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As Kelly and Winter (2008) reviewed school readiness, a surprising "one-third of U.S. children entering school are ill-prepared to achieve success" (p. 260) unfortunately, poverty has proven to be one of the biggest indicators of school failure (Arnold & Doctoroff, 2003). From years of research it is known that within the first five years of life, vital learning occurs, and children need a multitude of resources to be adequately prepared for kindergarten. Families of low socioeconomic status (SES) need guidance to increase their child's school readiness. Both federal and state governments have addressed this issue through various programs; however there is not enough funding for all students to attend. What can be done to help students who are at-risk become prepared for kindergarten?
Importance of the Problem
There are many factors that contribute to how well prepared a child is when entering school. Parents, as well as educators are worried about school readiness. This is the reason that millions of dollars are being allocated for early education. Kindergarten and first grade teachers have had to spend time teaching children basic skills such as how to share, wash their hands and even pull up their pants. When children attend pre-k they are ready to start learning the first day of school because they have baseline knowledge of self-help skills, school routines and expectations. Not only are they ready to learn, "children who attend prekindergarten programs have bigger vocabularies and increased math skills, know more letters and more letter-sound associations, and are more familiar with words and book concepts, according to a number of studies" (Lester, 2007, p.25). School readiness needs to be addressed so that each student receives an equal education. Children, especially children from poverty, start as much as a year and a half behind their middle-class peers (Stipek, 2006). If children continue to be ill prepared for kindergarten the achievement gap will continue to widen.
Background of the Study
The idea of early education began in the 1800s, in Europe where mothers would educate their children outside of the home. The concept came to America during the Industrial Revolution. There were "infant schools" set up in churches, factories and private homes to care for children while parents were working. In 1848, Wisconsin amended their constitution to include prekindergarten ("History of Pre-K", n.d.). Being the first to start a four year old kindergarten program in 1873, Wisconsin led the United States in early childhood education. Eventually, other states began to follow by opening preschools, day care centers and nursery programs ("History of Pre-K").
In 1926, The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) was established, dedicated to improving the well-being of all young children and focusing on the quality of education and developmental services offered to children from birth to the age of eight. The NAEYC is now the world's largest organization working on behalf of young children with nearly 80,000 members ("About NAEYC", n.d.). The NAEYC brought light to the educational problem our young children were facing.
As part of the "War on Poverty," President Lyndon Johnson established the Head Start program in 1965. This program was originally created as a summer program for disadvantaged four year old children going into kindergarten. Now, Head Start is a year-long program, designed for three and four year old children who come from a low socioeconomic (SES) class, or have a developmental delay. Head Start programs are developed to provide an array of social, health and educational services to children and their families. Through the years, states have increased access to Head Start by supplementing with state funds and creating state programs ("History of Pre-k").
With the rise of early childhood programs, the NAEYC aided in evaluating the quality of these programs and developed credentials for a Child Development Associate (CDA) degree in the 1970s. Teachers were educated on developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood education. Then, in 1985, the NAEYC created a comprehensive system to evaluate the quality of the CDA program. Their efforts are "to achieve a high-quality system of early childhood education" ("About NAEYC").
The U.S. Department of Education was created in 1980, which helped several state-funded pre-k programs develop over the following 25 years. In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act, was passed promising that all children would receive quality education regardless of race, ability or income (Bagdi and Vacca, 2005). This legislation pushed school administration to help students increase their school readiness.
Throughout the years, many theorists such as "Ericson and Vygotsky assert[ed] that children need a safe, predictable base for exploration" (Bagdi and Vacca, 2005, p. 146). Every child has a unique home experience and family dynamic. Some homes promote appropriate school behaviors, while other homes promote behaviors that are perceived as inappropriate in a school setting. These behaviors can hinder a child's ability to learn as "children's social skills and dispositions toward learning, as well as their emotional and physical well-being, directly affect their academic learning" (Stipek, 2006, p18). Early learning and parental support helps ready children for school by teaching appropriate school behaviors before they become habitual.
Within the past ten years there have been significant advances in early education. The most dramatic advance is that state funding for prekindergarten (pre-k) has more than doubled nationwide. This has caused an increase of access to pre-k programs rising from 700,000 children in 2001, to more than one million in 2011 (Pew Center on the States, 2011).
Although there has been a surge in early childhood education, it is still not available for all families some are not aware and some families choose to keep their child at home until kindergarten. If a student does not attend a program there needs to be a way for parents to help their child develop appropriate social, academic and emotional skills to be ready for school. It is imperative that parents are aware of developmental milestones and how to reach them and help their child fulfill their potential.
Statement of Purpose
I intend to create a handbook on what parents can do increase their child's school readiness. These handbooks will be distributed within the Louisville Metro Area to current students in pre-k, daycares, doctor offices and community centers. The handbook will include a list of skills the child should have as well as activities that can aid in obtaining those skills. There will be a list of resources for further questions, therapists and community resources.
Objective of the Project
The objective of this project is to create a handbook that will increase school readiness in "at-risk" kindergarteners in the Louisville Metro Area. Students in Jefferson County Public Schools will have a knowledge base and the self-confidence to succeed in kindergarten. Parents will be more informed about their child's development through developmental checklists and how to aid in their child's success. Not only will the parent and child have individual gains, but the parent-child relationship will be strengthened through the interactions created from the activities found in the handbook. Having well prepared students will benefit teachers and administrators in the district; the more prepared a student is, the more they can learn.
Definition of Key Terms
School Readiness- Starting school with the language, literacy, social and other skills needed to be successful (ie- following 3 step directions, paying attention in a group for 10 minutes, recognizing some letters, counting to 20, being able to share, using the bathroom independently, etc.) (Stipek, 2006).
Scope of the Project
The project will include a developmental checklist from birth through age five. This will aid parents in knowing typical developmental time range. To increase the child's development and the parent-child relationship, there will be a list of developmentally appropriate activities, suggestions for child/parent interactions and how to create a supportive home-environment. Information and resources will be included for families whose child may not be developing at the typical rate. Since this handbook is targeting families in the low SES population, a list of family resource information will be included for housing, bills, job, clothing, food and holiday assistance. Information for Jefferson County Public Schools and how to apply for Head Start, KERA Preschool and how to find the right daycare will also be provided since early education is a key factor in school readiness.
One factor that can hinder this project is the funding to reproduce the handbooks. I will be looking for grants, donations and sponsors to aid in reproduction. Another factor that needs to be addressed is the copyright laws on some of the aspects that will be included in the handbook. Permission will need to be granted prior to reproduction.
Chapter Two: Literature Review
This chapter is going to review the literature behind the specific problems and variables that are creating children who are not prepared for school and how parent involvement can impact a child's academic success. Epstein's (1995) theory about school, family and community partnerships are shown to support school success; and in further discussion, Doucet and Tudge (2007) theorize that how a child's home culture and school culture integrate impacts a child's success. Moving into the research behind the long term effects of school readiness, then specifically how children of low SES families are affected and how the home environment impacts the child. Parental involvement is discussed as a key factor in a child's school readiness, as well as a quality prekindergarten program. Communities need to be aware of how parents receive information on parenting, therefore a discussion will follow.
Epstein (1995) theorized that the more a child's family, school and community work together to support the child's learning, the more successful a child will be. The collaboration can be on the individual level, home visits/ parent conferences, on a school-wide level, open house or literacy night (Griffin & Steen, 2010). The six different types of parental involvement are described in Epstein (1995) theory:
Type 1: Parenting: Making parents aware of child development to aid in creating a successful home environment.
Type 2: Communicating: Keeping open communication between school and home. This includes family nights at school, conferences and phone calls/discussions about child's progress.
Type 3: Volunteering: Parent involvement in the school and community.
Type 4: Learning at Home: Making the family aware of school procedures and how to help their child with their homework to augment their child's learning.
Type 5: Decision-Making: Involving parents as representatives in school-based decision making committees.
Type 6: Collaborating with the Community: The school identifies resources and services to help meet the needs of the school.
Griffin and Steen (2010) discuss the success of a Title 1 elementary focused on parent programs (type 2) and utilizing community resources (type 6) which saw a decrease in absences and behavior referrals, as well as a task force that increased parent involvement and decreased suspensions and expulsion rates . Schools that utilize all six of Epstein's types of school-family-community involvement had healthier school-family relationships which increased child's success (Griffin & Steen, 2010).
Doucet and Tudge (2007) theorize that a child's culture is highly related to ease of transition to school; this theory is rooted from Urie Bronfenbrenner and Lev Vygotsky's contextual theories. Bronfenbrenner discusses the importance of the environment and how the people within the microsystem, environment where the child lives, interacts with each other in, what is referred to as, the mesosystem (MentalHealth, 2008). In regards to transitioning and being prepared for school, this theory focuses on "interpersonal interactions that occur within a zone of proximal development [which] can only be explained through reference to aspects of the individual and to the broader context, specifically the cultural-historical context, that gives meaning to the interactions" (Doucet & Tudge, 2007, p. 311). When Doucet and Tudge (2007) refer to culture, they include "the shared set of values, beliefs, practices, access to resources, social institutions, and a sense of identity" (310), as well as social class.
Doucet and Tudge (2007) discuss Vygotsky's term of scaffolding, and how parents/teachers are not supposed to just teach the child, but learn from the child and discover how/what that child needs to learn. They also discuss the current trends of low SES families' school readiness and the lack of continuity of values between home and school (Doucet & Tudge, 2007). Instead of defining school readiness in terms of alphabet recognition or ability to count, the current theory suggests it is how well a child can adapt to the school culture. The life experiences of a child are based off of their culture and the compatibility of their culture to the school culture will determine if a child is prepared for school. Parents and teachers/schools need to reach out in attempt to blend the school and home environments to ease school transition (Doucet & Tudge, 2007). Both parties need to be prepared to learn and teach each other to enhance the child's school experience. If the home and school culture have the same set of values and expectations, the easier a child will transition into school.
Long Term Effects of School Readiness
School readiness has a long term effect on students' lives. Duncan et al. (2007) conducted a longitudinal study from school entry to the age of 14 to see if school readiness can predict long term academic success. Their research showed that "math and reading skills at the point of school entry are consistently associated with higher levels of academic performance in later grades" (Duncan et al., 2007, p. 1444). The effect of early education is also shown in the Carolina Abecedarian Project, which was an intensive early intervention program for students from low-income families who were at risk for developmental delays. Kelly and Winter (2008) found that this project yielded results including "higher cognitive scores through age 21 and better academic achievement in reading and math, compared to children not enrolled in the program" (p. 261). As Duncan et al.(2007), and Kelly and Winter(2008) have shown, the more prepared a student is for school likelihood of future success is higher.
Verbo-sensory motor status (VSM) was used by Hotulainen et al. (2010) in a 15 year longitudinal study which related one's education/occupational life-course to language skills before school entry. VSM development affects a child's social and academic life. A significant correlation was found in those who had low VSM scores in preschool also had low scores in learning skills and mathematical thinking (Hotulainen et al., 2010). Hotulainen et al. (2010) also discovered that "children with weaker language-related awareness before school age had lower levels of social acceptance and global self-worth in life." Furthermore, those who had a lower VSM score in preschool tended to lean toward occupational work while those with higher VSM scores went further on their educational path (Hotulainen et al., 2010). This shows that language development has a long lasting effect on a child's life.
Effects on Children from Low SES Families
The adverse effects of living in poverty are well document in multiple studies. They consist of malnutrition, crowded living spaces, substandard housing, inadequate health care, fewer educational resources, lower academic success, higher chance of developmental delays and higher stress levels than compared to their normative peers (Clearfield & Niman, 2011). Poverty has been proven to be one of the biggest indicators of school failure. A cycle is created when a child is born into poverty, "poor education attainment is a major cause of poverty, and poverty is a key influence on academic failure" (Arnold & Doctoroff, 2003, p. 518).
A study conducted by Clearfield and Niman (2011) focused on the cognitive flexibility of infants in low-SES families. They discovered that infants from low SES families are behind their high SES peers in cognitive flexibility as young as six months old. These findings were stable over the six months which the study was conducted. Executive function (EF) is a factor in school readiness because it aids in the ability "to sit still, follow directions and remain engaged in learning activities" (Dilworth-Bart, 2012, p. 2). Homes with low SES and poor home quality tend to produce children with low EF, which in turn leads to low school readiness; shown by EF scores taken at the age of four that predicted math success at the age of six (Dilworth-Bart, 2012). The gap between low and high SES students continues to grow. Unfortunately, "children from low-income families enter kindergarten on average a year to a year and a half behind their middle-class peers in terms of school readiness" (Stipek, 2006, p.16).
Home-Environment and Academic Success in Low-SES
The home-environment has a great impact on a child's math and literacy success (Dilworth-Bart 2010). Language develops from interactions and experiences children have at a young age, these experiences form the basis of language and literacy skills needed for school readiness. Home environments have a major role in language development of children. A longitudinal investigation provided results that show children of low-SES "with consistently enriched literacy environments performed at levels that were on par with norms established in the general population" (Rodriguez et al., 2009, p. 690). Along with language development, literacy development is effected but the home environment as well. The amount of books children have access to and the quality of literacy experiences has a link to their overall literacy development (Hanson et al., 2011).
It is not just the home but the neighborhood that impacts a child's school readiness. Cushon et al. (2011) discussed the link in regards to neighborhood poverty and declining scores on an Early Development Instrument for physical health and well-being. Neighborhood community also effects math and letter knowledge as presented in Hanson et al. (2011) study. "The influence of children's home and neighborhood contexts is evident prior to their entrance into school" (Hanson et al. 2011).
Although children are at a disadvantage because of their SES status that does not mean that they are condemned to academic failure. Children of low-SES can have normal development if their parents increase the frequency of literacy experiences, have age appropriate educational materials and have quality engaging conversations with their children on a regular basis (Rodriguez et al., 2009). These factors increase the likelihood that their language will develop normally and increase their school readiness.
The majority of research supports the fact that low-SES attributes to low academic achievement. However, there is always an exception to the rule. Milne and Plourde (2006) interviewed low-SES families with children that scored at least a trimester above grade level and discovered four themes that are common among these households. These themes included educational resources/influences, mother's education, relationships and causes of child's success. The causes of child's success were all similar in the sense that the parents emphasized the importance of school for future success, as well as making homework/educational activities not optional (Milne & Plourde, 2006). These factors need to be discussed with parents of low-SES so that they are educated on how they can meet their child's needs to achieve greater success in school.
In the life of a young child, a parent who is positive and actively involved has a great impact on the child's future outcomes. At the beginning of a child's school experience, parents who are highly involved have children with better developed pre-reading and mathematical skills, there is also a positive correlation for children's motivation, self-efficacy and pro-social behavior (Cooper et al., 2009). Families from poverty were found to have the lowest level of school-based parental involvement and are less likely to involve their children in organized activities, which predicted math achievement (Cooper et al., 2009). Cooper et al. (2009) found that parents who provided their child with organized activities and stimulating materials had a higher reading score upon kindergarten entry. Cooper et al. (2009) concluded that:
Lower involvement levels do not bode well for poor children's ability to transition into school. If less involvement at school translates into less communication with school personnel, then uninvolved poor parents may lack critical information about their children's performance and progress, about how to reinforce learning at home, and about school services and resources (Lareau, 2003). Consequently, these parents may be less able to provide valuable educational materials for their young children or less able to involve them in organized activities that help prepare them for school, then their children may be at a competitive disadvantage (p. 877).
Aikens and Barbarin (2008) concur that the fewer books (or educational materials) in a home have a link to reading performance within the first four years of school. A rich home literacy environment and parents who are less strained were also factors in reading performance (Aikens & Barbarin, 2008). Razza, Martin, and Brooks-Gunn (2010) found that maternal stimulation predicted receptive vocabularies. Also, mothers who had a high level of stress had children with a higher level of externalized behaviors (Razza et al., 2010). The relationship and interactions between a parent and their child can determine a child's mathematical, language and social competencies. Research has shown that the more involved a parent is in their child's life the more likely they are to succeed.
Importance of Prekindergarten Programs
Early Childhood programs offer a variety of experiences to develop children's skills. Within a quality program, children not only develop literacy and math skills, they are socialized, receive a well-balanced meal and gain motivation for learning. Many programs offer family involvement which increases children's success. Early intervention has shown positive effects on literacy development. Training parents and educators on how to improve pre-literacy experiences can improve academic achievement in children from low-SES families (Arnold & Doctoroff, 2003). . When a child attends pre-k they are ready to start learning the first day of school because they have a baseline knowledge of school routines and expectations. Not only are they ready to learn, "children who attend prekindergarten programs have bigger vocabularies and increased math skills, know more letters and more letter-sound associations, and are more familiar with words and book concepts, according to a number of studies" (Lester, 2007, p.25).
The Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) system in Maryland adapted an Early Success Performance Plan in hopes to increase student's school readiness. MCPS spent more than $21 million to reduce class sizes and created full-day kindergarten programs throughout the district. The plan showed success "in three years, the percentage of low-income 5-year-olds attaining grade-level goals has risen from 44 percent to 70 percent" (Black, 2008, p. 4).
For over 40 years, a longitudinal study of students who attended the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program, which was modeled after the Carolina Abecedarian Project, saw reduced "rates of grade retention, special education placement and school dropout; higher educational attainment and adult earnings; and reduced likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system" (Guernsey & Mead, 2010, p. 66). Quality early childhood education not only affects the student, it affects the community. The public saw an increase in tax revenue, a decrease in welfare benefits and a decrease in crime rates with quality preschool (Kelly & Winter, 2008). The Perry Preschool Project, which incorporated core knowledge training and child-center approaches, "improved a broad range of adult outcomes and returned taxpayers approximately six dollars for each dollar invested" (Arnold & Doctoroff, 2003, p. 524). Educators and economists believe that early intervention with high quality school readiness-programs can improve the workforce and the quality of the community. (Kelly & Winter, 2008).
Receiving Parenting Information
In our modern day society, there are multiple was of receiving information for parents. Common resources are family/friends, print media (books, magazines and handbooks), television, internet and healthcare physicians. Families of low-SES do not always have the same resources as high-SES families, such as television, internet capabilities and sometimes physician assistance. To determine the main source of information for mothers of low-SES, Berkule-Silberman et al. (2010) conducted a study in a postpartum unit. The interviews revealed that 60% of mothers received their information from their family and friends (Berkule-Silberman et al., 2010). This is anticipated due to sense of community in the low-SES community. The majority of the other participants used print media as their main source of parenting information (Berkule-Silberman et al., 2010). This information can be used to create improved literature for families of low-SES.
A healthy relationship between the family, school and community, are shown to have a positive effect on children's academic success (Epstein, 1995). Epstein (1995), defined 6 types of parental involvement that a school can utilize to aid in the relationship between family, school and community. Doucet and Tudge (2007) theorized that if a child's home and school culture matched, in terms of "sets of values, beliefs, practices, access to resources, social institutions and a sense of identity," it would ease the transition to school, result in increased school readiness. The partnerships between the family, school and community as well as the ability to mesh the home and school culture are important factors in school readiness.
The effects of being adequately prepared for school have been shown in cognitive scores by the age of 21 shown by Kelly and Winter (2008) based on the Carolina Abecedarian Project. They showed that the more prepared a child is for school the higher the likelihood of future success (Kelly & Winter, 2008). Hotulainen et al (2010) discussed the importance of verbo-sensory motor status (VSM) in preschool and how it can predict future academic success.
Clearfield and Niman (2011), focuses on the disadvantages of living in a low SES class, as Arnold and Doctoroff (2003) discusses the cycle of poverty and low academic achievement. Clearfield and Niman (2011), and Dilworth-Bart (2012), discuss the effects of low SES shown on cognitive flexibility in children as young as six months old and low executive function which leads to low school readiness.
Hanson et al. (2011), and Rodriguez et al. (2009), conferred that an increased home literacy environment led to improved overall literacy development, therefore increasing school readiness. Not just the home but the neighborhood also has an impact on a child's school readiness (Cushon et al., 2011). If parents increase the frequency of literacy experiences, have appropriate educational materials and have engaging conversations with their child, being of low SES status will not condemn you to academic failure if you are proactive (Rodriguez et al., 2009). Milne and Plourde (2006) revealed themes among low SES households that had children with high academic success, such as educational resources/influences, parental emphasis on academics.
Parental involvement can also increase a child's school readiness. Parents of low SES have lower levels of parental involvement, which has a positive correlation for children's motivation, self-efficacy, pro-social behavior, and math achievement (Cooper et al., 2009). Razza et al. (2010) and Aikens and Barbin (2008) concur that a rich home literacy environment, low parental stress level and consistent maternal stimulation effect a child's mathematical, language and social competencies.
Participation in a prekindergarten program is another factor that plays into a child's level of school readiness. Lester (2007) points out the advantages of attending a prekindergarten program, shown in Black's study (2008) in a rise of attaining grade-level goals. The 40 year longitudinal Perry Preschool Project was examined by Guernsey and Mead (2010), Kelly and Winter (2008) and Arnold and Doctoroff (2003) which showed a high quality preschool program can have high yields of academic success which benefits the child, as well as the community. Parents need to be able to receive important information for their child, therefore Silberman et al. (2010) conducted a study which determined families used print media as their main source of parenting information.
Based on Epstein (1995) and Doucet and Tudge (2007) theories the relationship and continuity between the family, school and community will increase the child's school readiness and academic success. The research shows that poverty can affect children as young as 6 months old (Clearfield & Niman, 2011). The effects of poverty typically have an adverse effect on school readiness. (Clearfield & Niman, 2011). The degree to which a child is prepared for school has a lasting effect on a child's academic success (Duncan et al., 2007). School readiness is influenced by many factors; one major factor is home-environment. If parents are educated in creating an environment that aids language/ literacy development based on Rodriguez et al. (2009) study and have a household that shows the four themes from Milne and Plourde (2006) study, children will have a higher likelihood of being prepared for school-entry and therefore will have great success in the future. Early childhood education is an important variable to school readiness; parents need to know how to apply for these programs. This project's goal is to get this information to low-SES families. Since the study conducted by Berkule-Silberman et al. (2010) showed that the majority of low-SES mothers use print media as their form of information, a handbook will be created to adequately educate parents on preparing their child for school.
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