By Nicole Delaney, AmeriCorps VISTA, Success By 6
Lake County’s newest learners prepare for successful transitions to Kindergarten
As the first day of Kindergarten is fast approaching, families everywhere are anxiously anticipating sending their children off to school for the first time this August. One group of families in Waukegan will have a little more confidence on the first day of school, thanks to United Way of Lake County’s Kindergarten Countdown Camp.
Kindergarten Countdown Camp is a new initiative, under the Success By 6 Program, done in partnership with Waukegan Public School District 60. This year’s pilot program was made possible thanks to the generous support of United Way of Lake County’s (UWLC) Women’s Leadership Council. The camp was a 12-day program, taught by licensed teachers, for incoming Kindergarten students in Waukegan with little to no preschool experience.
The transition to Kindergarten is crucial for students as it sets the basis for their entire educational journey, so those who come unprepared are at a strong disadvantage. Children from low-income families are particularly vulnerable to be underprepared for Kindergarten, with fewer than half (48 percent) of poor children in the United States being ready for school at age five, compared to 75 percent of children from families with moderate and high income.*
Kindergarten Countdown Camp aims to help close the gap in achievement for Kindergarteners in Waukegan with little to no preschool experience. It focuses on teaching key Kindergarten readiness skills such as recognizing shapes, colors, and letters, and counting, as well as helping children get used to the classroom setting and develop social and emotional skills, such as listening quietly and making friends.
The pilot year of camp was a big success. Students improved on eight different readiness skills. Take a look below to see the progress students made!
To kick off Kindergarten Countdown Camp, UWLC hosted a parent event with families and, school staff to discuss what the students would learn during camp, keys skills for Kindergarten readiness, health requirements for school, the importance of attendance, and summer learning opportunities and programs available in Waukegan. Parents received information and resources for continuing their child’s learning throughout the summer including books and flashcards. To celebrate, there was pizza, fruit, and drinks for everyone. Dora the Explorer even made an appearance!
During camp, another focus was reading and developing the pre-literacy skills necessary for Kindergarten success. UWLC volunteers visited the classrooms to read stories to the students one-on-one or in small groups several times, giving the children valuable experience with books. After reading, they completed fun, skill-building activities together. The children cited these visits as some of the best parts of their days and their new literacy skills were evident by the end of camp!
I had the opportunity to be in one of the classrooms everyday assisting the teacher, and it was amazing, and a little exhausting, seeing these children grow. The tears and shyness of the first day faded as the students grew more confident in their abilities and made friends in the classroom. Students who couldn’t recognize their name on the first day of camp now became comfortable writing the first few letters from memory. One girl who had cried and refused lunch on her first day made some close friends and had nothing but smiles at the end of camp. Even for a short time with the students, the impact was clear.
Another highlight of the program for students and parents was the field trip to Kohl Children’s Museum, which features interactive exhibits that nurture a love of learning in young children. The students loved the chance to have some hands-on fun outside the classroom, such as practicing their doctor skills or propelling boats along a waterway, and parents and UWLC staff and volunteers took the opportunity to come along and chaperone!
Thanks to the teachers, everyone at Waukegan Public School District 60, the Women’s Leadership Council, and all our volunteers who helped make the first year of Kindergarten Countdown Camp such a success! To see more great photos, check out our Flickr.
*From: “Starting School at a Disadvantage” by Julia B. Isaacs, 2012: https://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2012/3/19-school-disadvantage-isaacs/0319_school_disadvantage_isaacs.pdf