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1 in 5 Ozarks Children Not Ready for Kindergarten

1 in 5 Ozarks children is not prepared for school when they enter Kindergarten, according to a recent study. A federal grant for Springfield’s Ready to Learn project is targeting ways to solve the problem. KSMU’s Nathan McVay has more.

On the floors of the cafeteria at Springfield’s Shady Dale Elementary School, children gathered to watch, laugh and shout out answers as a volunteer from Parents as Teachers reads to them. Their parents watch from the back rows, smiling. But the reading isn’t solely to entertain; it’s also meant to educate.

The Ready to Learn program funds organizations like Parents as Teachers, and the Women, Infants, and Children program. The money put into these organizations is meant to prepare infants and children for schooling.

Nora Cox is the project coordinator for Ready to Learn. She says the statistics of children’s readiness for kindergarten here in Springfield are alarming, and that the mission of Ready to Learn is simple.

“We are really trying to focus on the youngest kids in the community and get them ready for school,” she said.

Money from the Ready to Learn grant is helping fund the Parents as Teachers program

Parents as Teachers is a program that sends volunteer educators into homes in an effort to help parents educate their children. Missy Riley is the director of Parents of Teachers in Springfield.

“Once you are looking at your own child you tend to wear those rose-colored glasses and think that they are perfect. It is good to have that objective person come into your home and not only tell you what your child is doing well, but also what is coming next for them and what you can be working on to get them to that next developmental stage,” she said.

Riley says the funding from Ready to Learn is allowing them to expand and reach out to more children.

“I think what it is doing is helping us reach a clientele that we wouldn’t have necessarily met before. In the first two months of the program we were able to refer about 100 families per month to our program,” she said.

The goals of the Ready to Learn project include improving children’s social skills and emotional development, as well as giving them resources like free books.

However, Cox says the program isn’t just aimed at children. It focuses even more on parents.

“We are targeting the parents as well in terms of increasing their knowledge; what it is kids need to know when their children get into kindergarten. That’s a great question and it’s a real problem if parent don’t understand what it is their kindergarten teacher will expect when their kid comes into the classroom,” she said.

Cox explained that reading to children helps them develop behavioral cues, language, and creativity. She ensures it’s never too soon to get started.

“Children are never too young to be read to. I mean as soon as they come home from the hospital or even when they are still in the hospital. Start reading to them so they get used to that, so they can appreciate that. And that creates bonds between the parent and the child,” she said.

Cox said the impact of Ready to Learn won’t just affect young children and their parents. She says it will have a long term effect on everyone.

“We need kids who can make change. We need kids who can make a diagnosis correctly. We all benefit from having kids who come through our community with good education,” she said.

The money for the grant will run out in September, and Cox hopes to be renewed for another year.

For information on Parents as Teachers, you can call (417)-523-1160. For KSMU news, I’m Nathan McVay.