Kindergarten in the 2020s is a tougher gig than play, sing and snack, and only one-third of Anchorage children are kindergarten-ready on the first day of school. It’s a sobering notion that only a third of our children are ready for kindergarten, but that should challenge rather than discourage us, because we have the means to change that metric. And it’s vital that we do, because research shows that kindergarten is a pivotal time for kids—positive early learning experiences serve as a strong predictor of future achievement.
Our Anchorage numbers are in line with rigorous research in other parts of the country. A study of 688 students in Ohio looked at the readiness of incoming kindergarteners and found that 70 percent struggled in at least one of five performance categories, while 30 percent struggled in all five. The same study found that modern kindergarten is more academically demanding in recognition that our kids are bound for an increasingly competitive and complex world.
Research also guides us to solutions. Incoming kindergarten students with the benefit of transition activities – especially “high-intensity” activities that involve participation by students and their families – do better in year-end assessments than their classmates without those activities, with the biggest gains coming for low-income students.
Working with families, the Anchorage School District has designed the Countdown to Kindergarten (C2K) program to provide incoming kindergarten students and their families with information and activity ideas to help children be successful in school.
“Kindergarten teachers often share that the most important role of early childhood educators is to focus on what are called executive function skills which include working memory, self-control, and flexible thinking,” said Chelsea Mauro, Preschool Director at ASD and Beth Snyder, Early Childhood Specialist at ASD. “When we lack these skills, it makes it hard to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions. C2K provides this opportunity to practice these skills in a playful way.”
Countdown to Kindergarten provides both long-range and near-term prep for families of children from ages 3 to 5. Each spring, the C2K program includes “Kindergarten Round-Up,” an introduction to kindergarten from school district staffers for families of children due to start kindergarten this fall. Kindergarten Round-Up has information about school routines, expectations, and how to enroll, all tailored to ease the transition for both incoming kindergarteners and their families. Earlier this year, virtual sessions for children and families included stories, songs, and movements. Now, the C2K team has partnered with Anchorage Public Library to host sessions filled with activities, tips for parents, and chances to earn free books and prizes. The first two events are Saturday, August 7 at 11 a.m. (at Z.J. Loussac Library) and Saturday, August 11 at 11 a.m. (at Mountain View Lyon’s Park). This fall, the library and Countdown to Kindergarten will host monthly activities with a passport program to encourage families with four year old children to attend each month.
ASD’s “10 Ways to Get Ready For Kindergarten” is another family-friendly short course in kindergarten readiness that will help ease a child’s transition to formal schooling. Most of the recommendations center around fun interactions and questions that can be added into daily life. Numbers become familiar by counting the steps to the mailbox or the park; writing begins with the child’s own name and uppercase letters; the library opens new worlds – and so does the grocery store. Playing and sharing with other children is perfect prep for the classroom to come. And the call to “Read, read, read (in any language)!” is an enduring invitation to school success and the richness that comes with being a lifelong learner.
Kerry Reardon and Elsa Aegerter, both C2K facilitators, report that parents’ responses “range from an enthusiastic ‘Thanks for all the great ideas’ to ‘You should have more of these programs!’” Families also receive take-home activity ideas so they can continue practicing at home.
In Anchorage, we’re lucky that the C2K program offers incoming students and families with a range of transition activities. If you know a family with a future kindergarten student, please help spread the word that transition activities pay off in so many ways and in so many years beyond kindergarten.