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Getting Kindergarten Ready by Getting Educators Together

Last week, I attended a meeting of early childhood education and kindergarten teachers, hosted by the Santa Cruz Office of Education. It was the county’s fifth annual “Together for Kindergarten” meeting, the only such annual meeting of its kind in the state. Educators sat together by neighborhood, including family child care providers, center-based providers, as well as kindergarten teachers and administrators. The organizers – including my new friend Carole Mulford -- started these meetings to improve the transition between preschool and kindergarten for children and families. It also serves to break down the silos among educators, and establish lines of communication and mutual respect.

It was an inspiring group. Hearing what motivates and challenges teachers brought to life the diversity of the children they work with, as well as the excitement of early learning and teaching.

Teachers talked about the challenges of teaching toddlers who come to preschool or child care settings without knowing English. And several spoke about children whose parents come from the Oaxacan region of Mexico and who speak Mixtec languages at home. These teachers, many of whom are fluent Spanish and English, have one more language to juggle in a classroom. Many in the room underscored the importance of teaching to a child in her first language, regardless of what that is. (For more tips on Dual Language Learning, check out this great tip sheet.)

One teacher talked about making paper airplanes with her grandson, and how much fun and wonder came from letting his ideas take the lead in the conversation. What made that airplane fly higher than the last one? Who is on the plane? Where is it going? Another teacher talked about how she learned poetry recitation as a little girl in Mexico. She now incorporates recitation into her classroom, as a way to expand children’s vocabularies and self-confidence in a culturally appropriate way. (Tip for parents and educators: check out down-loadable, kid-friendly poetry at this site!)

I was there to discuss the word gap and what Next Generation, along with our partners at the Clinton Foundation, are doing about it through our joint initiative called Too Small to Fail. The word gap – or the difference in word exposure and acquisition between low-income children and high-income children – was a relevant topic for this crowd, who did not have to be convinced about the importance of learning at a very early age. These teachers provide support, stability, and smarts to a wide range of families, some of whom do not have as much time or energy to talk, read, or sing to their children as they would like.

By sharing Too Small to Fail in this community setting, I was able to hear directly from educators, caregivers and even parents about the kinds of messages that will be most helpful to families in preparing kids for success in school and beyond.

In the background of this great conversation, an effort to increase access to early education for pre-kindergartners continues to get press. SB 837, otherwise known as “Kids Ready to Succeed, California Ready to Lead,” would expand the state’s current transitional kindergarten program so that it would be available to all four-year olds. It featured prominently over the weekend in Senator Steinberg’s comments to delegates of the California Democratic Party, in which he leaned on the Governor to carve out some of the state’s new-found surplus to invest in early childhood education. As my colleague Pat McVeigh wrote last week, efforts to expand access to early learning – and to get it right – require persistence. Let’s hope this is the year!

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