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How Head Start is helping children March into Kindergarten

Parents of preschool-aged children play a crucial role in preparing their little ones for kindergarten.

A child cheers inside a classroom.

The transition to kindergarten is a big step for the whole family. Step Forward’s Head Start understands the importance of ensuring each child is ready for the exciting new chapter. From the day each child enrolls and attends Head Start, teachers are working tirelessly to prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. The comprehensive early childhood education program focuses on the whole child, addressing their academic, social, emotional, and physical development.

“By enrolling your child in Head Start, you’re giving them the best possible start in life and setting them up for success,” Nicole Hawthorne, Step Forward Head Start Site Administrator at Louis Stokes Early Learning Center, said. “By working with the entire family, we ensure that the child is equipped with the skills they need to thrive in school and in life.”

Head Start combines classroom instruction, learning through play, and field trips to provide an engaging and educational environment for children. After providing each child with an individualized assessment to determine how they learn best, teachers use interactive learning opportunities to build their language and literacy skills. Classroom staff rely on hands-on activities to develop fine and gross motor skills.

A child performs a science experiment.

“Our experienced educators create a nurturing and stimulating environment where children can learn, grow, and thrive,” Hawthorne said.

Head Start is known for its transition success. According to the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, more than 320,000 Head Start children successfully transition to kindergarten nationwide every year. In 2023, Step Forward helped transition more than 400 students to elementary programs in Cuyahoga County.

Throughout March, Step Forward’s Head Start sites will host Kindergarten Round-Up sessions, which allow families to explore their options and speak with educators in person.

“Registering for kindergarten early ensures the family a spot at their preferred school,” Samantha Whatley, Step Forward Head Start Administrator at Carl B. Stokes Early Learning Center, said. “It also gets the family on the school’s contact list so that they receive timely information, and they can participate in any school events for incoming families.”

Starting Point's March into Kindergarten ad

Every March, Starting Point kicks off their own “March into Kindergarten” campaign to promote kindergarten registration. The agency, which is one of Step Forward's referral partners, releases its March into Kindergarten toolkit. Starting Point also offers a parent Question and Answer section and resources such as district contact information and Cleveland Metropolitan School District school locations.

In Cuyahoga County, children must have turned five years old by August 1 and have proof of all required immunizations to attend kindergarten. Students may be able to start kindergarten before they turn five if they are referred by a parent or educator and receive a positive evaluation.

“I understand the weight of deciding whether a child is socially and emotionally ready for kindergarten,” Whatley said. “It’s natural for parents to feel anxious, but observing their child’s development can help. How do they interact with their peers? Do they engage in age-appropriate activities?”

Whatley said families should look for signs of independence, curiosity, and the ability to follow instructions. She added how important it is to recognize that each child develops at their own pace.

“Children have different strengths, interests, and learning styles,” Whatley pointed out. “By understanding the developmental milestones that vary widely among children, it’s easier to cater to their needs and then provide the appropriate guidance and support.”

In the past, Head Start teachers have urged parents to work on and fine-tune their child’s self-control, their interactions with others, conflict-resolution, listening, and communication.

“I can guide them in literacy and academic skills, but for effective learning, teachers need their students to be able to sit attentively and cooperate,” a Step Forward Head Start teacher explained. “It’s beneficial if children already know how to line up, walk in the hallway, manage the restroom by themselves, open food containers, dress themselves, recognize their family details, respond respectfully to adults, wait their turn, and maintain appropriate behavior in a school setting.”

All of the skills the teacher listed are important areas that Step Forward’s Early Head Start and Head Start classrooms focus on. Throughout the spring, some Step Forward Head Start centers renew their focus on kindergarten prep, offering activities such as “Cafeteria Day.”

“Cafeteria Day is an exciting opportunity for our preschool-aged children to experience lunch time as if they’re getting lunch at elementary school,” Gloria Chambers, Step Forward’s Head Start Site Administrator at Willard Early Learning Center, said. “Instead of serving the children family-style in their classrooms, the children will line up, choose their meal, and sit with their friends, all while promoting independence and preparing them for the next step in their educational journey.”

Head Start parents are always encouraged to engage in conversation with their site representatives. When seeking advice from their child’s teacher or Family Service Worker about their student’s developmental progress: 

  • Be prepared and open-minded when discussing kindergarten readiness

  • Express your interest in understanding your child’s development

  • Share any observations or concerns you have about your child’s social, emotional, and cognitive skills

  • Listen attentively to any feedback that you receive

  • Ask questions to clarify any points that you may be unsure about

  • Be receptive to suggestions and recommendations for activities or strategies that support your child’s development at home

“Step Forward's Head Start staff is here to support your child and your whole family,” Hawthorne concluded. “We encourage parents and guardians to approach any conversation with a collaborative mindset so that together, we can focus on what is best for your child’s future success.”

Give your child a Head Start and enroll today! Click here.

Step Forward Head Start is hiring!

The agency is offering a sign-on bonus of $1,000 for full time employees and $500 for part-time employees.

Positions include teachers, family service workers, nutrition aides and more. Step Forward Head Start is looking for education staff passionate about preparing young students for the future and helping them develop a love for learning early. Take a step toward a new fulfilling career today! Learn more and apply to open positions here.

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