New standards guide pre-K teachers

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Teachers of Mississippi’s 3- and 4-year-old children now have a new resource for better preparing their pupils for kindergarten.
Last month, the Mississippi Department of Education approved standards to outline the math and language arts skills those students should have to be ready to start school.
The state’s guidelines build upon the new Common Core State Standards, national recommendations recently adopted by many states, including Mississippi, to outline what kindergarten to 12th-grade students should learn. The Common Core makes kindergarten classes much more rigorous and increases the importance that students are prepared before they get there.
“We know we will have to work extra hard to get students ready for kindergarten,” said Trecina Green, associate superintendent for the office of instructional enhancement with the MDE. “The Common Core is requiring students to do a lot more at that level. The preparation they can get prior to that is going to be critical.”
The standards were written by a collaboration of Mississippi State University’s Early Childhood Institute, kindergarten and pre-K teachers, elementary principals, university faculty and early education experts. They were approved by the state Board of Education at its Jan. 20 meeting.
“We came together and developed standards that were age- and developmentally-appropriate for 3- and 4-year-olds,” said Lynn Darling, interim director of the Early Childhood Institute. Darling wrote the grant proposal to the MDE that funded the project and also facilitated the process.
A few states have such standards, Darling said, but many don’t.
“We are hoping now other states will look to us,” Darling said. “We are very proud of the fact we were able to do it and do it quickly and make it accessible to folks on a short order.”
Without the standards, Darling said, the danger was that pre-K teachers would use the kindergarten Common Core standards to guide them. Those are not appropriate for 3- and 4-year-olds, she said, noting that it could lead to children becoming frustrated and shutting down.
“Four-year-old children are not cognitively, physically, socially or emotionally ready for those expectations,” she said.
Cathy Davis, the owner and director of Rabbit Patch Daycare in Tupelo, said the new prekindergarten standards will be a help for daycare centers like hers.
“It gives you a target to shoot for and helps you know which direction to take,” she said. “We try our best to get children ready for kindergarten so that once they get there, they will be up to the level they need to be with fine motor skills and vocabulary.”
Lallie Wren, the director at Kid’s Landing Childcare and Learning Center in Tupelo, agreed: “Not everyone will be able to do the same task at the same time, but the guidelines show us the expectations of the school to help us better prepare them early.”
The standards are under the purview of the MDE and are intended to guide Mississippi’s 45 school districts that offer prekindergarten classes. However, the hope is that other daycare, Head Start and preschool programs will also use the standards to guide their instruction, Green said.
“We want to get the word out to early-childhood education providers so they will be aware of these standards,” Green said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com