According to new research, school readiness not only helps kids academically, but it also benefits their health, productivity, and personal success well into their teen years.

By Anna Halkidis
November 10, 2020
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Building a bright future for their child is always on a parent’s mind. There are tons of recommendations to sort through, but parents may want to focus their attention even more on kindergarten readiness.

New research, published in Pediatrics in November, found starting school on the right foot has long-term benefits for kids, including academic success and positive health and social outcomes, well into their high school years.

“Our results suggest that early childhood readiness can provide children with a protective edge that lasts until emerging adulthood,” says Caroline Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., lead author and assistant professor at Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia.

The study looked at the math skills and vocabulary of 966 kids in Canada at age 5. Their academic grades, school connectedness, anxiety sensitivity, substance abuse, physical activity involvement, and height and weight were later evaluated when they were 17. The results found that kindergarten readiness, also known as school readiness, helped them in the years to come. “We found that kindergarten number knowledge predicted better end of high school academic grades and lower risk of high school dropout,” says Dr. Fitzpatrick.

Classroom engagement in kindergarten, or “the ability to successfully adjust to classroom demands,” was also studied. “Children that were more engaged in the classroom also had better end of high school grades, lower dropout risk, and felt more connected to school,” says Dr. Fitzpatrick.

And there’s more: Kindergarten engagement was linked to less risk of substance abuse, more physical involvement, and a 65 percent less likeliness of being overweight at 17. At the same time, kindergarten vocabulary predicted less anxiety by the end of high school.

While the positive link between kindergarten readiness and future academic success isn’t new, this latest research emphasizes the effect kindergarten readiness can have on future health, productivity, and personal success. So how can parents make sure their kids reap the benefits?

How to Promote Kindergarten Readiness

About 4 million kids enter kindergarten each year in the United States, but research shows many of them aren’t ready for it. Lack of access to publicly-funded preschool programs is a big part of the problem, as six out of 10 kids are not enrolled in one, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Education. While states and the federal government must work hard to address these disparities, experts say parents, luckily, can help make a difference at home.

Have fun with math. “Parents can help children build strong school readiness skills by engaging them in activities that build numeracy, such as counting and sorting games,” says Dr. Fitzpatrick. (Check out the Parents guide for some easy and fun math activities for preschoolers.)

Spend time reading. When it comes to building vocabulary, says Dr. Fitzpatrick, telling your kids stories and reading books together goes a long way.

Primary physician assistant and children's author, Ken Korber, who wasn’t part of the study, agrees, emphasizing the importance of literacy for kids between ages 3 and 6.

“A young person cannot gain social engagement, empathy towards one's peers, and build on an earlier classroom success without being able to read and be language literate,” says Korber, also a fellow with the American Academy of Physician Assistants and founder of Center for Functional Learning Ltd., a nonprofit that aims to improve children’s lives with reading skills, music, and health literacy. “So, with that as a launchpad, the best thing parents can do is to encourage reading as an individual and/or family activity.” (Here are some books preschoolers are known to love.)

Play games. “Engagement in learning can be supported by fostering children’s self-regulation and attention skills by encouraging make believe play and playing games, such as Follow the Leader and Simon Says,” advises Dr. Fitzpatrick.

Focus on other skills. Aside from learning the alphabet and counting to 10, school readiness also involves some other skills. Korber points to important motor skills, such as learning to use scissors and holding a pencil, as well as self-care like encouraging kids to get dressed and being able to use the bathroom on their own. Of course, your kid may work on their own timeline—nothing wrong with that!—but that's where your doctor may come into play.

Lean on your pediatrician. The study authors say pediatricians play a “key role” when it comes to school readiness. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also says doctors can play a vital role in helping parents promote school readiness by guiding them on what daily activities to focus on, educating them on child development, screening for any risks and developmental disabilities.

For more on getting kids ready for kindergarten, take a peek at our checklist.

Anna Halkidis is the features editor at Parents.com. Keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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