‘Big Little Leap’ to Kindergarten an Important Milestone for Kids

Kindergarten might seem like child’s play, but embracing the adventure can play a key role in a kid’s future educational success, a new study finds.

A successful early transition to kindergarten — what the researchers called the “big little leap” — can put a child firmly on the right path, researchers found.

Kids who made a more successful transition in the first 10 to 14 weeks – making new friends, learning to work with others, adapting to the new demands of schoolwork — wound up scoring higher on academic and social-behavioral tests at the end of the school year.

Further, this transition was important for all kids, no matter how well-prepared they might have seemed beforehand, researchers said.

“Transition difficulties hurt children’s development, regardless of the initial readiness skills that they entered with,” said lead study author Jing Sun, a research specialist at Ohio State University’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy.

“Even those who are most ready for school will be affected if they encounter difficulties in the transition,” Sun added in a university news release.

As many as 70% of kindergarteners struggle with some kind of difficulty during their transition, researchers said in background notes.

For this study, Sun and colleagues tracked more than 600 kindergarten students in 64 classrooms across 15 schools in one large district in Ohio.

Around 10 to 14 weeks into the school year, kindergarten teachers rated each student’s difficulty transitioning to the classroom.

Kids were rated on academics, making friends, working in groups, being organized and following schedule and routine, researchers said.

The kindergarteners also took tests of their math, reading and social skills at the beginning and end of the school year.

Children who scored best at the beginning of the year — a sign of kindergarten readiness — were less likely than others to have difficulty with the transition, results show.

“That is probably not surprising, because children with lower levels of these skills may experience more challenges in the classroom,” Sun said.

However, kids with fewer actual transition difficulties at the beginning of kindergarten had relatively more gains in math, reading and social skills by the end of the year — regardless of how ready they seemed before they started school.

The study was published recently in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Children who struggle to transition might face more problems connecting with teachers and classmates, Sun said.

“Without that support, it makes it difficult for them to benefit from the classroom environment, even if they were prepared coming in,” Sun said.

Better communication between pre-K teachers, kindergarten teachers and parents could help all kids be better prepared to enter school, Sun said.

“We need to make sure that preschool and kindergarten instruction is more aligned,” she said. “There’s a drastic change between the two that some children have difficulty coping with.”

For example, preschoolers spend 14% of their time studying language and literacy, compared with 43% of the time in kindergarten.

Similarly, about 49% of time in preschool is taken up by free play, compared with just 11% in kindergarten.

“Creating this alignment between preschool and kindergarten is difficult because of the lack of connections between the teachers,” Sun said. “We need to bring those educators together.”

Schools also can help by developing ways to help kids who are struggling with the adjustment to kindergarten.

“Interventions for children with transition difficulties will not only help them, but it could also lessen disruptions in classroom learning that hurt all students,” Sun said.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about transitioning into kindergarten.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Jan. 22, 2024