Children enter kindergarten with a wide variety of previous education experiences: some have participated in pre-K programs, whether private, state-funded, or part of Head Start, while others have spent time in a family child care setting or in informal arrangements with family, friends, and neighbors. Regardless of the setting, the transition to kindergarten can be fraught with stress and uncertainty for many children and their parents. While the planning of a stable, well-connected transition between early education and kindergarten falls largely within the purview of individual schools and districts, states can actively encourage intentional, local efforts to smooth transitions to kindergarten.
Today, the Early & Elementary Education policy team released Connecting the Steps: State Strategies to Ease the Transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten, which profiles efforts in four states to smooth the transition process. The states highlighted in the report are Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia. These states came to our attention as we reviewed research on the transition to kindergarten and spoke to experts in the field. Each state has taken actions to address the difficulties that often arise in the transition to kindergarten. In this brief, we describe the steps each state has taken and discuss the opportunities and challenges with their various approaches.
The brief offers several recommendations for states to help facilitate district and school actions to improve the transition between pre-K and kindergarten:
Use ESSA funds to finance transition activities.
Provide tools and guidance to assist in local planning of transition activities.
Consider establishing a grant program to incentive districts to prioritize transitions.
Bring directors and principals together to help improve transitions and alignment between early learning and elementary school settings.
One particularly innovative approach to improving the transition process is taking place in Washington. In order to improve collaboration with early learning providers, Child Care Aware of Washington, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Department of Early Learning has worked together to start the “Bridging Communities and Making Connections” program.
This program allows elementary school principals throughout the state to submit a data request form to receive a report of licensed child care providers in their area. Principals receive a list of local child care providers and regional Child Care Aware of Washington offices provide follow-up resources and services to facilitate communication between the providers and elementary school principals. Child Care Aware produces about 200–250 individual reports in response to principal requests each year. By building connections between early learning providers and local principals, the program helps principals form relationships with the families of incoming students prior to the start of kindergarten.
Each approach profiled in the brief offers its own unique benefits and challenges, and it will be up to individual states to decide which one makes the most sense for their population of students and families. Whether states approach this work by enacting specific legislation and policies (West Virginia and Washington), establishing a grant program (Oregon), or developing a streamlined data system (Colorado), the key takeaway is that states must be engaged in the process of helping districts and schools make the transition to kindergarten less difficult for children and families.