TACOMA — Fresh from mid-morning recess in the August sunshine, a group of 17 pre-kindergarten students needed a gentle reminder that it was time to focus.
“Give yourself a hug,” teacher Nancy Laush told them as they gathered inside their classroom at Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley.
She continued the game, infusing it with body-awareness learning: “Put your hand on your chin. Now put your hand on your elbow. Do you remember where your elbow is?”
Students would also learn to count using a calendar, sit “criss-cross applesauce” for story time, write their names at the top of a worksheet, draw self-portraits, complete an exercise that combines art and number recognition, and more.
And that was all before they were dismissed at noon.
It’s part of Kinder Kamp, a three-week summer program aimed at children who need an extra academic boost before they start kindergarten this year in the White River School District. The program was free for families whose students were recommended to participate, based on screenings completed when they registered for kindergarten.
Several school districts around the state offered similar programs this summer.
Statewide, public schools are focusing the spotlight on kindergarten and early learning. Some of the renewed attention stems from a new $50 million cash infusion from the Legislature, which will roughly double the number of students enrolled in state-funded full-day kindergarten this year.
Call it a down payment on a much bigger goal: to provide funding for full-day kindergarten for all Washington students by the start of the 2017-18 school year.
The new state money is one result of the 2012 state Supreme Court decision, known as the McCleary case. It ordered the state to meet its constitutional duty by increasing funding for basic education. The 2013 Legislature responded by allocating about $1 billion more for basic education for the next two years.
The kindergarten push is also part of a long-term realization among educators that starting kids off right can pay big dividends down the road.
While some students arrive on the first day already reading and writing, others don’t know how to hold a pencil or scissors. The disparities may reflect what students have learned at home or in preschool, or they may be due to developmental differences.
Some research has shown that the benefits of full-day kindergarten include a smoother transition to first grade, faster acquisition of early literacy skills and fewer behavioral issues.
“What we’ve found through research over the years is that the earliest intervention is the strongest,” said Elk Ridge Principal Christi Ellenwood. “Pre-teaching is more effective than providing intervention after the fact.”