Early Childhood Education Shapes Childrens’ Entire Lives
“The first five years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out.” Bill Gates, Sr. Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
After reading an article where I first saw this quote, I made early childhood education my mission. Although I teach first grade and the students are older than 5 years, I see the negative effects of children whose early years did not include books, music, numbers, and games where they improve their fine motor skills. In my experience, some students come to my class lacking skills necessary to be successful in reading, writing, and math. Believe it or not, some extreme cases include students who only know a few letters of the alphabet while other children in the class are reading on high levels. So, becoming an advocate for early childhood education became personal for me.
How did I become an advocate for Head Start and Preschool? I began with writing a grant for technology to help our school’s early childhood education. With the money from the grant, I purchased 4 Android tablets and accessories. These tablets include over 200 preloaded apps for Pre-K, Kindergarten, and 1st grade. As part of this grant, I am presenting at two regional conferences, I am part of a team teaching preschool and Head Start teachers, and I have been given a wealth of professional development relating to early childhood education and how to conduct action research.
For the first encounters with 4 and 5 year-olds, I enlisted the help of students at my school who vary in age from 3rd to 8th grade. Our first project was to conduct our school’s first ever Kindergarten Camp. One student used Word and Paint to create a brochure, and we mailed the brochure to all parents who had enrolled their students in Kindergarten. On the first day, we had 44 students attend!
When Kinder Camp was over, the older students and I met to discuss how to further help the Prekindergarten program. We realized that the students we taught in the summer were now in the hands of the Kindergarten teachers. With the blessing of the Head Start and Preschool teachers, we began a process of tutoring. Our school is very crowded, and those early childhood classes had been moved to our old school building about 10 miles away. So, because our school was a hub for these students to catch a bus to their classrooms, the 3, 4, and 5 year-olds were forced to wait for 30 minutes at our school in the morning to catch the second bus. My students now meet early in the morning to take the precious little children to my classroom for tutoring and play!
The impact of all of our efforts will be measured by the Brigance assessment given to all kindergarten students upon enrollment in school. In the fall term of 2015, only 46% of the students were considered ready for kindergarten. Our goal for the fall term of 2016 is to increase the readiness by 10% or more. According to the “Superintendent School Readiness Toolbox” for preschool learning, 90% of a child’s learning happens before the age of 5. As educators and leaders, we have a great responsibility to help with the very young children so that they are given the best chances of beginning school on equal footing with students who have parents willing to educate, technology to aid in learning at an early age, and educators who are willing to help with these students even though these children are not their direct responsibility. I can’t wait to see how this will help my first graders, and I long for the day when I’m teaching first grade curriculum (and beyond) instead of remediating preschool and kindergarten. Educating prekindergarten students is out of my comfort zone, but I am passionately making this my mission.
You can find the Superintendent School Readiness Toolbox here.
Jeanne Caudill is a first grade teacher at Mullins School in Pikeville, Kentucky. She is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and an accomplished sponsor/coach of the Student Technology Leadership program. She has also served on the Teacher Education Committee at the University of Pikeville, and currently serves as a cooperating teacher for two student-teachers from the college.