Getting children prepared for kindergarten

By Sue Cody


P-3 photo 2Two health and education screening clinics for children ages 2, 3, 4 and 5 will be held in the spring of 2016, thanks to a grant provided by Providence Health and Services. Screening clinics for hearing, vision, behavior, nutrition, typical development and other health issues will be available in Seaside and Astoria. The screenings identify concerns so children can be examined and evaluated for services and ready to learn when they reach kindergarten. Parents also will have access to many community resources that help all children be well prepared for kindergarten.


Providence recently gave $40,000 in grants to support programs of Way to Wellville Clatsop County. One of the four $10,000 grants is for an Early Childhood Health and Education Clinic. Connect the Dots is a nonprofit dedicated to uniting visions and missions of community partners who advocate for children and families.


Early education


In Clatsop County, a survey of parents of incoming kindergartners asked what their educational goals were for their child. How did they want to be involved in their child’s education? Did they want them to go to college or get a graduate degree? “For some parents, it was the first time they thought about that,” said Dan Gaffney, P-3 coordinator for Clatsop County.


P-3 is a movement that brings together everyone who touches the lives of young children from birth through third grade. It involves parents, child care providers, preschool teachers, elementary school staff and educators, social service providers and health care professionals.


“Our kindergarten assessment data – and our experience as educators – tells us that students arrive at school in vastly different places academically and socially,” wrote Rob Saxton, former superintendent of Oregon’s public schools. Saxton, an impassioned educator, now heads the Northwest Regional Education Service District (NWRESD), which serves Clatsop, Tillamook, Columbia and Washington counties.


“Kindergarten isn’t what it was even five years ago,” Gaffney said. Children are now expected to know letter identification, the sounds of letters and some addition and subtraction. When kindergarten teachers rated skills, they found social skills were lacking in many children, Gaffney said.


“It is important to engage parents in education,” Gaffney said. “One thing that jumped out at us was that only 50 to 60 percent of the parents in the survey felt comfortable supporting their kindergarten age children in reading, writing and math.”


To help parents, Clatsop County’s P-3 group, known as Clatsop Kinder Ready, is working on a booklet of tips. A different booklet will be provided for parents of children in kindergarten, first, second and third grade. “Local teachers are writing these tips on how to help your child,” said Gaffney. “It should relieve some concern for parents.”


A free lending library is available at the NWRESD office in Astoria for education providers and parents to share materials.


P-3 photo 1Background


Research has shown that children who are fluent readers at the end of third grade have a much higher level of success and accomplishment as adults. Those who are not fluent readers have a higher chance of dropping out of school, criminal activity, homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse.


P-3 leadership teams were formed to represent Seaside, Astoria, Knappa, Warrenton and Jewell school districts in 2013. Clatsop Kinder Ready is a countywide group that supports local P-3 groups in the elementary schools and their partners.


A three year grant totaling $210,000 was awarded by the Oregon Community Foundation in 2014 to Astoria School District to support P-3 Alignment in all school districts in the county.


Kinder Ready workshops were held the last two years in both English and Spanish. The workshops involve parents and children in activities to help them communicate and learn new skills important for success in kindergarten. More workshops are planned for February through June, with 20 people now trained to lead them, Gaffney said.


What is P-3 Alignment?


The concept behind P-3 Alignment is to create a smooth and consistent learning environment for children from pre-kindergarten through third grade. “We would like to see aligned routines from pre-kindergarten through first, second and third grades to help children progress smoothly.” Gaffney said.


High-quality pre-kindergarten programs show an increase in language, literacy and mathematical development. But the short-term effects of competency gained in preschool programs does not advance to long-term gains, research shows. Long-term gains depend on high quality learning opportunities in primary grades that align with and build on the pre-kindergarten experiences.


“No matter how beneficial pre-kindergarten or full-day kindergarten were initially thought for young participants, such benefits are undermined if students are subsequently exposed to schooling of systematically lower quality,” wrote Kristie Kauerz, director of the National P-3 Center and research assistant professor at the University of Washington.


“P-3 relies on both high-quality early learning opportunities before children enter school and expanding and strengthening the presence of effective teachers and high-quality learning opportunities during the primary school years, kindergarten through third grade,” wrote Kauerz.


“P-3 requires an unwavering commitment to ensuring that every child has high-quality opportunities to learn and to succeed in school and beyond,” Kauerz wrote.


In Boston, pre-kindergartners and their parents are invited to a kindergarten open house as a way for children and parents to become familiar and comfortable with the kindergarten setting. A series of events are provided that help incoming kindergartners and their parents get to know their future school and be well prepared, intellectually, socially and emotionally when they start. The P-3 communities of Clatsop County are preparing for similar welcoming events and early registration for kindergarten. 


In Clatsop County, school principals have agreed to have the Head Start and preschool teachers visit the kindergarten classrooms and the kindergarten teachers visit the preschool programs. “What they learn from each other will create a better bond and understanding of how to align their programs for smoother transitions and therefore greater success of their children,” Gaffney said.


For more information on how to reduce deficits and strengthen the economy by investing in early childhood education, see an article by James J. Hickman, Nobel Laureate in Economics at