‘Ready, Set – Kindergarten!’ project helps prepare children for starting school

Booklets suggest at-home activities for parents to support their child’s development

A new set of colorful guides give South Carolina parents, caregivers and teachers an accessible, easy-to-use tool to help prepare young children for kindergarten. 

“Ready, Set – Kindergarten!,” a series of six booklets developed by the Carolina Family Engagement Center, puts put state education standards into everyday language that parents can easily understand. This area of need was identified in collaboration with the Department of Early Learning and Literacy at the state Department of Education. By providing a bridge between the developmental indicators in South Carolina’s Early Learning Standards and the state’s standards for kindergarten, the booklets aim to help parents support their children’s development in six areas of growth and experience important to their progress and success. 

“We know the period from early childhood to kindergarten is so important. These guides provide parents with a sample of the experiences and skills that children need in order to be prepared to move through preschool at 3, 4 and 5 years of age,” says Karen Utter, project director for the Carolina Family Engagement Center.

The center, a five-year, nearly $5 million grant project developed by the University of South Carolina’s College of Education in partnership with the state Education Department, is one of 12 Statewide Family Engagement Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Over 40 years of research shows that when families are more engaged, students are more likely to perform better in school. The center’s central goal is to strengthen partnerships among schools, families and communities that support student achievement and development.

Much of the center’s work is focused on serving low-income families and families who come from traditionally marginalized communities, including those with English learners or migrant students or with students who have disabilities, who are in foster care or who are homeless. To ensure all families and schools in the state have access to the supports they need, the center also serves as a point of access where districts and schools can access the expertise available through the College of Education’s faculty. It also serves as a hub connecting the resources and services available through the state Department of Education and other statewide agencies and organizations.

“The ‘Ready, Set – Kindergarten!’ guides address a gap that existed in the information available to families with children, ages 3 to 5,” says Ellen Still, a consultant who developed the booklets. “There was nothing that explained the reasons for the various standards or that bridged the gap between early learning benchmarks and kindergarten standards. With the booklets, we can show parents there are many aspects to getting children ready for school beyond just learning their numbers and colors.”

The six development areas addressed in the booklets are play and learning, emotional and social development, health and physical development, language development, mathematical thinking, and cognitive development. They also give suggestions about activities parents can do at home to support their child’s development. Still says the activities were developed with a focus on using items families would have around the house or that are readily available and inexpensive.

To ensure the guides would meet the needs of families and teachers, Still enlisted the help of Ellen Hamilton, family and community engagement coordinator for Clarendon School District 2, to organize focus groups to review the materials. Hamilton recruited a diverse group of parents, kindergarten teachers and community members.

“I really wanted our parents to be there to make sure the guides would be relatable and that they could quickly take away the information that they need,” Hamilton says. “Parents made some great suggestions about rewording to eliminate some jargon and about how to rearrange and organize some of the information to make it more user-friendly.”

Lorilei Swanson, regional liaison for the Upstate with the Carolina Family Engagement Center, says some of the teachers she works with are already planning ways to incorporate the guides into their activities.

For example, Becky Chmelar and Jane Roach, kindergarten teachers at James M. Brown Elementary School in Walhalla, will incorporate the “Ready, Set – Kindergarten!” booklets into their Raising Readers Adopt-a-Pet Gala in which students “adopt” a Beanie Baby and promise to take care of it by reading to it every day. Lori Chappelear, a pre-K teacher also at James M. Brown, will send the booklets as part of series of fun monthly activities she provides for students and families to do together.

“In some of the counties I work with, the readiness for kindergarten scores are low,” Swanson says. “These booklets are a real bonus to teachers and families. They give parents the knowledge they need about the developmental expectations for their children in a very user-friendly way.”

Plans call for distributing the guides to parents, caregivers and teachers in public and private child care centers, preschools and kindergartens. The center is recruiting state agencies and private organizations to help in placing the guides in health centers, public libraries and social services offices. 

All six guides are available to download and print for free from the Carolina Family Engagement Center’s website. Spanish language versions of the publications are in development.

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