I’ll never forget my first day of Kindergarten. My mother woke me up in the morning to put on my white collared shirt and blue tunic dress. She put a toasted English muffin with peanut butter into my hand before the three of us – mom, dad and me – jumped into the car for the first of what would be 2,340 rides to school. I met my teacher, Ms. Stein, who showed me my cubby, my backpack hook, my table space, and my cot. And just like that, I started Kindergarten. Here’s photographic evidence of the day:

The first day of Kindergarten is monumental. It brings back memories of new friends, new experiences, new shoes. But it’s also a snapshot point in time during which teachers ask, “Are you ‘Kindergarten-ready’?”

“Kindergarten-readiness” is a nationally important (while not nationally normed) measure that includes skills across four domains: Early Learning (language, literacy, and math), Social/Emotional Development, Self-Regulation, and Physical Well-being.

Kindergarten-readiness is not binary, but rather a sliding score based on a child’s ability to do things like use scribbles to represent written language, engage in conversation, follow instructions, play well with others, and identify shapes, just to name a few. It may seem like a minor-enough measure (how important can scribbles and listening in Kindergarten really be for the rest of your life?), but a child who is Kindergarten-ready has an 82% chance of mastering basic skills by age 11, compared to 45% for children who are not K-ready.

Kindergarten-readiness is a nationally important but not nationally normed measure.

In 2018, only 47% of kids who entered Kindergarten were Kindergarten-ready. For the Class of 2030, this means 2.1M kids were not Kindergarten-ready, and 1.5M have a lower chance of mastering basic skills by the end of 4th grade.

Not only do we know how important Kindergarten-readiness is, but we also know how to increase a child’s chance of being Kindergarten-ready prior to starting school. Evidence-based parenting practices, like nurturing and teaching relationships and language-rich environments, directly impact children’s Kindergarten-readiness. Home learning environments account for as much as half of the gap in test scores of preschool children. Regression analysis shows that singular parental behaviors can increase (or decrease) Kindergarten-readiness by up to 10 percent.

That is why our Early Impact portfolio, where I am a program analyst, is committed to increasing understanding of the importance of Kindergarten-readiness and growing awareness of the simple things parents can do early on to influence their child’s chance of later academic and life success. Ultimately, our portfolio’s vision is that one day, all children will start school Kindergarten-ready.

In 2018, only 47% of kids who entered Kindergarten were Kindergarten-ready.

How do we hope to accomplish this? By increasing access to high quality supports for parents in every place, and every way. Parenting is hard, especially in today’s world (see: The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting, and Modern parenting is harder than before, and this is why, and 88% of parents say being a parent is harder than ever). We believe everyone can benefit from a little extra help, so we fund organizations that provide support in ways that are tailored to families’ wants and needs. Whether it comes in the form of a text message, a group of fellow parents, or a nurse visiting a new mom at home, encouragement and guidance are valuable for any parent.

We’re also funding research to answer questions like:

  • Which child outcomes and domain(s) of K-readiness are most predictive of future success? Which are most cost-effective to improve?
  • Which parenting practices most influence K-readiness?
  • Which dissemination channels for encouraging evidence-based parenting practices are most effective for different people and different practices?

We are invigorated to see that early childhood continues to be one of the top bipartisan priorities, but only 6.2% of all federal funding for early childhood supports parents and parenting (the rest funds essential systems and supports for children, like Head Start).

If we know that the first three years of a child’s life are the most important, and that parents and caretakers are the most influential forces to a child’s development, why are we not doing more to support parents during this time period?

We believe we can improve Kindergarten-readiness by increasing access to high quality supports for parents in every place, and every way.

As a child, I had a bed to sleep in, clean clothes to wear, food to eat, parents who were able to drive me to school, a teacher who cared, and my own cubby, backpack hook, table space, and cot. All these things and more made me lucky enough to be Kindergarten-ready.

But I had more than luck on my side. Kindergarten-ready children are more likely to be female, non-Hispanic White, economically advantaged, English speakers, and products of two-parent households and smaller household sizes.

In 2019, I invite you to join me and the Early Impact team in empowering families with evidence-based parenting practices that help make early learning and Kindergarten-readiness available to all children, no matter their luck.