As a pre-K teacher, I help my kids use the power of imagination to solve problems. Minnesota lawmakers can use the same approach. They should imagine a future where universal pre-K helps us tackle our state’s achievement gap, makes us competitive globally, and helps families across the state.
Encouraging the imagination of children is just one part of our work. While we make time for fun and games, we prepare our students to master basic skills like reading, writing and math. After their time with us, we work so that they will enter kindergarten and be familiar with and excited about learning in school.
For example, one of my 4-year-olds arrived to class unable to hold a pencil and unsure of what the letters are in his name. With a mix of imagination, time and hard work, he was reading independently within a few months.
Imagine the possibilities if all 4-year-olds in Minnesota were reading before kindergarten. Why can’t we achieve that goal?
Amazing to watch
Minnesota’s 4-year-olds are capable of things beyond what many know to expect from young children. I am amazed every day as I watch them develop socially, emotionally and academically. Unfortunately, many hard-working, middle-class Minnesota families don’t make enough to afford a quality pre-k education, and don’t qualify for scholarships.
My spouse and I both work. When we searched for pre-K options, we found the most affordable centers were only able to enroll our son for two days a week for the equivalent we were paying for five days a week of in-home day care.
Fortunately, my union negotiated a job benefit that allows me to send my son to my program. Otherwise, we teachers would not be able to afford to send our own children to the pre-K program whose success we see every day.
The power of that program is extremely difficult to replicate at home — even for me as a professional pre-K teacher. Most obviously, there simply is no substitute for the playful introduction to the classroom that we offer. There also simply aren’t enough hours in the day for many parents to go to their job, take care of their child’s needs, spend quality time with their child, and run through a lesson plan.
For decades now researchers, parents, teachers and legislators have espoused the benefits of early-childhood education. Children who have been through a pre-K classroom are demonstrating greater proficiency with language comprehension, math concepts, social skills and growth of reading level than their peers whose parents were unable to provide it for them.
Ready for kindergarten
My pre-K students enter kindergarten with well-developed social skills, the ability to read, and a demonstrated proficiency in skills and comprehension for kindergarten readiness. These children leave my class at the end of the year with confidence, a curiosity for learning and an excitement for going to school.
Contrast with those who are beginning kindergarten without a pre-K education; some have never tried handwriting before or struggle to identify their own name or the letters of the alphabet. Many cry for weeks when their parents leave, taking up valuable learning time.
How do we begin to address this inequity so early in these kids’ academic lives? Do they compound over the years to the detriment of the unknowing child, simply because of their family’s income?
In an age where human capital has never been greater, when states like Wisconsin, Georgia and Oklahoma are providing wide access to pre-K, why wait until age 5 to start what can be accomplished in the classroom at age 4? Imagine the possibilities if Minnesota’s children all began their race with an equal footing at the starting line.
As a parent, educator and invested Minnesotan, I urge our elected officials to pass universal pre-K for all students so all parents, regardless of income, can provide the best opportunities for their children.
Nate Mathias is a pre-K teacher in Wayzata Public Schools.
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