Inspiring Examples: Reach Out to Families Before Kindergarten

Little Scholars: virtual summer two-generation programming

Corona-Norco School District, a district of 51,000 students, Riverside County, California

Initially an in-person parent-child program (2018 and 2019), Little Scholars went online in 2020 and is now exclusively and successfully virtual with no plans to return to in person. Attendance and participation in the program has grown from 50 to 312 families since it became virtual. Families report participating even when they are away from home.

Little Scholars provides twice weekly 45-minute Zoom sessions for children who have not been enrolled in preschool. The students engage with their parent, guardian, caregiver or older sibling to work together on activities that support school success. The curriculum is designed to support academic preparation and reduce the social and emotional tensions associated with the transition to kindergarten. Each session includes an introduction to three letters, one shape of the day, and counting and themed activities that promote listening and speaking skills, respect for differences and kindness. The two-generation program requires that a parent or other family member supports each student during each session.

The highly interactive sessions are similar to in-person lessons and include singing, reading, calling on individual children – and lots of smiles and encouragement. Packets with the materials needed for hands-on activities are provided free and must be picked up from the district. Packets are also emailed to parents who are unable to pick up one in person.

Little Scholars concludes with an in-person celebration that includes a certificate of participation, a goodie bag and a photograph with the teacher.

Current data available is limited to the consistent growth in enrollment and qualitative data from parent surveys. The district is in the process of coding the program in their student information systems to be able to monitor students more closely as well as the impact the program may have had on student achievement and chronic absenteeism.

Connect to Kindergarten: a 3-part welcome and warm-up!

Portland Public Schools (PPS), a district of 44,000 students, Portland, Oregon

Connect to Kindergarten is the umbrella name for 3 activities: Connect to K and Ramp up to K, both of which are offered at all schools, and Early Kindergarten Transition, which is a summer program operated in collaboration with Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) to prepare children and families for the transition into kindergarten.

Connect to K (Connect) activities to welcome and engage incoming families span from January to August each year and include school and neighborhood events. In addition to information on elementary schools and a registration video on the central Portland Public Schools (PPS) website, each school creates its own welcome video and information for its website about its community's upcoming Connect events. Each school community hosts two to three spring events and one to two summer Connect events. PPS provides guidance and some funding for these events. Examples of neighborhood activities include playdates on the playground, family picnics, school open house events, and distributing tee-shirts and lawn signs welcoming families to kindergarten.

Early Kindergarten Transition (EKT) is a three week free, intensive summer program for incoming Kindergarten families enrolled at 20 Title I schools in Portland. Presented in partnership with Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN), a local non-profit organization, EKT is designed to build community among families and support a connected and confident start to school. EKT enrollment is prioritized for children who have not attended preschool, whose primary home language is not English, and/or children with disabilities. The program has 3 goals:

  • Build family engagement in their child's learning
  • Reduce chronic absenteeism in kindergarten
  • Promote children's success in school

Children attend EKT every morning from 8 am to 1 pm for three weeks in July to meet teachers, make new friends and get familiar with kindergarten routines and expectations. Children receive free breakfast and lunch, books and school supplies. Parents or caregivers gather twice a week during each of the three weeks to discuss ways to support their child's learning, share routines to build self-regulation and independence, explore literacy and language development games and activities, and get to know school staff and other families. Translation services and free childcare for siblings are offered during family sessions.

Ramp up to K occurs in the last few days before kindergarten starts and provides a welcoming supportive introduction to school. Every family is invited to visit their assigned elementary school for one-to-one visit with their child's kindergarten teacher focused on relationships and connections. In addition every child is welcome to attend a full-day, small-group practice day focused on orienting the student to kindergarten staff, spaces and routines.