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Practicing Kindergarten: How a Summer Program Eases Kids Into Learning

By guest blogger Lisa Stark 

The kindergarten year can be a critical one—setting the tone for students and influencing their academic success in elementary school and beyond. But of the 4 million children who will start kindergarten this year, an estimated one-third will have never been in a classroom before. The transition to kindergarten can be overwhelming for those students and their parents.

The scope of the problem is evident in a new study on kindergarten readiness from Illinois. The State Board of Education found only a quarter of students in the state were on target in three important areas—social and emotional development, language and literacy skills, and math skills. The data were even more discouraging for low-income students, only 16 percent were considered ready for kindergarten. 

Nationwide, some school districts are working to boost kindergarten readiness with summer programs to help prepare students for school. In Oregon, the Portland Public Schools runs an Early Kindergarten Transition Program at a dozen of its high-poverty schools. The three-week program focuses on students who have never been in school before, or come from low-income families, or whose first language isn't English. There's also an emphasis on teaching parents the importance of participating in their child's education.

Nancy Hauth, oversees early-learning programs for the district. "The heart and soul of the curriculum is about social skills and how to be a good friend and how to transition from one classroom activity to another," she says. "Some children struggle with that, especially if they haven't had a preschool experience, so this is a great opportunity to practice and understand that." Research shows the program has led to improved attendance and, in some cases, more growth in reading skills. Hauth says those who have attended the program are excited for school and "ready to go." 

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