Promoting School Readiness

THEORY TO PRACTICE, ISSUE NO. 8, FALL '16

Robert Fulghum penned the best-selling credo "Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten," but, as the interdisciplinary group of Lehigh faculty that launched the Early Development and Education Initiative know, that's only part of the story.

How well children perform later in school hinges on how well they do early on, even before entering kindergarten, studies show. So, school readiness is important to long-term success.

To support school readiness, Lehigh's early development team joined with the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (Pa.) in summer 2016 to support its KinderCamp, which helps to prepare young children for kindergarten by developing their social-emotional and early academic skills in the critical period just prior to school starting.

Lehigh's pilot program added an eight-week parenting component, which was offered to the families of pre-K students enrolled in the camp at Fountain Hill (Pa.)Elementary School. According to the United Way, only 43 percent of students in the 2014-15 school year had been "ready" to enter kindergarten, based on assessments.

The Lehigh program focused on ways to build relationships between parents and their children. It included introductory modules on early literacy and math—two skill areas that are highly predictive of short- and long-term achievement—as well as social/emotional development.

One way parents can promote early learning is through book reading. "If parents are building a stronger relationship with their child, shared book reading is an opportunity to have close interaction and to promote language and literacy," said Robin Hojnoski, associate professor of School Psychology. "And the behavioral component ties into that to show how that interaction promotes social and emotional competence to help the child to have some positive social skills."

A Lehigh faculty research grant allowed Lehigh to make connections with families after KinderCamp ended.

"We were able to say 'school starts next week, are you all set with the bus?' " Hojnoski said. "And, this will continue even into the first month of school. We will be able to ask 'What kinds of problems are you having? ...It is about getting them engaged from the beginning and keeping them engaged."

Story by Jennifer Marangos