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Kindergarten Practice

Everyone gets a little nervous before the first day of kindergarten. Parents worry. Kids get anxious. And teachers are busy making plans to teach 30 children at a time.
The change is tough—particularly for children with little or no preschool experience. But what if kids and parents could get a practice run at kindergarten before it starts? That’s the idea behind Early Kindergarten Transition (EKT) programs.
In these two- or three-week summer transition programs, children and their parents make meaningful connections to their new school environment and staff before the first day of school. Children who participate have higher attendance rates in their kindergarten year than their peers who didn't attend preschool or EKT. They also show more leadership skills in class.
“It helps kids know their routine before school, so they’re familiar with what school looks like,” said Jennifer Snyder, kindergarten teacher at Davis Elementary in Reynolds School District, who is one of this summer’s EKT teachers. “You can tell the difference with kids who do the program because, when the first day of school comes, they’re more relaxed and eager to help other children.”
In Snyder’s EKT class, children practice “belly breathing” to get calm and prepare for a day of learning. They learn to sit “crisscross applesauce” with their hands in their laps while they take turns writing on the board. Snyder and her co-teacher pass out bracelets to kids who demonstrate one of the three basic rules of the classroom: be safe, be kind, and be responsible. Learning numbers and letters is far less important than making sure each child feels comfortable in the room.  
In the classroom next door, their parents are learning, too. Twice a week, they come to get to know the school and each other. They learn the importance of attendance and how to support their child’s learning at home. They share their worries and talk about ways to help their children with the transition. 
“I was worried. Now, I’m getting excited!” said Jolan Veith, one of the mothers, as other parents nodded in agreement. “It’s a big life changer for us.”  
Key partners like Multnomah County Library, and school staff, like the principal, also make special visits. The parents get library cards, free children’s books, and a workbook full of resources. By the time children start school, the principal and other school staff are familiar faces, and the parents are better poised to become leaders in school, too.
“We have such a resource in the parents I’ve met,” said Amy Alterman, parent facilitator for EKT at Davis Elementary and reading specialist for the upcoming school year. “I feel lucky to get to do this.”
Even the youngest in the family benefits from EKT. While parents and incoming kindergarteners do their work, child care is offered for younger siblings. Care givers spur along each child’s growth and development, thanks to a curriculum created by Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R).  
EKT started in Portland Public Schools in 2010. Now, 42 schools across all six school districts in Multnomah County have active EKT programs, serving a total of 840 students and their families. ELM sees EKT as a key piece of the network of support it’s building for children of color, low-income children and their families. That’s why ELM has invested in expanding and strengthening EKT and ensuring it is linked to other county-wide early learning strategies, like P-3 Schools and the Register for Kindergarten Campaign.
For more information about Early Kindergarten Transition, get in touch with Brooke Chilton-Timmons at  brooke.chilton-timmons@multco.us.​