According to a recent nationwide survey, most 5 year olds are not academically prepared to start kindergarten.
Educators worry a lack of preparedness during a child's first years of life could set a foundation of failure that can linger through high school or beyond.
Kindergarten used to be a time where children learned the alphabet and numbers, among other things, before starting first grade.
"Even 20 years ago, we didn't expect out of kindergartners what we expect today," says Julie Babb, Director of Pre-K Programs for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.
Babb oversees Pre-K programs for more than 4,000 public school students living in Charlotte, NC.
"You really do have to go into kindergarten ready to learn quite a bit about reading and, in fact, begin to read, usually, by the end of kindergarten or early first grade," Babb says. "There are a lot of children who are not prepared."
Of the 500 teachers who participated in the Age of Learning/ABCmouse.com survey, 66 percent said students were "only somewhat or not at all prepared. Only six percent of the educators felt students were very well prepared.
While it's true the educational standards in the US for kindergarten students has increased in the last few decades, educators say one possible reason why children may not be prepared for school is because many parents are working multiple jobs.
"They work long hours and maybe two or three jobs to make ends meet, and have to leave home to take the city bus to go to the job, to go here and there, and I think their time with their children is very limited," Babb says.
Dr. Rebecca Palacios has been a Pre-K teacher for more than 25 years. She is also the Curriculum Advisor for Age of Learning, Inc. and ABCmouse.com located in Glendale, California.
She says Pre-K programs can help children excel in kindergarten, but parents should do some research to find a quality program by asking lots of questions.
"What does the curriculum look like? Are there components in reading, math, science, social studies, math, arts, music? Is the whole child engaged in this learning process because it's not just about one little piece, but making the child be successful in all aspects," Palacios says.
If a Pre-K program isn't an option for you, speak with a teacher at a school to find out what your child should be learning at home before they enter kindergarten.
Simple things like a walk through the produce department at your local grocery store can be an excellent learning opportunity to teach kids about colors, shapes and words used to describe fruits and vegetables.
Another creative idea for teaching small children involves the stickers found on fruits and vegetables which describe where the produce was grown. Ask your child to find the country on a map for a quick geography lesson.
When you're driving down the road, ask your child to look for letters on signs or in store windows.
Most importantly, experts say, exposing your child to as many books as possible at your public library is a good way to encourage them to read.
Dr. Palacios says online resources like ABCmouse.com are also great for teaching children letters, numbers, and other educational skills.
Finding time to teach a young child core learning skills before they start kindergarten, she says, will pay off later.
"The gift of time, to be able to play with them, read to your child, just interact with them, and enjoy and love them, and just develop their oral language skills is going to set their future foundation and academic success throughout their life," Palacios says.
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