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May 18, 2020

Aspirations for a Seamless Transition from VPK to Kindergarten

An assumption could be made that most parents, teachers, and caregivers aspire to provide quality care for children. Evidence from many researchers over the years has expressed the need for quality early childhood education and services for children birth to age five, as these early years are a crucial foundation for later academic success.

In my experience as a classroom teacher, I recognize that most children enter school ready, excited, and eager to learn. I also know from experience that some, however, are apprehensive and confused about the unknown. What is the reason for the gap? Among those expressing concern are the people who know the children best: parents, teachers, and caregivers. Many parents fear that children are starting school unprepared for the tasks that await them. Early learning and kindergarten teachers are also concerned, as a significant number of children entering kindergarten are not prepared to learn in their classrooms.

What are the possibilities if this gap — from early learning to kindergarten readiness — was seamless? Despite research showing its importance, I have discovered a unified transition from VPK (voluntary pre-kindergarten) to kindergarten remains the exception rather than the rule in our public schools.

Only a few weeks or months separate the preschooler from the kindergartner. In that short span, a child’s developmental needs do not change significantly, but the kindergarten classrooms where they receive care and education may differ dramatically from the settings to which they have grown accustomed. A growing body of research also suggests that today’s kindergartens are becoming more focused on academic goals. This trend can make the transition from VPK to kindergarten even more complex.

How can we aspire to create a seamless transition from VPK to kindergarten? What would this look like for children, parents, teachers, and early learning caregivers? It is evident from research that there are benefits, and it is reasonable to believe that all those involved with a child’s care and education can benefit from practices that ease the transition from VPK to kindergarten.

In partnership with parents, early childhood educators, kindergarten teachers, and elementary school administrators, these questions and others are being explored by the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Due to the health precautions in place to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, the in-person meetings are postponed. However, our partners’ curiosity and the willingness to participate by filling out surveys outlining shared aspirations to create a seamless transition for the incoming kindergarteners in our region have not.

Some good things already happened, and SCGLR is interested in recognizing, replicating, and scaling the positive. The Patterson Foundation collaborated with the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. As part of a Study Away program, ten students participated in focus groups regarding kindergarten transition. Travel restrictions prevented this group of young philanthropists from making their planned trip, but their interest in learning and their willingness to utilize technology resulted in a new way they could be involved.

The students from the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University assisted us in reading and analyzing the kindergarten transition survey results. Then, they participated in a virtual discussion group as we determined next steps to help realize our shared kindergarten transition aspirations.

We are looking forward to obtaining feedback from early childhood educators, kindergarten teachers, and elementary school administrators from Charlotte, DeSoto, and Manatee counties in the coming weeks.

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