As a new school year is under way, more than 230,000 Florida children have stepped into kindergarten to begin their primary education, and perhaps 30 percent of them are not really ready to succeed.
In Florida, age is the sole determining factor for entry into public kindergarten programs. But child education experts — and common sense — will tell you that age alone is not the best way to measure readiness.
Researcher Dan Gartrell, writing for the well-respected National Association for the Education of Young Children, said "new brain research is helping us understand what readiness really is. Readiness doesn't mean just knowing the academic basics. It means a child has a willing attitude and confidence in the process of learning: a healthy state of mind."
Where can young children develop those traits during the most formative years from birth to 5? The first place is obvious: Learning begins at home. Parents play a crucial role in teaching their children important life skills such as the ability to focus, exhibit self-control and read and speak well.
The next best place is by attending a quality early learning center, where they will learn how to communicate and listen, how to get along with others and deal with adversity and so much more.
Numerous studies have documented that a child's lot in life can be linked back to kindergarten readiness. The early years before K-12 are vital for building a strong foundation of academic and social skills to become successful learners.
That's what early childhood scholar Katharine B. Stevens told the U.S. House Committee on Education in July:
"As is now widely known, a growing body of scientific research has established that the first five years of life are the most crucial period of human development," said the head of the early childhood program at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank.
"What we also know is that the education process is cumulative: Each stage builds on the prior one," she told lawmakers. "And research shows that in fact gaps between higher- and lower-income children emerge long before children start school. Many children enter school unprepared to succeed and research shows that schooling largely does not close those initial gaps."
Then she summed up what's at stake: "Improving the well-being of America's youngest, most vulnerable children is crucial to both their life chances and our nation's future."
Florida's most influential business group also sees great value in investing in early education. The Florida Chamber of Commerce has included early childhood in its 2030 Goals agenda. The chamber also began hosting an annual Learners-to-Earners Summit to reinforce its belief that the state's future workforce — and leadership — are those children now in preschool and kindergarten. The Florida Council of 100 is focused on this issue too.
Like most things in life, there is no guarantee that every child who receives a quality early learning experience will find success. But providing the opportunity to all young children in Florida could dramatically increase the number of students truly ready to succeed in kindergarten and in life.
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And our state's future will look a lot brighter.
David Lawrence Jr., left, is the founder and chair of The Children's Movement of Florida. Vance Aloupis is the CEO.