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Children show benefits from pre-K as they grow, study shows
Georgia applauded for effort to give students an early start on schooling
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Pre-kindergarten students Zoé Wright, right, and Olivia Lester, both 4, play a game together on a tablet Friday morning during class at First Presbyterian Church Child Development Center. A new study shows Georgia pre-K students show success at the end of kindergarten in a variety of areas.

It’s easier for a child to learn to hold a pencil if they first know how to build a tower with Legos.

“There are so many skills that you don’t realize a child needs to develop,” said Patti Reed, curriculum director at First Presbyterian Church Child Development Center in Gainesville. “... Most children in the two-parent working society that we have now — most children need this pre-K time to grow and learn.”

A study commissioned by the state and released last week backs up that claim.

Students who attended pre-kindergarten did better in kindergarten in almost all areas, according to a summary of the report, completed by Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The advances pre-K students made were quicker than “would be expected for normal developmental growth,” according to the summary.

Language, math and social skills all increased.

Local child care experts emphasized social skills like sharing and listening, which prepares children to focus more on academics in kindergarten.

Reed said she taught kindergarten about 30 years ago, and what is now being taught in pre-K was taught in kindergarten then.

“So we can do it in pre-K and get it out of the way,” Reed said, “so that when they get into kindergarten they’re ready to start the reading, and the writing — the regular academic skills.”

Kindergarten teacher Pam Cain said she can often, but not always, tell the difference between children who have attended pre-K and those who haven’t. Cain teaches at Riverbend Elementary School and said staff there always ask incoming students whether or not they have gone to pre-K.

Children with too much passive time with technology or who aren’t expected to do things on their own may struggle in kindergarten, local child care experts said.

Children need someone to read to them and talk to them, and they need to play with manipulative toys like blocks, Cain said.

Reed emphasized “teachable moments” at the pre-K level.

“All throughout the day the teachers are looking for teachable moments where they can put in ‘Well, what color is this? What shape is this?,” she said.

Even at the kindergarten level, Cain said she tries to incorporate play to help students grasp academics. She noted that expectations are higher than they used to be.

“I think it’s a challenge for some of them,” she said of her students grasping the curriculum. “Most of them are up for the challenge.”

Cheryl Hoge, interim center director of Head Start, said pre-K also can help teachers and parents identify children who need extra services.

Georgia has emphasized pre-K and is one of just three states that offers it free to all 4-year-olds, with about 60 percent of eligible students participating and programs available in every county.

“The foundational skills Georgia’s youngest students acquire in pre-K and kindergarten put them on track to read at grade level by the third grade, a significant predictor of future academic success,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a press release about the study, which is part of a multi-year evaluation commissioned in 2011 at the request of the Georgia General Assembly.

Reed praised the state’s support of pre-K.

“Georgia was one of the first states to promote pre-K,” Reed said. “... Their whole heart is into it.”

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