Numerous studies corroborate what we know through observation and experience: children growing up in families with limited resources and supports are not always adequately prepared for kindergarten. They are less likely to be good readers by third grade, graduate from high school, stay out of the public assistance system, or avoid going to jail.
But there are steps we can take to ensure all Alaska children begin school ready to succeed.
To help Alaskans understand the issue, Kids Count Alaska has just released its report called Alaska Economic Well-Being. In 2016, 54,115 Alaska children were under 5 – that’s 29% of all children birth to 19. Nearly 40% of all Alaska children live in Anchorage, and the overall child population is more diverse than the adult population.
The report provides some disturbing information about how Alaska families with young children are faring. For example, in all regions of the state, the youngest children are most likely to live in families with incomes below the federal poverty line. And 20% of all children lived in homes without enough food this past year. The report goes on to say:
“Experiencing poverty as a child can have life-long impacts on a child’s development. Poverty and financial stress can contribute to learning, behavioral, social and emotional problems and poor health.”
Reporting on their own and national studies of what goes into school readiness, Applied Survey Research (ASR) says that “children from more affluent and educated families… are more ready for school than children from more disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Their recommendations for closing that readiness gap include ensuring children have access to high quality early care and learning programs that can result in positive returns on investment for both those children and the communities in which they live. Like other researchers, they found that reading with a child is positively associated with being prepared for school. Efforts that promote family engagement can help close the readiness gap and ensure that all children begin school prepared for success.
Parent engagement promotes child development. According to Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, “It’s not just about the parents’ education and income, it’s about interaction.”
What can parents do?
For ideas about family engagement in support of preparing young children for school, visit BestBeginningsAlaska.org.
Check out the Applied Survey Research series on school readiness.