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Pre-K program helps children grow by 'leaps and bounds'

December 19, 2005

What does a child preparing to start kindergarten need to know in order to do well in school? Parents and teachers of young children often find themselves asking this important question. Leaps and Bounds: A Kindergarten Readiness Program helps parents prepare their children for school success by providing them with methods to give their children access to educational experiences inside and outside the home. Families benefit from the program’s research expertise while also learning practical ways to help their children learn.

Managed by the Office of Youth Preparation, Leaps and Bounds provides parents in the community with access to beneficial Arizona State University research, as well as various educational techniques to help children learn. These techniques are provided in classroom presentations (often a series of workshops) in schools and community centers across the region.

Initial research for the program, published in an Office of Youth Preparation report entitled “Kindergarten Readiness,” found that fifty percent of children starting kindergarten lacked the basic skills needed to do well once they were in school.

The reasons for the lack of preparedness facing so many children were many, including families being unable to afford preschool for their kids as well as families coming from other countries not knowing the expectations that kindergarten will place on their children.

However, program leaders felt that if perhaps these families were exposed to creative and simple methods for preparing their children for the first day of school, the kids would experience much greater academic success once that day arrived.

While preparing to initiate Leaps and Bounds for the first time, program members asked teachers in workshops what they felt children needed to know before they began attending kindergarten. These answers became the foundation for the academic skills taught in presentations to parents and their young children, most aged three to five years.

Taught by ASU student facilitators in a hands-on manner, Leaps and Bounds presentations teach parents and their kids a variety of techniques for learning basic kindergarten-level skills such as colors, letters and beginning reading. For example, a parent can teach his or her child math skills by having them help measure out ingredients when preparing a meal. Additionally, during the presentation children are taught subjects such as how to behave in the classroom and how to follow rules.

Program coordinator Michelle Rhodes notes that parents have responded tremendously to the Leaps and Bounds presentations. Rhodes says that during one recent presentation, a parent approached Rhodes and said, “I feel empowered to be my child’s first teacher now. Thank You!”

Rhodes says that the feeling that one has helped a parent understand how best to begin teaching his or her child is the most rewarding aspect of the Leaps and Bounds program.

“When parents enjoy the program and feel they have gained something from it, they can walk away saying ‘Now I know how to be my child’s first teacher,’” she says.

Rhodes also notes that one of the most challenging aspects of the program is simply locating those families most in need of its benefits. Many of the families are from an underserved, economically disadvantaged population and are often not even “in the system.” However, as word of the program has spread, more people are coming forward to ask how they can attend Leaps and Bounds presentations.

After completing the program, parents receive a certificate as well as a binder of materials, in English and Spanish, to take with them. While the presentations may have covered a dozen different projects parents can do with their children, each binder contains 45-50 projects, enabling parents to continue the process of working to prepare their child for school. Rhodes notes that the binder not only helps parents continue the project of preparing their children for school attendance, but also gives them a sense of having accomplished something worthwhile.

In addition to working with schools, Leaps and Bounds works at various community centers, such as Keys Community Center and the Escalante Community Center, says Office of Youth Preparation Director Marilyn LaCount. Leaps and Bounds will also work with the Phoenix Urban League this spring.

Leaps and Bounds is partnered with the Early Childhood Development Department at the College of Education as well as the New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development. As the program continues to grow, so will the number and variety of outreach partners, LaCount says.