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Kindergarten report: Never too early to start learning


February 17, 2000
Web posted at: 7:18 p.m. EST (0018 GMT)

In this story:

Some groups at risk

'Message to parents is to read, read, read'


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- While parents do an overall good job preparing their children for kindergarten, a new federal report says the importance of early learning is not fully appreciated by some adults, such as those who spend little time reading to preschoolers.

 Survey Results:
  • 82 percent of children enter kindergarten with print familiarity skills, such as knowing that print reads from left to right, and 66 percent recognize letters.
  • 94 percent of children begin school knowing basic shapes and numbers to up to 10; and a very few -- four percent -- can add or subtract.
  • Teachers reported that most children enter kindergarten with good social skills, such as accepting peer ideas (74 percent), and forming friendships (77 percent).
  • A few children enter kindergarten with potentially disruptive behaviors such as arguing (11 percent) and fighting (10 percent).
  • Parents report that nearly all children (97 percent) are in good to excellent health when they enter kindergarten.

The findings are in a first-of-its-kind report from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which surveyed 22,000 kindergarten children and their families, and looked at schools and classrooms.

The report said most children entering kindergarten:

  • Have beginning reading skills
  • Know numbers and shapes
  • Have good social skills
  • Are in good health

Before the study, national data on kindergartners came from household and other surveys, but could not be used to study the relationships between children's classroom and school experiences, home environments and their school performance.

It was those relationships the new report was designed to study.

Researchers found that while kindergartners are similar in many ways, they also can vary in the level of skills they've developed, even at such a young age.

"Children come to kindergarten with varied cognitive skills, knowledge, social background and health," said NCES Acting Commissioner Gary Phillips. "This variation stems from the experiences and educational opportunities that children have before they enter kindergarten."

Some groups at risk

Although the findings were positive for the population as a whole, there are several groups of children whose knowledge and skill levels put them at risk, the report said.

The study will follow kindergartners through the fifth grade  

On average, according to the study, African-American and Hispanic children, children from welfare homes, and those whose parents have less education had significantly fewer early reading and math skills, exhibited more problem behaviors, and were less healthy.

"Differences in children's reading, math, and social skills, and health that are related to poverty, parents' education and race and ethnicity are already there upon entering kindergarten," Phillips said.

'Message to parents is to read, read, read'

The study found that most children bring good social skills to kindergarten  

Secretary of Education Richard Riley said the study "underscores the importance of increasing efforts to support and expand early childhood learning."

But Riley also said he is concerned by the finding that "only half of all parents are reading to their children every day. My message to parents is to read, read, read. It makes a powerful difference."

This new study will continue to follow the same sample of children through the fifth grade, regularly gathering data on their reading and math achievement, social skills, physical development, and school experiences.

The aim is to reveal whether differences that exist when children enter school persist or change over time.

Correspondent Pat Etheridge contributed to this report.

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National Center for Education Statistics
America's Kindergartners Acrobat Reader required

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