Early Childhood Education: Are our children kindergarten-ready?
At their high school graduation, the children who attend Shady Dell Early Childhood Center likely won't remember the lessons they learned. But the skills introduced in the colorful classrooms of preschool put kids on the path to success.
"When you've got a system in place that takes care of that child from the time they enter our system until they graduate, then if everything's working together, those gaps are all filled," said Missy Riley, Director of Early Childhood Education for Springfield Public Schools.
Riley, a former Kindergarten teacher, is passionate about early education and thinks everyone should be.
"I really got that burning intuition that we need to be doing more as a school district, as a community, as a society to provide experiences for children and for families that support them and that encourage them to be the best that they can be," she said.
Ten years ago, the Mayor's Commission for Children in Springfield completed a study that found that one in five children are not prepared for kindergarten. By 2014, that number jumped to one in almost three.
The Springfield School District has four early childhood programs, including a special education program and a program for children identified as academically at-risk. However, if a child misses out on the opportunity for a quality early education, there is no do-over, and they are more likely to fall behind later in life.
"If they don't get that start, we will spend the rest of our lives and their lives re-mediating that," said Dana Carroll, Springfield's Child Advocate for the Every Child Promise. "Both from an educational perspective, but also from a social perspective."
Learning social skills is why Springfield parent Amanda Johnston had both her kids enrolled in preschool as early as possible. Kindergarten readiness is more than learning your ABC's and 123's.
"The social aspects, mingling with other children that are like her and prepping for the actual structure that is in the kindergarten classroom," Johnston said.
In fact, educators encourage enrollment in an early education program for that very reason. Children who have already learned to share, listen, interact and play with other kids and be a good learner are more likely to be ready for Kindergarten.
"If children are social and emotionally ready for school, those Kindergarten teachers will say, we'll take care of the academic stuff," Riley said. "So we spend a lot of our focus really working on the social-emotional skills and just being part of a classroom, being a learner, teaching children how to learn as much as what to learn."
The first developmental screenings for children can be done as early as six-months of age. If funding allows for more screenings, kids would not fall through the cracks and would instead be placed in the program that is best for them, giving them a chance to dream big.
"I think it's really important for the kids to set their own goals and for them to follow their dreams," Johnston said.