Kindergarten marks a big transition in the lives of lots of kids.
Kindergarten teachers report that there are a few specific school-readiness behaviors they want their incoming students to exhibit: an enthusiasm for learning, a desire to be independent, and the abilities to listen and play well with others. But are these qualities beneficial for classroom management alone, or are they important for academic performance, too?
A report by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicates that kids entering kindergarten display a wide range of skills, knowledge, and school-readiness behaviors — some of which give them a big advantage. Through its Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), which tracked students from kindergarten through third grade, the NCES aimed to determine whether some of these behaviors are related to academic performance.
Short answer: They are.
Eighteen thousand students were assessed from the fall of their kindergarten year through the spring of their first-grade year in math and reading. Teachers assigned them all a rating of “never,” “sometimes,” “often,” or “very often” (corresponding to numbers 1–4) for each of seven behaviors:
- pay attention well
- learn independently
- persist in completing tasks
- organize belongings
- adapt easily to change
- show eagerness to learn new things
- follow classroom rules
These ratings were averaged for each student, giving every child an “approaches to learning” score.
These approach-to-learning ratings showed a strong positive correlation with students’ average scores in reading and math both in kindergarten and in first grade. Students who entered kindergarten without having developed school readiness behaviors earned the lowest marks in both math and reading compared with their peers. As you might expect, kids who sometimes demonstrated good behaviors in approaches to learning performed a little better academically. Faring slightly better still were children who often illustrated positive approach-to-learning behaviors. At the high end of the spectrum were the kindergarteners who very often approached learning with these behaviors, and they scored the highest in math and reading through the end of first grade.
In other words, kids who demonstrated the lowest average scores on those seven behaviors listed above in the beginning of their kindergarten years did more poorly than their peers on math and reading assessments through the end of first grade. Kids who had higher scores for their approach-to-learning behaviors scored higher on math and reading tests through the end of first grade.
The strength of the relationship between each student’s approach to learning rating and her academic performance is quite interesting. Each of the four groups (according to students’ initial scores) improved academically through the two school years, but all maintained their academic position relative to one another.
The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics published a report on childhood well-being in 2013. A special feature within this document highlighted these important findings from the ECLS. Other studies corroborate these findings, showing that students consistently maintain their class standings — on average — in math and reading assessments from kindergarten through third grade.
Acting on These Findings
How can parents set up their kid for success now? Sending your child to a high-quality early education program is a fantastic way to develop a positive learning attitude and good study habits. Most programs will guide kids to follow classroom rules, be flexible to new routines, and be enthusiastic about learning.
Enrichment programs such as Kumon give children an academic advantage due to their focus on enhancing attentiveness, strengthening perseverance when completing tasks, fostering independent learning, and promoting organizational skills. When choosing center-based care (day care, preschool, nursery school, or an early enrichment program), consider the ways in which they help children approach learning.
School success depends not only on knowledge and skills, but also on the habits and attitudes with which students approach learning. Evidence shows that characteristics including attentiveness, persistence, and independence go hand-and-hand with higher scores in math and reading — beginning as early as kindergarten and at least through the end of first grade. These indicators of school readiness are leading some states to make early education available to greater numbers of children.