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Children in quality settings in a public pre-K, More at Four, child care center or family home have an easier transition to kindergarten and are more ready for success. According to Harris, “Children who are provided with experiences that encourage rich language development and opportunities to explore their immediate environment in ways that support their development thrive [in school]. Children who don’t have these same opportunities often begin school with a smaller vocabulary base and are less able to cope with the social experience they encounter in school.”

Harris points out one specific area that she believes is key to a successful kindergarten experience—the opportunity for language development. Children in quality early childhood settings have opportunities to develop oral language. “They’re engaged in ongoing conversations about their world…not just told what to do. They’re encouraged to talk about what they see, hear and touch. And they learn the give and take of real conversation with someone who expands on that conversation and connects it back to their world and what they are learning.”

During her 13 years of teaching, Harris has also had the opportunity to observe changes that have made a difference in children’s first school experiences. She’s noticed that children in quality settings learn “how to get along with others and what it means to function in a group.” This makes it easier for them to adjust to a school structure. In addition, she believes there is now a stronger family connection to school. “In the past the family connection to education didn’t begin until kindergarten. Now the child care centers and pre-k classrooms reach out to families and start an open line of communication before the child begins school.”

Children also have more opportunities to become familiar with a school environment before coming to kindergarten, which makes the transition to school easier. The children who attend school-based pre-k or More at Four classes know the faces of the staff and are comfortable moving around the building so when they come to kindergarten they are “relaxed in their surroundings.” As a result of outreach from the Stocks’ home-school contacts, children attending private child care centers and family homes visit the school at least once a month beginning in January before they begin kindergarten. According to Harris, the children who participate in these visits are also “more comfortable” when they first come to school, and being “relaxed” and “comfortable” in their new setting is critical.  Calm, comfortable children have the emotional energy to focus on learning and building the foundation for early school success.

Harris has seen first-hand how a quality early childhood education experience impacts young children as they transition to “big school.”  But, she also believes that quality early experiences impact the future.  As she sees it, her job is to not only prepare children to read and write but to prepare them to be “successful students and citizens…to embrace all the children who will be our next leaders.”

Harris’ beliefs and her professional development and community involvement align with the National Association for the Education of Young Children.  Their vision is that all children will have access to a safe and accessible, high quality early childhood education that includes:
  • A developmentally appropriate curriculum
  • Knowledgeable and well-trained program staff and educators
  • Comprehensive services that support their health, nutrition, and social well-being, in an environment that respects and supports diversity.

For more information about early childhood education, go to www.naeyc.org.

Quality Early Care is the Key to a Successful
Kindergarten Experience
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Juliana Harris knows quality early childhood education and has a college degree in teaching birth to kindergarten children. She is a Teacher-Leader for Power of K (North Carolina’s professional development initiative to strengthen kindergarten classrooms). She serves on the Board of Directors for the NC Association for the Education of Young Children and is actively involved in DEPC’s Ready Schools work on a school and district level.  Most importantly, she has been teaching kindergarten for 13 years, 12 of which were years at Stocks Elementary School in Tarboro.

Harris describes a quality early childhood educational setting as one that supports a child’s learning in five key areas of development: language and communication; social and emotional; cognition and general knowledge; health and physical; and approaches to learning. She also believes that a quality setting “supports families as a whole” to make sure they have information about and access to any help or services they need.