24 March 2011

“Ready Freddy” helps kids, families prepare for kindergarten

by Christy Renjilian

For the past two weeks, nearly 50 children and their parents have filled the cafeteria at Conewago Elementary School in Northeastern School District. As they arrive, the children greet old friends, shyly reach out to new ones and take their first steps on the path to kindergarten. After a story about the first day of school, and an activity with their parents, they go off with their new friends and an early childhood education teacher. For some this is an exciting time, for others, they aren’t so sure they want to leave the comfort of Mom and Dad. And truth be told, some parents aren’t quite certain they are ready for them to spread their wings.

These families are participating in the “Ready Freddy” school readiness program, sponsored by the United Way of York County with funds from the Rehmeyer Trust and the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning. The six-week curriculum was developed by Ken Smythe Leistico from the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh. The purpose of the program is to help children and families feel comfortable with the transition to kindergarten.

The sessions are led by kindergarten and early childhood education teachers with the support of Northeastern principals and United Way staff. Families have a chance to learn about the expectations and procedures of the district, ask questions, tour the facilities and meet school personnel and other parents. The children get an opportunity to meet new friends, learn how to function in a group of their peers and see first hand what a great place kindergarten is. The curriculum is broken into six sessions that cover topics including identifying your child’s strengths, social skills, literacy and numeracy skills. Each week, every child gets a free book, corresponding to the weekly topic, to take home and keep. Families also have home activities to extend the skills they learned while at “Ready Freddy.” The kindergarten teachers have seen amazing progress in the children’s skills and comfort level over the course of the six-week program.

This is the second year the United Way has offered “Ready Freddy” to area school districts. Last year, it served approximately 180 families in Dover, Eastern, Red Lion, Spring Grove and York City. This year, the program will be held at Eastern, Northeastern and York City. Officials in some of the school districts that participated in last year’s program said it was so beneficial they are offering it again this year with district funding. The goal over the next several years is to offer it at every district in York County.

School staff said the children and families who participated in the program last year were better prepared to handle the first day of school. They also pointed out that families are better connected to the school, participate in more activities, and are involved and active partners in their child’s learning.

So what can you do to help your child prepare for kindergarten?

The best thing you can do is free – get a library card and read to your child every day. Research shows there is nothing more important than reading with your child. You don’t need to purchase expensive educational toys. Children can learn colors by sorting laundry, picking out produce at the grocery store, and looking at the world around them. Math skills can be learned by counting every day items. Point out letters, numbers, and shapes as you are driving. Encourage your child to develop self-help skills. Provide opportunities for them to interact with children their own age. Remember children learn best when they are playing – through active, hands-on experiences with the world around them. All of this will help lay the foundation for success in school and life. Parents are a child’s first teacher, and children’s brains are growing at an astonishing rate during the first five years of life. Don’t wait till they get to kindergarten to begin their education.

As the families left Conewago Elementary School after their first night of “Ready Freddy,” there was a sense of excitement and accomplishment. The children had a great time at school and with the teachers. The parents appreciated the warmth and expertise of the staff. Questions had been answered. Partnerships between families and school personnel are forming. Northeastern School District’s class of 2024 is well on its way to a successful future.

If your child will enter kindergarten next fall in Eastern or York City and you would like to enroll in the program please go to http://www.unitedway-york.org/ and click on “Register for Ready Freddy.” If you are not in these districts, but would like more information about how to prepare your child for school, contact Christy Renjilian at the United Way of York County.

Christy Renjilian is the director of Focus on our Future for the United Way of York County. She has a Masters degree in Social Policy Analysis from the University of Chicago. Christy has more than 20 years of experience administering early childhood education programs and has been with the United Way of York County for more than five years. She lives in Springettsbury Township with her husband and two children. Christy can be reached at renjilianc@unitedway-york.org or 717-771-3808.


bulette@juno.com said...

How do you know that the benefit exceeds the cost?

JR said...

I think it would be easy to figure that out. Just look at a similar demographic of a District that does not offer the Program, and look at the outcomes. If the program costs $10,000 per District, and it saves one year of State incarceration by one person, the benefit is a net of $35,000.