Most, but not all, county kids are ready to start kindergarten

Preschool is an effective way to prepare children for kindergarten, but many San Mateo County kids are missing an important element of early education: exposure to language and educational play at home.

Those were among the findings unveiled Wednesday by Peninsula education officials, who studied 1,434 Silicon Valley 4- and 5-year-olds to determine if they were entering kindergarten with the skills they need. While 53 percent of San Mateo County’s children start kindergarten with those skills, 7 percent need significant help catching up, the study found.

Half of the region’s kindergarteners are the children of immigrants, and their scores tend to be lower than their English-speaking counterparts. But officials Wednesday said those scores are correlated with social factors — not language.

“Maternal education, and how much language children are being exposed to” have a major influence on their preparedness, said Erica Wood, executive director of Peninsula Partnership for Children, Youth and Families. Families who read with their children and look for opportunities to play educationally together lay the groundwork for later schooling.

Santa Clara County kids were less likely than their northern peers to speak English at home and more likely to have parents who had lost a job in the past year, according to Lori Burns, co-chairperson of the Santa Clara County Partnership for School Readiness.

Researchers found that preschool brings young children up to speed in a number of areas, including basic academics; impulse control; the ability to follow directions and play cooperatively; social expressiveness; and physical coordination, according to the study.

In San Mateo County, 66 percent of kindergarteners had attended preschool, compared to 58 percent in Santa Clara County.

Kids with low-income backgrounds often struggle in preschool and hence kindergarten, according to James Hamilton, principal of Menlo Park’s Belle Haven Elementary School. The school is on its third year of Program Improvement status, based on students’ scores on Academic Performance Index tests.

“We think that status is correlated with parents’ background,” Hamilton said. Belle Haven primarily serves children of immigrants who have a lower socio-economic status. “Our students have 40 percent of the vocabulary skills of their peers across the freeway.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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