As thousands of Arizona kids start kindergarten over the next few weeks, they face high expectations and a state ultimatum: learn to read by the end of third grade or be held back. The class of 2024 is the second class of kindergartners subject to the new requirement, approved in 2010 by the state Legislature.
“As parents and caregivers, we are counting on Arizona schools to help our children meet those high expectations,” said Rhian Evans Allvin, Chief Executive Officer of First Things First. “But, there are many things that we can do – every day at home – to help prepare our children for success in kindergarten and beyond.”
It’s never too early to start. Research shows that 90% of a child’s brain develops by age 5. The experiences a child has during that critical time shape the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Kids who have positive experiences from birth and leading up to kindergarten are more likely to do well in school, graduate and go on to college.
Gathering information from a variety of early childhood and parenting resources, FTF has developed tip sheets for parents to help them prepare their kids in the weeks leading up to and on the first day of school. With just a few weeks remaining before the start of kindergarten, the tips range from making sure kids are caught up on all their medical and dental check-ups to practicing new routines and reducing first day anxiety.
“Being prepared means that the child comes to school ready to succeed; they are meeting or exceeding typical developmental milestones for a child their age and they have a desire to learn,” said Jolene Mutchler, a preschool teacher who also is a member of the First Things First Central Pima Regional Partnership Council.
By contrast, children who are not prepared when they enter school face challenges from the start, said Mutchler, who has worked with children 5 and younger for a decade. These children must first play “catch up” in order to be able to absorb the rigorous curriculum of kindergarten. They often display more acting out behavior due to frustration and require more teacher attention to manage and educate, which often detracts from their peers, Mutchler said.
Parents can help by making sure their children have positive experiences in the critical years between birth and 5 years old.
“Students who have spent time in quality early learning environments – whether school, childcare or home – have had learning experiences thru exploration and play that prepare their minds and hands for K-12 academics,” Mutchler said.
Parents should look for early learning environments that have a low ratio of children to caregivers, teachers who are highly trained, a teaching curriculum focuses on literacy and language development, and safe classrooms with lots of books and toys appropriate to the child’s age.
At home, parents should focus on reading, talking and playing with their children as much as possible. The First Things First website also offers parents tips on what they can do at home during different stages of their child’s development to promote learning.
First Things First expands services that help kids birth to 5 prepare for success in school. Funded programs support parents in their role as a child’s first teachers; promote early literacy; improve the quality of child care settings; increase the professional skills of those working with the youngest kids; expand access to preschool services; and, enhance the availability of a myriad of preventive medical and dental services for children statewide.