Kindergarten marks a big transition in the life of a kid.
Kindergarten teachers report that there are a few specific school-readiness behaviors they’d like their incoming students to exhibit: an enthusiasm for learning, a desire to be independent, and the abilities to listen and play well with others. But are these qualities beneficial for classroom management alone, or are they important for academic performance, too?
A report by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicates that kids entering kindergarten display a wide range of skills, knowledge, and school-readiness behaviors. Through its Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), which tracked students from kindergarten through third grade, the NCES aimed to determine whether some of these behaviors are related to academic performance.
Short answer: They are.
Eighteen thousand students were assessed from the fall of their kindergarten year through the spring of their first-grade year in math and reading. Teachers also assigned them all a rating of “never,” “sometimes,” “often,” or “very often” for each of seven school readiness behaviors:
- pays attention well
- learns independently
- persists in completing tasks
- organizes belongings
- adapts easily to change
- shows eagerness to learn new things
- follows classroom rules
These ratings were then averaged, giving every child an overall “approaches to learning” score.
The ECLS found that students who entered kindergarten without having developed school readiness behaviors earned the lowest marks in both math and reading as compared to their peers. At the other end of the spectrum were the kindergarteners who very often approached learning with these behaviors; they scored the highest in math and reading through the end of first grade.
The strength of the relationship between each student’s approaches to learning rating and his or her academic performance is quite interesting. Each of the four groups (according to students’ initial scores), “never,” “sometimes,” “often,” and “very often,” improved academically throughout the two school years, but all maintained their academic position relative to one another.
Other studies corroborate these findings, showing that students consistently maintain their class standings — on average — in math and reading assessments from kindergarten through third grade.
Acting on These Findings
How can parents set their student up for success early on? Sending a child to a high-quality early education program is a fantastic way to develop a positive learning attitude and good study habits. Most programs will guide kids to follow classroom rules, be open to new routines, and be enthusiastic about learning.
Enrichment programs give children an academic advantage due to their focus on enhancing attentiveness, strengthening perseverance when completing tasks, fostering independent learning, and promoting organizational skills. When choosing center-based care (day care, preschool, nursery school, or an early enrichment program), parents should consider the ways in which particular programs might develop their child’s approach learning.
School success depends not only on knowledge and skills, but also on the habits and attitudes with which a student approaches learning. Evidence shows that characteristics including attentiveness, persistence, and independence go hand-and-hand with higher scores in math and reading — beginning as early as kindergarten and at least through the end of first grade— and these indicators of school readiness are leading some states to make early education available to greater numbers of children.