• Early Childhood Education:  Kindergarten—Why it is Important and What the Research Says

    Policy Information Brief for Parents by: Daniel T. Farr, Superintendent of Schools

    There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.  – Graham Greene, 1940

    The debate about early childhood education is often filled with controversy about the long-term cognitive gains, the social benefits, and the other “benefits” that stem out of early intervention programs—preschool and kindergarten programs. 

    In response to the debate, results from studies with the strongest methodologies in a very large pool of research indicate that early childhood programs “can have substantial effects on children’s lives years after their involvements in the program” (p.8).   Success indicators include enhanced school achievement, higher earnings, decreased involvement with the legal system, and stronger parenting skills for those programs with a parent component. 

    Sidney Public School’s views early childhood education through kindergarten programming as critical to future success.  From over 20 years of research, we know what works well.  Today’s lawmakers also know that high quality programs make a difference.  Policy makers also know that “what happens to children early in life has a significant impact on the later achievement” (Bookings Institute, 2005) and that early childhood education should be “designed in accordance with the evidence from U.S. studies that program quality depends on small group sizes, high ratios of staff to children, trained and well-supervised teachers, and developmentally appropriate curricula” (Gromby, Larner, Stevenson, Lewit and Behrman, 1995).

    Policy Regarding Entrance, Date and Age

    To this end, the Sidney Trustees will enroll a child in one of the District’s kindergarten programs based on chronological age and developmental readiness based on the District’s assessment and review process.  A child will first be considered for the K1 half-time program if the child’s fifth (5th) birthday occurs on or after the first (1st) day of June.  A child whose fifth (5th) birthday occurs on or before the first (1st) day of June will be considered first for the K2 full-time program.  A child will be enrolled in first grade whose sixth (6th) birthday occurs on or before the tenth (10th) day of September of the school year in which the child is to enroll but is not yet 19 years of age.  Parents may request a waiver of the age requirement.  All waivers are granted in the sole discretion of the District.

    Placement

    The District goal is to place students at levels and in settings that will increase the probability of student success.  Developmental testing, together with other relevant criteria, including but not limited to health, maturity, emotional stability, and developmental disabilities, may be considered in the placement of all students.  All eligible kindergarten students to be enrolled and considered for the K1 or K2 program will be formally assessed (i.e. Geselled) for the purpose of proper educational placement in either the half-time or full-time kindergarten programs.   Final disposition of all placement decisions rests with the principal, subject to review by the Superintendent or the Board.

    Kindergarten Readiness:  Is your child ready for school?

    What are the enrollment or cutoff dates (state law—MCA 20-5-101)?

    (1) The trustees shall assign and admit a child to a school in the district when the child is:

         (a) 6 years of age or older on or before September 10 of the year in which the child is to enroll but is not yet 19 years of age;

         (b) a resident of the district;

         (c) otherwise qualified under the provisions of this title to be admitted to the school;

    (2) The trustees of a district may assign and admit any nonresident child to a school in the district under the tuition provisions of this title.

    (3) The trustees may at their discretion assign and admit a child to a school in the district who in under 6 year of age  or an adult who is 19 year of age or older if there are exception circumstances that merit waiving the age provision.  Trustees do allow admittance for children under 6 years of age, children in accordance with kindergarten provisions.

    What is readiness?

    The first five years of life are critical to a child’s lifelong development.  Early experiences actually influence brain development, establishing neural connections that provide the foundation for language, reasoning, problem solving, social skills, behavior and emotional health.

    Several factors determine readiness but there is no single or simple factor.  Factors include your child’s ability to think logically, speak clearly, and interact with others and your child’s physical development.  Physical, social, emotional and cognitive development varies for every child.  Most early childhood educators agree that a child’s brain development is the most important gauge of readiness—language skills, thinking skills and perceptual skills.

    The Five Domains of Readiness

     1.     Physical Well-Being and Motor Development:  This domain is concerned with such factors as health status, growth, and disabilities; physical abilities, such as gross and fine motor skills; and conditions before, at, and after birth.

    2.     Social and Emotional Development:  This domain combines two interrelated components affecting children’s behavioral health and learning.  Social development refers to children’s ability to interact with others and their capacity for self-regulation.  Emotional development includes children’s perceptions of themselves, their abilities to understand the feelings of other people, and their ability to interpret and express their own feelings.

    3.     Approaches to Learning:  Refers to a child’s inclination to use skills and knowledge.  Key components include enthusiasm, curiosity, and persistence on tasks.

    4.     Language Development:  This domain includes communication and emergent literacy.  Communication includes listening, speaking and vocabulary.  Emergent literacy includes print awareness, story sense, early writing and the connection of letters to sounds. 

    5.     Cognition and General Knowledge:  This domain refers to thinking and problem solving as well as knowledge about particular objects and the way the world works.  Mathematical knowledge, abstract thought, and imagination are included.

    How can you tell if your child is ready?

    What did your child’s preschool teacher tell you? (preschool and daycare are two very different services, just as is kindergarten)

    Check with your pediatrician.

    If you start your child in kindergarten, what is the teacher telling you?

    If the school completed readiness testing, what was the recommendation?

    What does the research say about delaying kindergarten? (Rand study by Ashlesha Datar)

    Entering kindergarten later significantly boosts tests score at entry in both math and reading.

    Benefits do not fade and are even greater for disadvantaged children.

    Delaying kindergarten increases childcare costs.

    In review, the question of readiness is one that must involve a discussion with the teachers who will serve your child during this first year to determine readiness and placement in K1 or K2, placement that is in the best interest of the child.  School experiences are based on readiness and what each child/student is ready to do.

    Reference Articles:

    Barbett, S., (1995). Long-term Effects of Early Childhood Programs on Cognitive and School Outcomes.  The Future of Children, Vol 5. No.3. Winter 1995.

    Boocock, S. (1995). Early Childhood Programs in Other Nations:  Goals and Outcomes. The Future of Children, Vol 5. No.3. Winter 1995.

    Brookings Institute (2005). New Release  Addressing Racial and Ethnic Gaps in Educational Achievement. Retrieved February 1, 2008, from

    http://www.brookings.edu/media/NewsReleases/2005/20050209futureofchildren.aspx?p=1

    Gomby, D., Larner, M., Stevenson, C., Lewit, E., and Behrman, R. (1995). Long-Term Outcomes of Early Childhood Programs:  Analysis and Recommendations. The Future of Children, Vol 5. No.3. Winter 1995.

    Sawhill, I. (2006).  Opportunity in America:  The Role of Education. Retrieved February 1, 2008, from http://www.futureofchildren.org/usr_doc/Opportunity_Policy_Brief.pdf

     Websites:

    1.  www.futureofchildren.org

    2.  http://www.brookings.edu/