The Richland School District is seriously focused on early childhood learning. Why? Children who fall behind in the preschool to third-grade years typically never catch up. The research is clear: The most effective and cost-efficient time to build a successful academic foundation is the early years. The Richland School District is taking action in several powerful ways:
• Reaching many more preschool-aged children through Partners for Early Learning.
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• Expanding kindergarten to a full-day program in all schools.
• Educating and meeting the needs of the whole child.
Partners for Early Learning
The Richland School District knows that having qualified teachers and rigorous curricula are not enough to ensure the success of our youngest children. Brain research tells us that critical growth happens in the first three years of life, long before children enter a formal school system. This early brain growth is responsible for building literacy skills, developing math concepts and fostering executive function skills such as self-regulation, working memory, organizational abilities and problem solving.
Significant differences exist at kindergarten entry between children who have had rich experiences and those who have not. These rich experiences come from attentive, engaged families, targeted community activities and high-quality early education programs.
Partners for Early Learning (PFEL), a nonprofit created in partnership with the school district, strives to ensure that all children have the resources and skills needed to come to school ready to learn. PFEL offers monthly training sessions and parent education materials to early care and education providers. These training sessions and materials are aligned with Washington State’s Early Learning and Development Guidelines.
Although the level of support for early childhood education will remain a question for legislators, the needs of our children and the path forward are clear. The development of our community hinges on the ability of children to function at their highest levels. And the key to that development begins in early childhood.
Many kindergarten teachers welcome full-day kindergarten for two reasons: time and depth. A full-day program affords the time necessary for students to think deeply in all subjects. Teachers can offer more ways to learn, challenging concepts while focusing on the whole child.
The rigor of current standards makes it important for teachers to build daily on previous learning using a developmental approach. By offering meaningful learning opportunities in which children interact, write and communicate what they know, teachers can informally assess each child’s understanding of concepts to support and extend learning, providing a solid foundation.
Jean Piaget said, “Play is a child’s work.” Because children learn through play, it is essential to create meaningful learning opportunities in literacy, math, science and social studies in the context of structured play. As children explore, experiment, build and create, teachers use these opportunities to informally assess cognitive and social goals. Through cooperative projects, children learn to negotiate, compromise and collaborate. Teachers intentionally coach their students’ learning of these vital interpersonal skills in order to help them become proficient future employees, citizens and partners.
Providing a rich, challenging and positive learning environment through a full-day kindergarten program benefits our community and world.
Classroom support teacher
One of the key actions that schools can take is educating the whole child. This means addressing academic, behavioral, emotional, social and health issues. Research shows that all of these affect a child’s readiness to learn.
By the time students begin first grade, and continuing through third grade, they are building their reading, writing and communication skills toward being proficient and fluent readers who are reading to learn, rather than learning to read. First- through third-graders are also developing crucial foundational math skills.
In order to be effective learners and meet the rigor of our state standards, the needs of the whole child must be met. As students begin to attend school all day, educators have a greater opportunity to connect families of struggling learners with critical resources. When physical or emotional health issues arise, families can be connected with affordable health care and counseling resources to ensure their children can be successful learners.
When the needs of the whole child are met through the collaboration of communities and schools, students are able to learn efficiently, which leads to college and career readiness. Young learners are then set on a path toward creating a bright future for everyone.