Skills taught in kindergarten are critical for achievement and success at foundational levels of learning, and public prekindergarten has proven to significantly increase the likelihood of successful experiences there and beyond (Haslip. 2018; Learning Policy Institute, 2019). That is why the federal government spends billions of dollars every year on programs such as Headstart, and policymakers are now in serious discussions about making free prekindergarten available to all children. Powerful evidence for the academic value of universal pre-k can be found in an exceptionally rigorous investigation involving hundreds of students in a publicly funded pre-k program (Haslip, 2018). The conclusion of the study was clear: “…direct instruction in early literacy provided by a Pre-K program meeting recognized structural quality indicators continues to significantly and meaningfully impact children’s first grade text-level reading ability, spelling, sight word, and letter–sound identification” (Haslip, 2018, Conclusion section).
As an educator with many years of experience in closing educational gaps, I have consistently witnessed a pattern in which children with formal prekindergarten training enter kindergarten well ahead in essential early literacy skills. These include phonemic awareness, “concepts about print”, letter name identification, and a critical skill area that provides a gateway into reading words — knowledge of letter sounds. The importance of preschool training in these skills and later mastery of them in kindergarten cannot be overstated—nor can the importance of the kindergarten grade level itself.
Many parents have misunderstandings about the significance of kindergarten because they believe it has minimal academic value for their child or because it is not mandatory in all states. It is important to understand that state mandates originated decades ago, when standards for kindergarten were far different from what they are now. Yes, this grade level still provides valuable life lessons in listening, coping with emotions, teamwork, caring, sharing, and friendship—yet there is so much more. With respect to academic rigor, think of it this way: First grade in the 1990s was what kindergarten is now (Bassok, Latham, & Rorem, 2016; Camera, 2016; Strauss, 2016).
The truth is that kindergarten children learn essential foundational skills that are critical for their success in first grade and the ever-important subject of reading. Training is provided in associating and remembering letter sounds and in the skills of blending and manipulating sounds to form words (phonics skills). Those who lack proper instruction in these and other foundational areas may be at risk of developing significant reading deficiencies (Kilpatrick, 2015). Expectations are high, and children who are not reading to predetermined levels by the end of kindergarten are considered to be in need of remediation.
Despite herculean efforts among parents, teachers, and administrators, the pandemic has led to particularly serious concerns about learning loss among children at the youngest grade levels (D’Souza, 2021; Jacobson, 2020). Many are desperate to find programs that will lead to the acceleration of early reading skills and pave the way for success in the coming school year. That is why I have devoted the past year to creating a Parent and Tutor Edition of SnapBack Phonics Module One: Consonants and Short Vowels Sounds and to making this and the existing teacher version available on my website. Module One lessons were developed for the precise purpose of accelerating skills and closing gaps among early readers. They are customizable, easy to implement and can take as little as 7 minutes per day. The new version will allow parents and/or tutors to make use of the same proven, exciting, highly effective strategies for teaching essential prekindergarten and kindergarten phonics skills: letter sound association, letter sound recall, and blending sounds to form one syllable words. Pilot studies of the well-loved SnapBack Phonics Module One: Consonants and Short Vowels Teacher Version reveal strong program efficacy in all of three of these skill areas.
Bassok, D., Latham, S., & Rorem, A. (2016). Is kindergarten the new first grade? AERA Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332858415616358
Camera, L. (2016, January 7). Welcome to first grade kindergarten. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016/01/07/kindergarten-today-looks-like-first-grade-a-decade-ago
D’Souza, K. (2021, May 11). What happens to children who missed kindergarten during Covid-19 crisis? EdSource. Retrieved from https://edsource.org/2021/what-happens-to-children-who-missed-kindergarten-during-covid-19-crisis/647721
Haslip, M. (2018). The effects of public pre-kindergarten attendance on first grade literacy achievement: a district study. ICEP 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40723-017-0040-z
Jacobson, L. (2020, July 24). New study reveals ‘devastating learning loss’ for youngest children, showing that preschool participation has fallen by half during pandemic – and may not improve in the fall. Retrieved from https://www.the74million.org/article/new-study-reveals-devastating-learning-loss-for-youngest-children-showing-that-preschool-participation-has-fallen-by-half-during-pandemic-and-may-not-improve-in-the-fall/
Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.
Learning Policy Institute (2019, January 31). What does the research really say about preschool effectiveness? Retrieved from: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/press-release/what-does-research-really-say-about-preschool-effectiveness
Strauss, V. (2016, January 19). Kindergarten the new first grade? It’s actually worse than that. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/01/19/kindergarten-the-new-first-grade-its-actually-worse-than-that/