By KATHLEEN LOFTUS
Capital News Service
LANSING – Children who are unprepared for kindergarten may be unable to catch up in later education.
It’s hard to pin down what the estimated third of unprepared children lack when entering kindergarten, said Lindy Buch, director of early childhood and family services at the Department of Education.
“That varies from child to child. There’s no complete pattern, but children are unprepared to succeed and unprepared for the rigors of school,” she said.
Some children lack necessary language skills, while others don’t have enough experience with school-like activities such as drawing, writing, taking turns or playing games.
Buch said it’s not like 18-year-olds going to their first week of college and needing two or three weeks to transition and catch up.
Kindergarteners who missed a chunk of preparation won’t be able to catch up easily.
Cheryl Bloomquist, the child development program coordinator at Northwestern Michigan College, said most unready children are ill-equipt with social and emotional skills. They need help focusing, sitting down to participate in group settings and mastering basic skills that allow them to self-regulate.
Bloomquist said some children lack basic literacy skills.
“Children need to be talked to, read to, have conversations, sing, hear rhymes in books and prepare for the ability to translate letters to words to sounds. That’s when it clicks,” Bloomquist said.
Buch said everything that children do before they go to school affects their development.
The two most important tools are parents interacting with their children and high-quality preschool.
Buch said, “Parents have a big role to play in getting children ready for school. However, many parents are stressed with providing necessities and concentrating on other things for their families. They are unable to help their children.”
Most 4-year-olds in Michigan have some pre-care or preschool experience, but many don’t receive high-quality care, she said, because parents can’t afford it.
“It’s not hard to read to children and play with them, but there are an awful lot of adults who can’t read or are not comfortable reading to their kids. It’s so important to spend quality time with children, but that’s something we don’t teach everyone in our culture.”
Buch said most children in Michigan go to half-day kindergarten so there’s less class time for teachers to focus on the third of them who are struggling.
And Bloomquist said children who can’t fully cooperate by sitting still and listening create problems in the learning environment.
It’s difficult for teachers to enrich the learning experience when they must handle behavioral problems, Bloomquist said.
Rob Spohr, vice president for academic affairs at Montcalm Community College, said, “There are so many other factors that play into actually determining a cause-and-effect relationship between not being prepared for kindergarten and effects later in life. It’s almost impossible to gauge without a massive longitudinal study.”
School district, socioeconomic status, the area children live in, and parental involvement and expectations must be considered.
“As a matter of fact, being underprepared for kindergarten is likely a symptom of one of these other factors, and the actual cause of being underprepared will also hamper the student’s efforts to catch up and succeed later in life,” Spohr said.
Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, said such situations create a downward slope for children.
The chances of graduation decrease and without a diploma, they are more likely to end up in prison, Byrum said.
Buch said the effect of starting school unprepared can eventually lead to dropping out. A child who is not ready and doesn’t do well in the classroom may be held back or fail a grade, and that can lead to more serious negative impacts.
Buch said, “Sending children to school when they aren’t ready is an issue the state needs to think about. If you start out behind, it’s harder to catch up. These young kids are our force of the future.”
Bloomquist agreed, “If children aren’t prepared for kindergarten, they aren’t prepared for first, second and third grade. It’s a domino effect. Success leads to more success, so we need children to be prepared young.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.