Dane County, United Way Team Up To Improve Kindergarten Readiness

students in front of a chalkboard, math problems
Dane County officials are trying to boost kindergarten readiness for four-year-olds. Photo: woodleywonderworks (CC-BY-NC)

Dane County is starting a program to ensure by the year 2020, 80 percent of 4-year olds will be ready for kindergarten. Right now only 60 percent are.

There are students who struggle, even as early as kindergarten. It’s the beginning of an achievement gap Dane County and United Way want to close. Recently, officials announced a campaign called Born Learning, while children in the background listened to stories, learned to count and sang Old McDonald.

Sessions like these emphasize “playing while learning.” It’s an effort to teach parents and children how to interact in ways that develop the brain. The goal is to promote motor skills, language and social development.

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Leslie Ann Howard is president of United Way of Dane County. She says only 60 percent of kids in the Madison Metropolitan School District are ready for kindergarten.

“Some kids get to school with an 800-word vocabulary while their colleagues and their counterparts have a 10,000-word vocabulary,” Howard said. “So think about getting to school and finding peers who have a 10,000-word vocabulary: just what it would feel like to be in school in that situation.”

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi says the achievement gap is seen as early as 18 months.

“Children who have not developed age appropriate skills and knowledge by the start of kindergarten have a very difficult time catching up to peers who have,” Parisi said.

The Born Learning campaign will be implemented in 13 low-income neighborhoods in Dane County. United Way will spend $1.7 million. An additional $1 million will come from Dane County. The funds will pay for services like developmental screening to identify delays and provide help.