into the best way to accomplish this.
Between 67 and 70 percent of children are now starting kindergarten with the necessary skills. 80 percent of children who pass these exam will be able to pass the 3rd Grade Reading Test.
“We know that their literacy skills or their lack thereof will determine their likelihood of success at the elementary level,” said Mary Outley-Kelly, elementary executive director at Akron Public Schools. “Our teachers spend a great deal of time trying to fill those gaps and we know that they can give them a stronger foundation and get them reading earlier if they came better prepared for their kindergarten experience.”
Last year, Akron Public Schools reported that on average, children were finishing kindergarten and 1st grade on track according to national assessments. This is the first time the district has been at this level since they began measuring.
“We’re hopeful that if we continue with our strategy, we’ll now see the difference not just at [the kindergarten and 1st grade level], but we’ll see the foundation for their literacy in [kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade] and it will just keep going on from there,” Outley-Kelly said.