Maybe not, new report indicates
A recent study of Del Norte's youngest schoolchildren found that most kindergarten students were not ready to be there.
Of the 281 kindergarteners assessed, only 23 percent were ready to start school, according to "School Readiness in Del Norte County," a report paid for by First 5 Del Norte.
Another quarter were making progress toward having the skills necessary for the first year of school, but 50 percent were lacking the necessary academic and social-emotional skills.
"There's a significant number who aren't prepared for kindergarten," said Patti Vernelson, the executive director of First 5 Del Norte Children and Families Commission, a local agency focused on the development of children through age 5.
The report lists numerous skills kids should have when they enter
kindergarten. Children possessing them will likely succeed later in
school, according to the report. If they start without them, they may
struggle in the years ahead.
Local officials said focusing more on children's development in the
first five years of life will help them be ready for school. This can be
done by educating parents on ways they can help their children's
development and looking for signs of potential problems, officials said.
"Here's how you can help your child," Vernelson said.
First 5 Del Norte commissioned the "School Readiness" report
conducted by Applied Survey Research, a non-profit social research firm,
to assess students entering kindergarten in 2011. Additional
assessments are planned for this fall and the next.
All elementary schools in Del Norte except Bess Maxwell School
participated in the "School Readiness" report. Kindergarten teachers
assessed their students' abilities and a survey was sent home with
However, only half of parents returned the survey.
Of the students assessed, 65 percent were Caucasian, 62 percent had
attended preschool and 58 percent lived in households earning less than
$35,000 a year.
Students scored the lowest in "self-regulation" skills - the ability
to control their emotions and behave in class. The highest scores were
in "self-care and motor skills" - control of their movements and ability
to take care of themselves.
Only 23 percent of Del Norte students assessed had both the academic
and self-regulation skills for kindergarten, 27 percent had mixed
results and 50 had needs in both skills areas, according to the report.
Most kindergartners had good self care and motor skills, meaning they
can take care of their basic needs and can control their movements.
Of the kids assessed by their teachers, most recognized basic colors,
72 percent, and shapes, 77 percent, but struggled with other academic
Only 15 percent knew letters, 22 percent recognized rhyming words and
29 could write their name. A number of students were getting close to
mastering these skills, but half were only in the beginning stages of
learning this basic knowledge.
Drilling toward the problem
Vernelson said that using this data, local officials can "drill down"
to the key issues affecting children.
The high number of kids not ready for kindergarten is reflective of
the community's biggest issues: poverty, teen pregnancy and child abuse,
she said. All those things put children at risk of not being ready for
school, she said.
The report found that students whose parents knew how to help develop
their children's skills and engaged in activities to prepare them for
school had higher school readiness levels. Children of higher income
families tend to do better in school, according to the report.
Del Norte has a high number of children with special needs, Vernelson
Of the students assessed, 13 percent had special needs and 7 percent
had a suspected special need not yet identified, according to the
Throughout Del Norte schools, 15 percent of children have special
needs, said district Superintendent Don Olson, while the state average
is 11 percent.
Early intervention for children lacking certain skills can be
effective in getting them on track, Olson said.
The report found more than a fifth of students - 21 percent - have
delayed language skills. That's more than the number of children (13
percent) who are learning English as a second language.
"That's a huge red flag," Vernelson said.
Talking and reading to children - even when they're babies - will
help develop their language skills, she said.
Ninety percent of brain development happens from birth to 3 years
old, she said.
Parents, guardians and child care centers need to be made aware of
the importance of talking and reading to children - to engage their
brains, Vernelson said.
"We can do something about that," she said.
There's the Reach Out and Read, a national program in which
physicians give books to parents as part of a child's check-up,
Vernelson said. Some local physicians are participating.
Parents could use the Ages and Stages questionnaires, a nationally
recognized screening system used by preschools and physicians. With the
questionnaires, parents can see what skills their children should have
at their age, track their progress and determine if there's any
problems, Vernelson said.
"Are they meeting the milestones?" she said.
Activities at home
Students with specials needs and those who appeared tired had much
lower readiness levels, the report found.
More than 20 percent of children were reported by their teacher to be
tired, hungry, sick or absent at least some of the time, if not most,
according to the report.
According to parents' survey results, chores are the most common
family activity - almost 80 percent do them at least five days a week.
About 75 percent of parents reported reading with their children at
least five days a week and 70 percent said they tell stories and sing
A little more than half of parents said they play sports or exercise
with their children most days, 53 percent reported playing games or
puzzles and 42 said their do arts and crafts as a family on a regular
Most parents - about three-quarters - had received general or
specific information about how to develop children's skills for
kindergarten, parenting and registering for school.
"The community should ensure that families know about and are
connected to local resources for meeting basic needs," the report
states. "Families should be provided with information to help children
building their readiness skills prior to entering school and should be
given opportunities to help their child prepare for the transition to
A unified message
The school district recently discovered it has an attendance problem
in kindergarten - a significant number of students are chronically
Olson said that the district is battling a culture in Del Norte that
places low importance on schooling. The district is trying a slew of
things to get kids to school, such as prizes for good attendance and
The community needs to hear a unified message that kindergarten is
important and there are things that parents can do, starting well before
the first day of school, to help develop their brains, Vernelson said.
First 5 Del Norte can partner with local agencies and organizations
that deal with children and families to get the message out into the
community, she said.
There's the school district, physicians, Public Health, Social
Services, Woman Infants and Children, Child Welfare, the list goes on
and on - "that's your village," Vernelson said.
"Kids need to be the focus," she said. "When kids feel they're
encouraged, they have hope."
Reach Kelley Atherton at firstname.lastname@example.org .