KUA staff works to build school’s early childhood ‘bridge’
Building a better bridge from pre-K to kindergarten was a recent focus of early childhood educators at Kids Unlimited Academy.
Using guidelines developed by Oregon Department of Education, the KUA group of teachers, instructional assistants and administrators confirmed kindergarten readiness largely is determined by social-emotional skills. These include children’s sense of identity and belonging, healthy emotional functioning, social awareness, self-management, relationships with trusted adults and other children and basic conflict resolution with their peers.
“And parents don’t really realize that,” said Betty Goodson, a KUA program manager who works with pre-K students. “Parents are like: ‘They need to write their name.’”
While holding a pencil is a key indicator of kindergarten readiness, the KUA group acknowledged it’s a skill built over time through myriad fine motor activities. Constructing with Legos, squeezing Play-Doh and even the age-old craft of knitting all build the muscle strength needed to grip and manipulate a writing implement, educators said.
“If you want your child to write their name … we’re gonna do some beading, any of those things that you use your fingers for,” said KUA pre-K teacher Ami Hines.
Teachers referenced building “stamina throughout the year” for certain kindergarten skills, even sitting in one place for a prescribed period of time. Designated seating areas, such as carpets and cushions, help to define spaces where students are expected to focus on lessons. Routines and structure in the school day are paramount for preparing students for kindergarten, teachers said.
Parents aren’t always attuned to their children’s social skills because kids often don’t behave at home the way they do in large peer groups, teachers said. Some pre-K students can’t even start school within the entire class group, they said, because the environment can be too overwhelming.
“Now they have 17 other brothers and sisters all day long,” said Goodson of the classroom experience.
“We know that in many homes, talking is not encouraged,” said now retired KUA Principal Jani Hale, adding that some kids simply stare during conversations.
Yet nearly 74% of KUA students meet ODE’s language expectations with almost 10% exceeding, according to a 2022-23 report. More than 68% met the expectations for cognitive functioning and nearly 64% for social-emotional skills.
As teachers mapped out their timelines for instruction to identify yearlong goals for kindergarten readiness, most agreed they loop back to certain skills, especially after the three-week winter break. Hale dispelled the notion that teacher and student timelines are straight and characterized them more like “treasure maps.”
“All of the standards are just taught continuously throughout the year,” said Crystal Hidde, KUA Director of Early Learning.