Early Learning Sets the Stage for Success Among Young Students

For decades, we have heard the wise adage, “Read to your children.” Reading to children helps them learn the alphabet, understand letters and words, and begin to form sentences. On an academic level, research and statistics show children who learn to read before kindergarten will have a significant advantage in school.

This year, the UPSTART at-home kindergarten readiness program was officially taken off pilot mode by the Utah Legislature after nearly a decade of success with 4-year-olds throughout Utah making it a permanent educational tool for Utah families. In most cases, participants are able to read at a second or third grade level when starting kindergarten.

Last year, the Utah State funded UPSTART program seemingly hit a road block when Governor Gary Herbert vetoed the Legislature’s budget to continue and increase funding so more Utah children could participate. With the ensuing uproar from UPSTART parents, leaders of both the Utah House and Senate and help from SnappConner PR with the media, Herbert admitted he should not have vetoed the funding, and called a special session last May to address and correct his veto.

With funding restored, more than 10,000 Utah pre-school aged children will be able to participate with the educational theme set by former President Obama in 2013.

“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.  We know this works.  So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind,” said Obama.

Programs like UPSTART reinforce the notion that early learning, especially at the home level, leads to successful school careers for children at all grades – especially in the earlier school years.

According to one of the leading experts on early learning in education, school districts traditionally focus most resources on secondary schools, often at the cost of elementary schools.

“Our school system doesn’t begin testing students on their level of learning until the third grade,” said Benjamin Heuston, president and CEO of Waterford Institute. “By third grade, it’s too late. The foundation kids need to be successful in school should be in place before kindergarten. It is a fact, first grade test scores are the best indicator for eighth grade test scores.”

Preschoolers are not all on an even playing field. For example, some four-year-olds can read fluently at a first grade level, while others can’t recognize their name. This education gap, unless closed, continues throughout their education. The best place to even the playing field is in preschool with effective early learning curriculum.

The biggest problem facing parents and educators is that there are many different ways to approach early learning, but finding one that works for everyone can be difficult. For example, should four-year-olds learn in the home, in daycare, in schools, or taught at all? There is no truancy in preschool; it is completely up to parents to determine whether their children participate in preschool learning activities.

“Often parents are naturally fearful to expose their preschool children to an academic approach to learning at such a young age,” said Heuston. “Our message for parents, teachers and educators is one of hope. With a systematic, consistent age-appropriate approach to early learning, kids can experience greater early success that will set the tone for their educational careers.”

According to Waterford Institute, annual external evaluations consistently find that UPSTART children have significantly stronger learning rates on two well-known tests than children in a control group. They also found that UPSTART participants still outperformed state averages on standardized tests from kindergarten through fourth grade.

UPSTART now moves from a pilot program to an on-going early learning program funded by the State of Utah. As part of the legislative move, during the next year, other kindergarten readiness programs will also be evaluated.