What Austin kids should know by kindergarten – and almost half don’t

My 5-month-old daughter "reading"

My 5-month-old daughter

On the I Live Here, I Give Here site this month, the highlight is education. Here’s a disturbing number:

The sad truth is that a whopping 40 percent of children entering kindergarten in our community – the majority of whom live in poverty – are 12 to 18 months behind developmentally.

I have a preschooler (and an infant, Olivia, picture above, “reading”), and since he entered daycare a year ago, my husband and I have done little things here and there to prepare him for kindergarten. As he is my first child – and I didn’t go to kindergarten nor would I remember much about it, if I had – I really don’t know what he needs to know by kindergarten. But we’re working on the basics: his alphabet, some reading, counting to 100, shapes, colors, science, calculus… (no, not calculus. maybe a little trig.)

So what does it mean to be “12 to 18 months” behind? What does being prepared for kindergarten mean?

One collaborative effort lead by United Way Captial Area is called “Success by 6,” as in six years old. One of their guidelines for success is a document called “Austin Vision for School Readiness.” It lists a number of emotional, intellectual and health goals for children entering kindergarten. Here are some of the skills children should demonstrate by kindergarten:  

· Children are able to communicate ideas, interests, needs, and understandings in their native language.
· Children can tell or retell a story that is read or told to them.
· Children know some songs and rhymes
· Children show an interest in books and are familiar with basic book conventions such as how to turn the pages of a book.
· Children recognize some environmental print, for example “McDonalds”
· Children recognize and name some letters
· Children scribble or pretend to write
· Children can distinguish between and label basic shapes: square, rectangle, circle, and triangle.
· Children can distinguish between objects that are the same or different.
· Children have basic understandings of size and quantity relationships – big/small, bigger/smaller, more/ less.
· Children can sort objects into basic categories by color or other common
shared characteristic.
· Children can count at least three objects.
· Children use their senses to describe and learn about the world.

So are you telling me that 40 percent of Austin children entering kindergarten next week do not have all of these skills? I don’t mean to sound so shocked nor do I mean to offend, but for those of you who don’t have children, I’m telling you: The pre-K kids I know have these skills. My son is four years old and he has these skills, and it’s not because he’s a prodigy. These are basic.

SO what to do?

1. Give money, obviously. One place to start is the United Way, which funds a number of specific programs – not nonprofits, but programs – with measurable results. Other things you can do…

2. Donate preschool level booksto Eastside churches, preschools, and libraries
3. Volunteer to read to kids at the library and People’s Community Clinic
4. If you know any struggling families or single moms with preschoolers and toddlers, offer to help the mom once in a while to give her more energy to read to her kids
5. Read to your kids.We make it a special trip when we go to the bookstore or library. Sam thinks books are a treat. He insists on reading at least three every night. We act like he’s a hotshot when he reads a word by himself (Most recent scary reading moment: him reading “Google” in the top-left corner of my browser window, over my shoulder.) We read the comics to him.

You get the idea. We’re not the best parents in the world, these are just the tricks that we use.

One more suggestion: Turn off the TV (after the Olympics are over). There’s stuff we can do, people!

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