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Early Preparation for School — Elementary School Readiness

By M. Donald Thomas

“Why is my child not doing well in school?”  How often have parents said this without getting a satisfactory answer?  The problem is that the answer is found in early development of children.  The ability to learn is established long before a child enters primary school.  Preparation for learning begins when a child is in uterus.

The conditions under which a child is in the womb influences the child’s future ability to learn.  Particularly important is the development of the nervous system.  Lack of a proper diet for the mother, stress, alcohol intake, or any toxic material entering the body of the mother, all have a negative influence on that development.   Once born, many children are disadvantaged from the start by lack of health services, inadequate protein in the diet and insufficient social stimulation.  When entering school these children are behind in language development, cognition ability and social skills.   Let’s consider what parents can and should do to prepare their children with the skills needed to be successful in school.

1. Parents should concentrate their energy on early childhood development:

  • Talk to your baby while breast or bottle feeding;
  • Take a child care course to improve your parenting skills;
  • Spend lots of time cuddling your baby to make your baby feel secure, safe and loved;
  • Take time stimulate the baby’s senses to sounds, color and touch;
  • As the child grows older, read to the child and create learning opportunities in and out of the home;
  • Introduce your child to the library or your local bookstore, give books as gifts and talk about activities done in school

2. Parents should assist teachers to have their children succeed in school;

  • Make positive statements about your child’s school and teachers;
  • Visit the school prior to the beginning of the school year or your child’s start date;
  • Ask your child to tell what he/she learned in school each day;
  • Visit the school and talk with the teachers frequently;
  • Attend parent-teacher conferences with your child;
  • Work closely with the teacher if your child is having difficulty in school;
  • Ask the teacher to discuss with you how you can help your child’s learning at home.

The education of children is a partnership between home and school.  Both have unique responsibilities to help children learn.  Parents have the responsibility of properly preparing children with learning skills prior to entering school.   Teachers have the responsibility of nurturing and extending the abilities which children demonstrate in school.   If both carry out their responsibilities, all children will find joy in having success in school.

Dr. M. Donald Thomas is an author, researcher and former superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District

U.Va. Researchers Find that Kindergarten Is the New First Grade

Kindergarten classrooms nationwide have changed dramatically since the late 1990s and nearly all of these changes are in the direction of a heightened focus on academics, particularly literacy, according to researchers from EdPolicyWorks, the center on education policy and workforce competitiveness at the University of Virginia.

In a working paper titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? The Changing Nature of Kindergarten in the Age of Accountability,” U.Va. researchers Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem posit that increased emphasis on accountability led to meaningful changes in the kindergartener experience.

“In less than a decade we’ve seen the kindergarten experience essentially transformed,” said Bassok, assistant professor at the Curry School of Education. “Academic skill-building has really taken center stage in today’s kindergarten classrooms, in a way that just wasn’t the case” before the late 1990s.

The study by Bassok and Rorem, a policy associate at U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service,, uses two large nationally representative datasets to track changes in kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2006. It shows that in 1998, 31 percent of kindergarten teachers indicated that most children should learn to read while in kindergarten. By 2006, 65 percent of teachers agreed with this statement. To accommodate this new reality, classroom time spent on literacy rose by 25 percent, from roughly 5.5 to seven hours per week.

Bassok said that, done correctly, this increased focus on academics could be helpful. “Young children are curious, enthusiastic learners, with immense potential. There are ways to teach early literacy and math content to young learners so that it’s engaging, fun and really helps them get a head start.”

But the increased emphasis on literacy may have a cost. As teachers spend more time and attention on academic content, time centered on play, exploration and social interactions may drop.

“It certainly doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ scenario, where academics crowd out everything else,” Bassok said, “but I worry that in practice, this is what is happening in many classrooms.”

Over the last decade, both media and research accounts have suggested that kindergarten classrooms were increasingly characterized by mounting homework demands, worksheets, pressure to learn to read as early as possible, and heightened levels of stress. Bassok’s and Rorem’s study is [db1] the first that provides nationally representative empirical evidence about the actual changes.

“We went into this project expecting to see some change over time,” Bassok said. “What was surprising to us was to see substantial changes in the kindergarten experience along essentially every dimension. And the magnitude of these changes was striking.”

The study focused on four dimensions: Teacher beliefs about school readiness and kindergarten learning, how teachers used their time during daily activities, what specific curricular content was covered and kindergarten teachers’ views about assessments.

Teachers’ expectations for their kindergarten students escalated rapidly. Between 1998 and 2006, the percentage of teachers who indicated that incoming kindergarteners need to know most of the letters or count to 20 doubled. Teachers also increasingly believe that children who begin formal reading and math instruction before kindergarten will do better in elementary school.

Over the time period analyzed in the study, teachers reported spending 25 percent more time on reading and language arts. Time spent on all other subjects decreased.

“We saw meaningful drops in time spent on physical education, art, music, science and social studies, which was really striking given that far more children now attend full-day kindergarten so, at least in theory, there should be more time available for all sorts of learning experiences,” Bassok said.

In fact, the data show that kindergarteners in 2006 spent as much time on reading and language arts as they did on mathematics, science, social studies, music and art combined. The number of kindergarten teachers who reported their students never have physical education also doubled over this period[P2] .

Physical activity and play are particularly important for kindergarten students, Rorem said.

“Playtime has been part of the kindergarten classroom since its beginnings,” Rorem said.  “In fact, Freidrich Froebel, who helped make kindergarten popular in the United States, is said to have thought of play as ‘highly serious.’ Today, some research suggests that time for play and physical activity is beneficial for kids not only in its own right, but also as it helps them ’reset’ their attention spans.”

Bassok and Rorem reviewed teachers’ responses to 15 specific curricular elements of English language arts skills. The percentage of teachers reporting they taught a particular literacy skill every day went up for all 15 items considered.

Teachers were also asked specifically about language arts skills that in 1998 were considered “advanced” and taught in a later grade, such as composing and writing complete sentences, conventionally spelling and composing and writing stories with an understandable beginning, middle and end. By 2006, teaching each of these skills in kindergarten was much more commonplace. For example, in 1998, 45 percent of teachers said they never taught students “conventional spelling” because it was an advanced concept taught in later grades; this figure fell to 13 percent in the later period. The percentage who said they taught conventional spelling every day doubled from 18 percent to 36 percent.

The final dimension was how teachers’ views about assessment have changed over time. In the study, the researchers found that teachers who considered a child’s achievement relative to local, state or professional standards “very important” or “essential” rose from 57 percent to 76 percent.

Strikingly, kindergarten teachers in 2006 reported using standardized tests in their classrooms far more than even first-grade teachers did in the pre-accountability years. While a quarter of kindergarten teachers in 2006 reported using standardized tests at least once a month, in 1999, only 11 percent of first-grade teachers used these tests so often.

Kindergarten classrooms, at least traditionally, have included much broader goals beyond teaching reading and math skills, according to Bassok. Children were learning how to share and navigate friendships, how to cooperate but also how to be confident and self-sufficient.

“We know that these early social skills are important predictors of students’ learning trajectories,” Bassok said. “So our worry is that if done inappropriately, the focus on academics may have really pushed these other kind of learning opportunities aside.”

Bassok, who is currently studying the possible drivers for these shifts, believes that one key candidate is the introduction of No Child Left Behind, which was signed into law in 2002.

“Since the introduction of NCLB, there has been a greater focus on high-stakes assessments in literacy and math,” Bassok said. “There are many anecdotal accounts of a ‘trickling down’ of intense accountability pressures from the tested grades – beginning in grade three – down to lower elementary grades, including kindergarten and even preschool.”

Another likely factor, according to Bassok, is changes over this period in early childhood experiences before school entry.

“With our increased awareness of the importance of early childhood education, we have way more children attending preschool, and we have parents, particularly middle- and high-income families, investing in their young children’s early education in a way that likely wasn’t the case two decades ago. Children are exposed to academic content earlier than they used to be and, in part, kindergarten teachers may be responding to these changes.”

EdPolicyWorks is a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy that seeks to bring together researchers from across the University and the state to focus on important questions of educational policy and the competitiveness of labor in an era of globalization.

Passion, collaborative thinking and creativity dying by first grade

Passion, collaborative thinking and creativity dying by first grade

Critical 21st-century skills start draining out of young minds early if not nurtured, according to one educator

Image credit: Flickr/Bill David Brooks

What did you want to be when you grew up? How did you get that idea? Many times, that flash of knowing who we want to be happens because an adult – a parent, teacher, relative, or a role model – creates — by accident or design — an experience that says to our developing mind that this feels good, right for us. As I pointed out when I launched this blog, many of the IT people who’ve changed the world, can look back and point to this moment.

Steve Wozniac’s father taught him about circuitry. One of the creators of the Roominate building toy that teaches engineering concepts to girls was inspired by a father who gave her a hammer when she asked for a Barbie. Every time I meet someone who has created something amazing, I ask them for their origin story. And everyone has one. Those moments are usually random.”But imagine if it’s not happenstance — those moments that when a child’s dad or teacher inspires the child to fall in love with technology, math or science.” asks Dr. Craig Bach, Vice President of Education for The Goddard School.

“That doesn’t happen that often. But if you intentionally build it into a curriculum, you can intentionally build – from a very young age — a positive feeling toward technology and engineering.” That’s what the Goddard School – a national chain of preschools that incorporate technology and building toys into a play-based curriculum for young children.

“We build technology into all the other learning domains as a tool and as a fun thing for them to do. One of the key things in early learning is building an attachment to different kinds of learning. We do that by keeping it in a playful and enjoyable context.” For example, at the Goddard school, math is taught using online games. Then the kids apply what they learned with blocks and toys. “It is enjoyable and fun and it is integrated into real work,” says Bach.

Before Bach joined the Goddard School he was at Drexel University where he tried to recruit students into STEM subjects. But by that time, it’s a bit late, he says. “At the University level,” he says.”It is hard to find students who are still passionate and creative, though they are quite willing to sit and copy things.”

In fact, he can see the passion, collaborative thinking, and creativity – 21st century skills — start to get drained out of the young minds almost as soon as they get to first grade.”One of the big tensions we see is when our students enter into the public system and some private systems. If you take kids who have learned in a project-based, playful environment and put them into a classroom where they have to do four pages of worksheets whether or not they have mastered the concept ….” The kids remain creative and asking questions for a while.”But we find by grades three or four, it starts to die,” says Bach.

Sound familiar? It certainly did to me. That pretty much describes how I remember going from home to school. It tracks exactly with my experience as a tech-wielding parent as well. I watched my bright, curious son from asking so many questions no one could keep up with him to simply giving up on asking anymore at about the fourth grade.
This isn’t exactly news. Albert Einstein said,”It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

So, if you think you don’t care about education, think about this: Who do you want to work with? People who bring a sense of play, the ability to create, and a willingness to work collaboratively or someone who can copy things over and do as they are told?

Shhhh…Secrets of Successful Potty Training.

Potty training a child is a milestone all parents anticipate with great enthusiasm. The success comes when parents and caregivers read the signs of readiness and when toddlers are willing and able to handle some of the responsibility themselves.

One significant readiness sign is ability to stay dry for longer periods of time. If your little one has a dry a diaper after 2 hours, or better yet, wakes up from napping with a dry diaper, it might be time to introduce the potty. Children also show readiness when they become interested in toileting. Your child might follow you into the bathroom and watch each step of your “potty habits.” Children might also begin to use the language of pottying. Words like “pee pee” and “poop” become more meaningful because children relate them to a personal event.
• look for dry diapers
• notice curiosity about potty time
• notice the use of potty language (the good kind!)

Independent pottying requires self-help skills of your child including undressing, doing the business, wiping if necessary, redressing, flushing and washing hands with soap. You need to ask yourself if your child can handle multi-step directions. To get your answer, set up a little pop quiz. “Annabelle, can you please go in your room and get your pink boots and bring them to the kitchen?” You can also make a silly request like, “Emory, jump up and down, then clap your hands, then come give me a hug.” Successful pottying also requires a moment or two of sitting quietly. If your child struggles to sit and listen to a story, he will probably struggle sitting quietly to do his business.

If the readiness signs are there, you can seal the deal with a few tricks of your own.
• Dress your child in easy-on, easy-off outfits. Sweatpants are great for a week or two.
• Go shopping for special big-kid underpants. Children will work really hard to keep Dora or Spiderman fresh all day.
• Don’t show disappointments with set-backs. Praise the accomplishments!

Here’s what we will do at The Goddard School to support your efforts
• We will decorate the bathroom to make it fun and inviting
• We will celebrate the successes and share them with you at pick-up
• We will (pretend) call you at work to immediately share the good news

I hope this helps. When we all support a child’s abilities and efforts with pottying, the process can be quick and relatively stress-free. Good Luck!



The Goddard School located in Rock Hill, a 21st Century Skills Exemplar School, will host an event during National Robotics Week each day, April 7th – 11th, from 9AM to 11AM.  This event is open to all existing families and to the general public, regardless of age.   As part of our STEM program, we have established an innovative robotics program using LEGO WeDo Robotics for our Junior Kindergarten (4 year olds) children.  This program has been enhanced and expanded to include our earliest of learners.  Each day we will have a specific theme for robotics and we invited you to attend:

Monday: English Language Art and Robotics — Let us share with you the latest fiction and non-fiction books about robots for all ages

Tuesday: Art and Robotics — Looking for art, activities, and projects for children of all ages?  Stop in and find out what fun things you can do at home to support learning about robots.

Wednesday: Engineering and Robotics — How do we design robots for different uses? We let our children’s imagination run wild using LEGO, Rokenbok, or other resources.  We embrace a child’s creativity to create what they think is the perfect robot.

Thursday: Computer Science and Robotics — You can’t build robots with computer programming or coding.  Join us for a demonstration of how our children are learning to code as we support code.org and this very special movement.  Want to watch an interesting video on why your children should learn to code the please watch What Most Schools Don’t Teach?  Maybe this will give you some ideas for you to take to your own private or public elementary school.

Friday: The Complete Robot — They said it couldn’t be done — We found a way to do it!  LEGO WeDo, a system of building and programming simple robots and designed for grades 2-5, is being demonstrated by our 4 and 5 year old Junior Kindergarten students.  Can your child learn robotics? Let us show you how.

For more information, please contact the Goddard School located in Rock Hill at 803-328-0101

Please follow us on Twitter at RockHillGoddard



What’s the most important grade of all?

A Great Article by Connie Matthiessen

By Connie Matthiessen, Associate Editor, GreatSchools.org

When my oldest son entered preschool, his social skills were, to put it kindly, underdeveloped. He has a forceful personality and at home he only had to contend with doting parents and a toddler brother who was happy to let him create all the games and play the starring roles. He was a little bossy and very stubborn;  he wore a Spiderman costume and thundered around the house, brandishing sticks and other weapon-like items at pets, babies, and other innocent bystanders.

At preschool, he loved every day and came home exhausted from racing in the yard, playing dress-up, painting, listening to stories, and messing around in mud and sand and tubs of flour. He also learned how to take turns and listen to other kids, to wait for the swing, to share toys and sit still (sort of) during circle time. When he graduated from preschool,  he could read just a little and he wrote his name in a highly eccentric fashion, but in all the ways that mattered, he was ready for kindergarten.

Already behind on the first day of school

Many families in the U.S. aren’t as lucky. From 2009 to 2011, more than half of 3- and 4- year-olds in the U.S. weren’t enrolled in preschool, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and when they show up at kindergarten they’re already behind. 

Our understanding of the brain has increased exponentially in recent years and the latest research underscores the powerful effect of early experiences and stimulation on the growing brain.  A quality preschool teaches kids valuable cognitive, emotional, and executive functioning skills at a crucial time in brain development.  (Learn more about what constitutes a quality preschool.)

Benefits go on and on…

Children who attend preschool do better in kindergarten than those who don’t but that’s not all: the positive effects of preschool go on and on.  As Barbara Willer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children told C-Span, “[Preschool] helps determine the trajectory of success they will have later on.”

Another recent study found that attending a quality preschool boosted test performance for low-income children well into middle school; researchers also found evidence linking preschool attendance to higher rates of parent involvement and maternal employment.  A third, long term study of children who attended an early education program in Chicago found that 25 years later, participants stayed in school longer and had a higher standard of living, as well as lower rates of crime and drug use, than a control group.

Experts say that low-income children benefit most from preschool, but there are obvious advantages for all kids, including the valuable social-emotional skills that helped civilize my child.

An education fix that people actually agree on

There isn’t a lot of consensus out there about how to fix our struggling education system, but there is astonishingly little disagreement about the value of preschool. The Obama Administration vigorously supports it, and city leaders in San Antonio, New York, and other major cities are forging ahead with universal preschool proposals of their own.

What’s more, 30 states and the District of Columbia increased their preschool funding last year, according to Education Week — some by as much as 20 percent.

To be sure, the news isn’t all good. A study just released by the New America Foundation found that, while there have been gains in some areas, access to early education is still spotty around the country. The report also cites this disturbing stat: over 48 percent of all public school children in the U.S. now qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

Good beginnings

One more important benefit to consider when it comes to preschool: it educates parents as well as kids. For one thing, it provides the first of many lessons in letting go. On my son’s first day of preschool, I hugged him goodbye and he raced off to join a gang of boys chasing each other around the play structure. As I watched him speed off without looking back, it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be there if he got hurt, or if someone said something mean. This realization stopped me cold and I might not have left at all if the preschool director, who had an unnerving ability to read minds, hadn’t told me gently but firmly, “He’ll be fine.” She was right then, and she’s still right, all these years later, as my son gets ready to head off to college. And it all started in preschool.


Let’s Make Sustainability Personal

Teaching our Children Lessons on Sustainability

By Amy Strickland, owner of The Goddard School located in Rock Hill, SC

I grew up on Lake Michigan in a suburb of Chicago.  For as many years as I can remember, our science curriculum included a unit on water conservation.  Lake Erie was particularly polluted when I was growing up.  Sadly, it was not uncommon to see dead and deformed fish, floating on the lake’s surface. The message in Science class was always the same: If you don’t take care of the Great Lakes, they won’t be available to you when you want or need them.

Well, I guess the message stuck because to this day, I always turn off the water when I brush my teeth. I adjust the laundry load to only use the water I need. I run out to turn off the sprinkler if rain is in the forecast.  So what happened with my kids?  When was the water conservation message lost and what can we do to help children today realize that clean, fresh water needs to be appreciated, managed and conserved?

As Early Childhood Educators at The Goddard School, we can do many things to foster a culture of conservation and sustainability.  We learn in a building, which is certified LEED Silver by the USGBC. We collect solar power and sell any unused energy back to the grid.  We recycle much of the classroom garbage generated during the day.  We turn lights off in empty classrooms.  We invite local Environmental Science students to visit our school and we partner with organizations like Sustain Charlotte.

The spirit of conservation and sustainability can and should be part of a generation’s culture. It happened with me.  The message wasn’t gloom and doom.  The message was “take care of what you have.”  There was a constant reminder not to be wasteful.  Years later I visited the shores of Lake Erie with my husband and children.  The water was ice cold and crystal clear!  The message from 40 years earlier was spot on.  We recognized our responsibility in the Great Lakes region and made changes in our behavior…and here I was, enjoying the beautiful water.

Come by our school and see what a LEED building is all about and learn more about how we are teaching sustainability in the classroom.  To learn more about sustainability in the Charlotte metropolitan area, please visit Sustain Charlotte at http://www.sustaincharlotte.org/index.html





First Early Childhood Educational Preschool Recognized For Exemplifying 21st Century Readiness Skills


The Goddard School®, the premier preschool focusing on learning through play for children from six weeks to six years old, is recognized by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) for the programs in the Fort Mill and Rock Hill locations in York County, South Carolina. The schools are part of an online initiative to capture and share learning practices that are pioneering the improvement of schools and student learning in classrooms and communities across the United States. The Goddard Schools in York County are the only preschools selected by P21 to be a part of this prestigious program.

Patterns of Innovation: The 21st Century Learning Exemplary Program showcases schools, educators and students from around the country that have embraced the P21 Framework to increase educational options and outcomes for all children. The 25 exemplars, including The Goddard School, are part of a rigorous examination of schools, supported by the Pearson Foundation, to show what 21st Century Skills practice looks like in action. Bill and Amy Strickland, on-site owners of The Goddard School preschools located in Fort Mill and Rock Hill, instill a foundation of enthusiastic learning in preschool children that prepares them for school and life. The Stricklands structure the schools’ curriculum at all levels to incorporate the four Cs of learning and innovation skills – Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity. The schools offer a Robotics program for their preschool children to build and collaborate through project-based learning all while developing their skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as language, literacy and social studies.

“This honor is especially significant for The Goddard School not only because we have the distinction of being the only preschool selected as an exemplar, but also because we have specifically shaped our curriculum to incorporate 21st century readiness,” said Craig Bach, Vice President of Education at Goddard System, Inc. “The innovative work that P21 does to advocate for the future is truly remarkable and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with them in the pursuit of educational excellence.”

“We are honored to be selected as an Exemplar School by the P21 organization and we are proud of the successful impact we’ve made to prepare our schools’ children for successful entry into area Kindergarten programs,” said Bill Strickland, on-site owner of The Goddard School located in Fort Mill, SC.  “This preparation comes through infusing 21st Century Skills with Common Core Standards, and then using constructivist teaching to actively engage children in the education process.”

Amy Strickland, on-site owner of The Goddard School located in Rock Hill, SC adds “We’re very proud to have demonstrated these learning values by using The Goddard School preschool’s formula of degreed teachers, a fun and challenging F.L.EX.® curriculum, and a resource rich classroom environment. 21st Century Skills are being developed before children enter their respective primary schools. The next generation of independent, confident and enthusiastic learners is in our preschools right now and gearing up for the next stage of academic success.”

“While each of the Exemplar schools is unique in their approach to teaching and learning, we are already finding compelling patterns among the most successful schools, including strong school leadership, a responsiveness to local community needs, an emphasis on student voice and agency and the use of data and evidence to drive improvement,” noted Kathy Hurley, P21 board member and Executive Vice President of Education Alliances at the Pearson Foundation. “There is much to be learned, shared and celebrated and the Pearson Foundation is proud to partner with P21 on this Initiative.”

For more information on The Goddard School, please visit www.goddardschool.com. For more information on P21, please visit www.p21.org.

The Value of an Educated Teacher

The Goddard School located in Rock Hill values our teachers!  The Goddard School in Fort Mill has an interesting article on the value of educated teachers.  Click here for more information http://blogs.goddardschool.com/Fort-Mill-SC/.  Enjoy.

The Value of Show-and-Tell

Now that Santa has come and gone, children at The Goddard School located in Rock Hill have some new special treasures for Show-and-tell. Let’s be honest, unless you are the one showing and telling, or unless the item is unique and fascinating, the kiddos in the audience might not be that engaged. So, why do teachers invite children to participate? There are several important skills which are honed. Here are a few. Adults rank public speaking just after death in a list of most common fears! Thankfully, children aren’t as inhibited, and show-and-tell proves it. Communication skills are a pillar of 21st Century Learners and sharing interesting facts about a treasured object helps develop a child’s confidence and poise among his peer group. Let’s assume that the treasured item isn’t very interesting to the rest of the class. Being in the audience requires a child to be respectful, even though the subject may not be her favorite. If the item is in fact, pretty cool, critical thinking comes into play, as children generate questions to better understand what the object does, the history of the object and its value to the presenter. And finally, impulsivity control! That ability to touch using gentle hands, the willingness to pass the item to the classmate on your left (even though you’d like to hang onto it for the rest of the day) and the self-control not to test if Iron Man’s head comes all the way off.