Getting children ready for kindergarten really counts

07/30/2014 5:28 PM

07/30/2014 5:28 PM

As a parent of elementary school children, I know our hall closet is already stuffed with backpacks, school supplies and a few boxes of new shoes to replace those that summer has so lovingly worn to their current state of dinginess.

It’s that time of year when children return to school.

Few days are as memorable or as well-documented for parents and children alike as the first day of kindergarten. Facebook pages will soon fill with uploads of the infamous “first day.”

I recall coaching myself to “just breathe” while, with moist eyes and real joy, I released a warm little hand to that first teacher.

As wiggly young ones from diverse homes and backgrounds circle around their teacher to begin their education, their parents often share a common belief: Children should all have an equal chance at success in school.

Yet the 2,000 days of experiences that precede the start of kindergarten construct a foundation of learning, and not all children start out equally.

By the time they reach kindergarten, those children who grow up in families that lack supportive adults, in environments that lack nurture and stimulation, and in neighborhoods where services like regular well-child checks are not so regular, are already fighting against the odds to be successful in school and life.

Reading proficiency by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success, and teachers work hard to achieve that. Yet, every year more than 80 percent of low-income children miss this crucial milestone.

High-quality early-learning experiences can help improve that outcome.

The research around early childhood development has taught us that what happens in a child’s infant and toddler years affects brain development. Brain development and early experiences establish a course for or against success well before that child writes his or her name on the first school paper.

Some children need extra help to start off “ready for school.” Children from low-income families face challenges that simply don’t surface as frequently in higher-income families.

So, hats off to officials in Fort Worth and surrounding cities and school districts in Tarrant County who are reaching out to families prior to a child’s first day in kindergarten by providing 0-3 and Pre-K services that count.

Low-income families can connect with Head Start and Early Head Start programs that provide not only high-quality early learning but many other supports for parents, families and services that children may need.

For families blessed to still have infants and toddlers at home, there are lots of tools and ideas available to help nurture little ones. Local schools and libraries offer a variety of supports for parents.

Parent education classes and quality preschool programs are all great options that are readily available in our area.

It’s in everyone’s interest that we provide the means for all children to arrive ready for success in school. Let’s continue to enhance programs for young children and encourage new and innovative resources that promote parenting skills for young families, especially for those of modest means and minimal support.

Kara Waddell is president/CEO of Child Care Associates. kara.waddell-@childcareassociates.org

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