Valley of the Sun United Way is fighting to break the cycle of poverty for children, families, and neighborhoods in Maricopa County, Arizona. We know that one in four children are living in poverty and more than 60% of children do not have access to high-quality preschool programs.
When should education begin to prepare these children to meet the challenges awaiting them 18 years from now? At age three, when they can enroll in preschool? Age five, when they start kindergarten? The correct answer is now. It’s never too early to start.
Readiness to enter school and to reach every educational milestone thereafter begins prior to birth and become even more imperative as children get older. Science tells us that 90% of the brain is developed by age five. Therefore, building a strong learning foundation sets the steps for children to succeed in school and life on a birth-to-career continuum. Failure at any stage along the continuum can come at an enormous cost to the entire community.
That is why, more than 12 years ago, we created a School Readiness Kit for families of students in grades pre-K–K, featuring activities aligned with developmental milestones. We also provided a link to an ‘Ages & Stages Questionnaire’ to track children’s progress in communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving, and personal social skills.
The kits were designed for parents to engage with their children in everyday moments and turn them into learning opportunities. These were distributed in communities where children might not have access to high-quality preschool programs or may be cared for by family, friends, or neighbors.
Engaging parents and caregivers in the idea that learning doesn’t just happen when a child starts kindergarten can be a life changing experience for everyone. Activities in the parent guide help families support their children’s development through conversations—such as asking questions and getting children to respond—in addition to encouraging children to be creative and problem solve. This connects the approaches of learning and preparing for school.
Valley of the Sun United Way’s goal of ensuring each and every child enters school successfully didn’t end with the Maricopa County community. We teamed up with Scholastic’s Family & Community Engagement program to share this resource on a larger scale, making it available to other community partners, United Ways, and schools to provide families and caregivers with tools, ideas, and guidance in preparing children for the journey to success.
When we looked at the data from our pre- and post-surveys, 86% of families shared that they are reading more and doing more activities with their children after receiving the School Readiness Kits. However, the power is truly in the stories we hear from families. “I just didn’t know that I should read to my child every day, even if our home language is not English,” shared one parent. “It is called a school readiness kit, but it helped me too. I now better understand things I can do at home to continue his love of learning,” said another. One surveyed parent even noted, “This helped me in my efforts to prepare my children for school. I’m getting my GED, so I’m school ready too.”
We know families want their children to succeed, and that sometimes, they need ideas and affirmation to help them along the journey. A parent, Katie, reached out to share her story about how she was going to through a difficult time in her life. She told us kept the kit on her nightstand so each day when she woke up, she was reminded of what the most important thing in her life was and reminded that she could do at least one thing that would make a difference each day for her son.
Image provided by Valley of the Sun United Way