Group of kindergarten children sitting in front of a teacher reading a picture book to the class

Kindergarten readiness ultimately prepares students to be successful throughout their lives, Ohio State research finds.

Ensuring that children have fundamental academic and social skills when they enter kindergarten will ultimately prepare them to be successful throughout their lives, according to research by The Ohio State University.  

“When kids arrive at kindergarten and they have what we call readiness skills – we usually focus on language development, literacy development, social/emotional skills, like being able to regulate your own behavior – kids who have those skills tend to do very well in kindergarten,” said Laura Justice, director of the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy in the College of Education and Human Ecology (EHE).

Success in kindergarten is an indicator that students will be able to do well throughout school and in career paths, said Justice, who is also a distinguished professor in EHE’s Department of Educational Studies. She presented the findings during a statewide conference hosted by Ohio State, Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov.  Jon Husted’s Office of Workforce Transformation and the Crane Group. The Crane Center will also host the 11th Annual Symposium for Children on Oct. 3 at the Marriott Columbus Ohio State. 

Laura Justice Ohio State headshot
Laura Justice

“How well kids do in kindergarten is predictive of academic achievement in third grade, eighth grade and so on,” she said. “What we argue is that the workforce readiness skills that employers are looking for are the same skills that we want kids to have when they walk into kindergarten.”

The Crane Center has determined that the most in-demand skills for the 21st century workplace include problem solving and critical thinking, communication, time management and social intelligence. The groundwork for many of these skills can be formed in early education, Justice said.

For example, social intelligence involves “how do you identify when you’re upset and implement a coping strategy?” she said.

Parents and educators both play essential roles in helping children to develop the skills necessary for kindergarten readiness, Justice said.

“For instance, you have a child with a temper tantrum. It’s going to happen in every home. There’s 20 different ways you can react to that temper tantrum: You can scold the child, put him in timeout,” she said.

The most effective approach, she added, is “really working with your child to help them learn how to identify their own emotions.”

Parents also play a role in helping children develop literacy and communication skills, Justice said.

“The simplest, easiest thing that parents can do, in terms of early cognitive development, is have frequent conversations with your child that are sensitive and responsive and to share books with your child,” she said. “And as you read, have discussions about the book.”

Research has found that one strategy to help more children develop the skills they need to do well in kindergarten is making high-quality preschool and other child care programs more affordable, Justice said.

“We know from large-scale studies, if we put kids in preschool and child care programs that aren’t good, it can actually have adverse effects,” she said. “But when it’s high-quality child care, it can build all those skills.”

One of the hallmarks of high-quality child care is a stable teaching staff, Justice said.

“Kids’ development is really conditioned on having access to stable caregiving,” she said. “Lower quality programs tend to have educators who are moving in and out. We also want to see an intentional teaching curriculum that is designed to explicitly build skills like language, literacy and social/emotional.”

Making high-quality child care more accessible is a two-fold approach: increasing affordability for parents and increasing wages and qualifications for child care workers, Justice said.

“We have to increase wages and increase credential expectations – formal training in a community college or perhaps a four-year degree,” she said. “Families are desperate to have care for their kids. And they’re putting them in low-quality programs because we haven’t raised wages and we haven’t implemented reforms in a way that actually elevate quality.”

Municipalities have created funding streams for child care that can serve as a model, Justice said.

“We have examples in Ohio,” she said. “Cleveland, Dayton and Cincinnati have been really imaginative around increasing governmental spending in child care.”

Kindergarten readiness is a foundation that can enable children to be successful throughout life, Justice said.

“If you’re succeeding in eighth grade, you’re going to finish high school. And if you make it to high school – you don’t have attendance issues, you don’t have behavior issues, you’re succeeding in reading development – you’re going to enter some sort of higher education experience,” she said. “Your wages are going to be better, period. You’re going to give more back to society.”

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