While basic skills, such as number and letter recognition, are an important part of kindergarten readiness, there are many more facets to consider, said Amanda Petersen, director of Early Childhood for the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE).
Early childhood experiences impact a child’s lifelong learning, and school readiness is an essential building block for future achievement and academic success.
“We start learning at birth,” Petersen said. “The early years are such a rapid period of development. Ninety percent of the brain is formed by the time a child is 5 years old. The earlier you start, the more bang you get for your buck.”
In fact, kindergarten readiness was identified in 2015 as an outcome to measure the progress toward the Kansas State Board of Education’s vision – Kansas leads the world in the success of each student.
“We can’t accomplish any of our goals as they relate to leading the world in student success if we’re not focusing on the years birth to age 5,” Petersen said. “Kansans value our kids and our families and realize that learning begins long before a child’s first day of kindergarten. Really getting children off on the right foot is a smart investment that gives us a great return in the long run.”
There are four components to school readiness – community, educational environment, family and child, according to the Kansas School Readiness Framework, a section of the Kansas Early Learning Standards.
The School Readiness Framework identifies each component in the following manner:
“It’s more than any individual child,” Petersen said. “We can also think about a family’s school readiness. What have schools communicated with parents? Have schools built a relationship with the family?”
To help ensure families are ready, KSDE and the Kansas Parent Information Resource Center partnered to offer a “Kindergarten in Kansas” booklet for families of young children.
The booklet, which has been translated into several different languages, contains kindergarten entry information; information on transitioning to kindergarten; early learning standards; a checklist for entering kindergarten; and a list of additional resources. It is available at https://www.ksde.org/Agency/Division-of-Learning-Services/Special-Education-and-Title-Services/Early-Childhood.
When it comes to school readiness, Petersen said, it’s important to realize that it’s not the responsibility of the child to be ready for kindergarten, but rather the responsibility of the system to be prepared to welcome and respond to each child’s individual needs.
“Kindergarten readiness for a school means that they are prepared to accept each child who walks through their door, recognizing the child who turns 5 on Aug. 31 and the child who just missed that cut off by a day and is nearly 6 years old by the time school starts – a year is a huge amount of time for little kids,” she said. “A kindergarten, early elementary and preschool teacher has to be a master of differentiation to be able to say, ‘OK, we are going to recognize where each individual child is at and be able to adjust accordingly so that we are delivering the instruction they need.’ “
Kansas law doesn’t require a child to attend kindergarten. However, most parents opt to send their child when he or she is age eligible. Children who are 5 years old on or before Aug. 31 of the school year and who are residents of Kansas are eligible to attend kindergarten in Kansas. If a student comes to Kansas from another state and attended kindergarten before the move, then that child is eligible to attend kindergarten in Kansas even if he or she isn’t yet 5.
KSDE also has partnered with the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund and other state agencies to help shape Kansas’ future direction for early childhood. In 2019, the state began by developing a comprehensive needs assessment of the programs and services for early care and education across the state. This led to the development of the All in for Kansas Kids Strategic Plan in 2020. More than 6,100 Kansans contributed their experiences, ideas and feedback to help strengthen and improve early childhood in Kansas. Early childhood stakeholders continue to work collaboratively to make the strategic plan a reality.
In the coming weeks, KSDE will share information on the importance of the Ages & Stages Questionnaires, which provide a snapshot of a child’s development; transitioning to kindergarten; and the key role communities can play in making sure a student is ready to attend kindergarten.
“If we want our communities to thrive and be healthy and prosperous, that really depends on having our kids be able to grow up and be happy, healthy and successful,” Petersen said.
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