The number of kids entering kindergarten ready to learn in Kelso has been on a steady decline for the last three years. Kinder teachers in the district are seeing the impacts of that readiness gap, and having to find ways to lessen it.

“I consistently observe gaps in social-emotional and literacy,” said Megan Berry, kindergarten teacher at Catlin Elementary.

“Kindergartners are entering with few tools to deal with their social-emotional needs,” agreed Barnes Elementary teacher Julie Brigman.  “Yet, it feels like they need the tools more now than ever.”

“To aide in this, we spend the fall teaching kids how to problem solve and manage emotions effectively,” said Cherie Gaston, another kindergarten teacher at Barnes. “We teach, practice, and encourage them to apply these skills in order to improve their ability to self-regulate and be competent socially & emotionally.”

In addition to social-emotional and literacy, other areas of development include physical, cognitive, language, and math. Gaston and Brigman have noticed gaps in all six areas. “The one that has the most impact, though, is language,” said Gaston. “We are trying to mitigate that gap by creating language rich classrooms full of exposure to books, new vocabulary and experiences, conversation, environmental print…”

“We use GLAD strategies (Guided Language Acquisition and Design) and have seen improvement in our students’ oral language skills with the use of Open Court (a reading program) in our classrooms,” said Brigman.

All three teachers agree that the importance of early learning can’t be overstated. “Students with preschool experience have advantages both academically and socially,” said Berry. These students come in recognizing letters and numbers, and are more prepared for classroom structure.

“Students that attend quality early learning programs start school with a toolbox full of skills,” said Brigman, “which helps them have an easier and often more successful transition into elementary school.”

Wherever they’re at when they come in, the growth in these students is impressive. “Kindergarten is the best because you see so many gains academically and socially,” said Berry.

Gaston and Brigman concur. “Many of our students began the year knowing zero to few letters and sounds, and in the spring, they are beginning to read and write sentences,” said Gaston. “Their social-emotional growth coupled with their language development, is tremendous too.”

“You start with kids unable to verbally share a complete thought or make friends, and end with them able to problem solve and brimming with new friendships,” said Brigman.