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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 23, 2009

Getting keiki prepared to learn

By Kanoelani Naone

For Hawai'i youngsters, and their parents and teachers, it's time to think about kindergarten.

Helping these children begin on a path to success is a crucial challenge for Hawai'i educators.

By most national estimates, about a third of the children who are starting school are not ready. Unfortunately, by the time they reach third grade, most of these students will still be falling short of school expectations.

As they make their way through their educational career, many of these youngsters will continue to fall short of achieving grade-level benchmarks.

Worse yet, they will be unequipped to handle the requirements the job market will most likely be demanding at a time when the economy will be placing a premium on high skills and the ability to adapt to new technologies.

The better we prepare our children by offering enriching learning opportunities at home and then in school, the more successful they will be.

Neuroscience demonstrates that the brain's development is nearly 90 percent complete by the time a child is 5, with the most rapid brain development taking place during the years from birth to age 3.

Educational research reveals that children who have benefited from excellent early care, and have been provided with rich experiences and pre-kindergarten education programs, are well prepared for school and do better in the first three grades.

Economists report that investments in children's early years will reap great returns in reduced drop-out and retention rates, increased graduation rates, and, eventually, improved worker productivity.

Hawai'i's children need to be ready for school, and schools need to be ready for them.

For some time now, educators have understood that helping children be school-ready requires good prenatal care, effective parenting, health care, and high quality early care and preschool experiences.

Now, there is also an emerging consensus that getting schools ready for children includes preparing schools to respond to the diverse learning needs of all children. This means looking beyond children's "risk factors" and building upon the social, physical and learning skills of all youngsters as they make the transition from home or preschool to kindergarten and begin to adjust to school life.

Keiki Steps to Kindergarten, a free 2- to 3-week summer transition program offered by the Institute of Native Pacific Education and Culture, helps entering kindergarten students adjust to the school setting just before the school year begins.

Through cultivating meaningful partnerships, INPEACE works with the Department of Education, and receives funding support from Kamehameha Schools to more effectively reach out to families and communities.

The program is an example of how to best prepare children through parental empowerment.

Parents and guardians are given the opportunity to learn what is expected in kindergarten and find out how to help their child succeed in school.

Not only does this program give Native Hawaiian children and their families a culturally enriching learning experience, it also provides a safe environment for educational success.

Getting children ready for school and schools ready for children won't be easy. We will need to think of preschool and kindergarten through third grade as a seamless learning experience.

And we know that true success begins at home, as parents are their child's first teacher. Parents can support their child's development by doing a few simple activities:

• Talk "story" with your child about his or her education experiences, especially if your child has any questions or feelings about school.

• Read to your child every day.

• Acknowledge when your child does a good job, follows directions, shares with others and takes turns.

• Attend parent activities and make a commitment to attend these activities through the school year.

Together, we will ensure that, in the years to come, children will be ready to start school and schools will be prepared to offer the best education for our future leaders, our island keiki.