When I entered kindergarten at five years old, my primary responses were nervousness, confusion, and an inability to adapt to the routine of getting up, going to school, and being away from home. I had been purposely kept at home when all of my peers were attending preschool programs so that I could play with my younger brother. This was not a case of inattention by my mother; rather it was an example of the familial responsibility that most Latino families will recognize: family comes first.
It was probably of no surprise to my teachers and counselors that I had a rough transition as I adapted to life in the classroom. In fact, according to an article published by the U.S. Department of Education entitled "A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America" in 2015, Latinos demonstrate the lowest preschool participation rates of any other major ethnicity or race.
The article also outlines further evidence of the importance of preschool programs, citing several key findings:
- Children's language skills from age 1 to 2 are predictive of their pre-literacy skills at age 5.
- Children who participate in high quality preschool programs are less likely to utilize special education services or repeat a grade, and are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and succeed in their career than those who have not.
But what about kids like me who were kept home, or children who do not have access to preschool programs? There are many state and national grants and initiatives to create access for all, but for many, preschool can still be inaccessible.
For educators facing a mix of these children, there are strategies that can help close the gap between the students who were able to attend preschool and those who did not. For starters, you can assess your kindergarten or elementary classrooms for understanding of general concepts that you except to be instilled already but are not. To begin this assessment, you can use educational resources like these to help you learn more about your students' misconceptions and understanding, especially when it comes to areas such as vocabulary. Expanding vocabulary at an early age can also help close the gap of student misconceptions by giving them something concrete to illustrate ideas.
In addition, providing resources that parents and guardians can use at home with their children can be mutually beneficial: the parents can reinforce classroom teaching, you can discover any misconceptions that may have come from the child's home life, and both sets of adults—the most important people in the child's life—can develop mutual understanding about the child's learning.
Early learning will continue to evolve as its importance is brought to light by continuing research. It will be exciting to see today's gaps close, so early learning becomes a foundation that supports all students' success.