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When parents and teachers and parents work together, children arrive at school ready for kindergarten.

I have spent the past ten years teaching at in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, in Boyle, Mississippi, the most recent four of those years teaching kindergarten for 5-year-olds at Bell Academy.

Nearly one-third of the population of Boyle lives below the poverty line, as do more than 40 percent of those who are under 18 years old. Bell Academy serves 326 children in grades pre-K through sixth grade.

Related: New rankings place Mississippi at the top in preschool quality

Since earning my undergraduate, master’s, and Education Specialist degrees in elementary education, and working toward board certification at Delta State University, I have observed students who have come from a variety of backgrounds.

Children who are ready for kindergarten have had both a sound, structured pre-K program and support from their parents or guardians.

Children who have attended our 4-year-old program before attending our kindergarten program for 5-year-olds have  several advantages over peers coming from daycare and other programs.

Related: Mississippi tops rankings as ‘highest priority state’ in rural education

First, they have been exposed to social/emotional situations with other students, helping them develop skills such as sharing, team work, compassion, conflict/resolution and fairness.

Second, they have been exposed to academics, such as letter names, sounds, number recognition, number fluency and patterning with hands-on, meaningful learning tasks that take into account their physical and cognitive development.

“Kindergarten is not just about students mastering a set of academic standards.”

Third, in addition to social/emotional and academic skills, these students have participated in activities expanding their imaginations through art, structured play and music, as well as activities that have expanded their views of the world they live in through read-alouds, technology in the classroom and participation in science lab.

Fourth, these pre-K students come to kindergarten with an understanding of rules, expectations, consequences and rewards. They are better able to think through their choices before acting. These students enter my classroom having been exposed to working in small groups, rotating from center to center, some that are independent.

These students are more independent, able to care for materials at their table, help one another, delegate tasks, share materials and help one another when needed. As our expectations for students have increased with the Mississippi Career and College Readiness Standards, the addition of more 4-year-old programs in public schools in Mississippi is vital; early exposure in a safe, nurturing, yet structured pre-kindergarten program is one way to ensure kindergarten readiness.

In addition to exposure in a structured pre-kindergarten program, students who have entered my classroom the most prepared received this exposure in their home life. This entails parents who are reading with their children every single night, books that have a lot of repetition, rhyme and are of interest to the child.

Reading with children every single night is the earliest way to help develop a love for reading and expose young learners to texts of many genres, new vocabulary and high-frequency words.

Parents who have conversations with their children beyond the typical questions such as “Were you good today?” and “What did you do?” and instead delve deeper into questioning and statements, such as “Tell me something you learned today, “ “How did that make you feel?” and “What are your thoughts?” encourage deeper thinking, cause children to reflect on their day and reinforce what was learned at school, while expanding the child’s vocabulary as well.

Parents can expose their children to a world beyond the town in which they live through books and children’s magazines, family trips, educational television programming, and the use of appropriate websites and iPad apps.

Kindergarten is not just about students mastering a set of academic standards; caring for their social/emotional growth, improving their fine motor skills and developing activities that recognize their cognitive and physical development are also of utmost importance.

Teachers collaborating with parents to give younger children exposure to socially, developmentally and cognitively appropriate books, conversations, interactions with other children and artistic and physical activities to develop fine motor skills help to ensure their child will be ready for kindergarten.

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Nicole Spinks is a kindergarten teacher at Bell Academy in Boyle, Mississippi.

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  1. I totally agree with these concepts. It would be absolutely wonderful if parents would do those lovely, supportive, educational assistance activities with their young children every night! I do believe however, my colleague from Mississippi is missing one area in which it would be most helpful to every child entering school. I feel they need to have restful sleep, nutritional food to eat, a place to live where all things are wonderful for them as they grow.
    Considering the information regarding the location of her position, I think it’s more the lack of the financial ability of the families she encounters that impact these youngsters the most. How can a family living below the poverty level do all the lovely things proposed if they don’t have the money and resources needed to do them. Are they working two jobs to survive? Are both parents working? Do they have long schedules at work that mean they get home late, maybe after the children are asleep? Who’s caring for the children while they’re away trying to make a living?
    There are so obstacles that people have to surpass that for them, are much more basic to survival than reading to their to their children. Don’t misunderstand, they would LOVE to be sure their children have those things. They want to their children to be SUCCESSFUL in school and in their future. They want the BEST for their children. The way they’re trying to do those things and have their children reach those goals is by having a place for them to live and food for them to eat.
    Once ALL children have those things equally, then parents can begin to do all the other wonderful things that their youngsters need to be prepared for kindergarten and LIFE!

  2. Ms. Chenet,

    I do not think asking parents to read with their children, monitor the television programming and technology usage and expose them to life outside of our town through books is asking a whole lot. As someone who not only teaches In the Delta, but grew up here, I am well atuned to the needs of my students as is our faculty and district. Any competent educator realizes that the basic needs, pointed out in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, of students MUST be met before academics can even be considered. Thus, we provide clothing, school supplies (bought with our teacher earnings), a safe environment, and HEALTHY meals. All students have the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch; our district follows strict healthy guidelines with foods and has garnered several awards/grants due to our promotion of healthy lifestyles. We plan programs and parent nights at a time convenient for working parents (after work hours) and provide FREE childcare and FREE meals at such events, so that single parents can attend. Our efforts are made because we do feel so strongly that parental involvement is as vital to a student’s success as teacher instruction. Any school can offer this as well; we have excellent community involvement that helps with food and childcare. In addition, every educator I know is more than willing to lend materials to parents and explain curriculum to help parents better help their students at home. The point I’m simply making is that it takes both teachers and parents collaborating together to help children succeed. And, if our little school can do it, any school can. It means laying excuses at the door and rather than focusing on negatives, look for solutions.

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