What we did:
A four-question survey was distributed by email across the state of Tennessee to a network early education programs by the Core Work Group of the Early Childhood Advisory Council’s and Children’s Cabinet’s initiative on school readiness.
Who we heard from:
Nearly 750 parents from across the state participated in completing the survey. They were parents of young children ranging in age from infancy to 5 years, who were enrolled in Head Start, other public and private center-based programs, home visitor programs, and family child care homes.
What the parents said:
1. Look at the following list of skill areas that children might need in order to be successful in kindergarten , and tell us whether you think (check one)
All skills are equally important, or some skills are more important than others
2. If you think some skills are more important, check the most important.
Speech and Language Development
Math and Science
Nearly two thirds of parents thought all skill areas were important (471 or 63%.) Just over one third thought some were more important than others (271 or 36 %.)
Among parents who thought some skill areas were more important for school readiness:
Speech/language was indicated most often (261 times)
The next most frequent response was social-emotional (252)
In order, next were literacy (180) followed by physical (132) math/science (80) creative arts (54) and social studies (28)
3. Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statement:
Early Education Programs (such as Head Start programs, preschools and family child care homes) are more responsible than parents and families for preparing children for kindergarten.
Sixty five percent (65%) of parents disagreed with the statement. However, among parents of the youngest children (2 or younger,) participating in Home Visitor programs, the overwhelming majority disagreed (94%.)
Parent comments in support of the belief that schools are more responsible:
- Because the child spends more time in the program than at home, which means they learn from the program more than their parents. Also, most parents are not educated in the field of early childhood, but the teachers in the program have the knowledge and expertise to prepare children for kindergarten.
In support of the belief that parents are more responsible than programs, some of the comments parents provided follow:
- Parents are a child’s best teacher
- All educational opportunities should begin in the home and continue at school
- Children are always learning so parents teach at home everyday
Other comments reflected belief that the responsibility is joint:
- It’s a collaboration between the two
- A partnership between parents and teachers because although education starts at home, children need social skills they learn at school in group setting
- I feel parents and programs are equally important
91% of parents agreed that communities can contribute to school readiness.
Examples parents cited included:
- Access to early learning (zoos, museums, parks, mother’s day out programs, hospitals, community centers)
- Church and sport activities
- Head Start, summer programs
- Books and educational programs
- Enrichment programs
- Free programs for families to get involved in
- Community leaders engaging and promoting citizens to get involved in local activities that promote success
- Bridge communication gap between early care and schools
- Training, mentoring coaching parents
- Tutoring children
- Funding donations of supplies and programs and special events
- Offer special services families need
- More after school programs
The responses to the questions along with the many rich and detailed comments that parents provided demonstrated a strong belief that families must participate in preparing children for kindergarten, and an even stronger belief that communities play a role in this preparation and support. Their comments identified institutions in every domain of the wider community with specific examples of how they might help.
Parents also expressed a strong sense that they, along with programs, have a joint responsibility to prepare children for kindergarten. They indicated that school readiness is more than children knowing their alphabet or counting to 10. In order for children to be efficiently and effectively ready for school, they believe children must be developmentally mature enough to handle the expectation levels of today’s kindergarten. This requires parents, schools, and communities working together to ensure strong communication between all parties.
We believe these results support the notion that school readiness should be broadly defined in a way that conveys the important interactional elements at work to prepare children for successful experiences in kindergarten and beyond. Parents understand that being ready for school is neither a condition inside the child nor a condition inside the school, but rather results from the ways in which both families and institutions in the community operate to provide opportunities for children to acquire a full range of developmental and early learning skills.
As we polish the definition of school readiness and move to the task of defining teacher competencies, our challenge is describing what teachers can do to drive these interactions in a comprehensive way for children’s benefit. Any thoughts?