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Early childhood education is seen as a way to help close school achievement gaps. Researchers say that preschool can give children from low-income families a boost. That benefit doesn't always stay once children get into kindergarten. As KPCC's Priska Neely reports, there's a lot that parents can do to help, especially in the summer.
PRISKA NEELY, BYLINE: Last year, Jessica Andrews' 4-year-old son Carter attended a Head Start preschool program in Los Angeles. And this fall, he'll be moving on to elementary school. He's not too worried about the transition.
JESSICA ANDREWS: What are you excited to learn at school?
CARTER ANDREWS: Play.
ANDREWS: But what do you want to learn about?
ANDREWS: What's your favorite dinosaur?
NEELY: Andrews is a bit more nervous.
ANDREWS: How is it going to be going back to school after a summer off? Do you all allow nap time, bigger classrooms? What happens if there's an accident?
NEELY: And if that wasn't enough, Andrews has one more thing to worry about - making sure Carter holds on to the things he learned in pre-K. Researchers say high-quality preschool can help little kids pick up cognitive and social skills. It can also teach them to keep their emotions in check. All that helps them do better in school as they get older and as lessons get harder. But unless grown-ups are vigilant, academic benefits can start to fade when kids move on to higher grades. So the transition to kindergarten is key.
JENNIFER RAMIREZ: The summer before, we really need to shift and think about everything they're going to be learning.
NEELY: Jennifer Ramirez is a child development expert with the LA County Office of Education. She says there's a lot parents and caregivers can do to prepare children for kindergarten. Her first tip - strive to read 20 minutes a day.
RAMIREZ: And just ask them different questions and discuss new words that you learned in the book. Who was your favorite character? Does this remind you of any other book that you've ever read?
NEELY: Tip two - get out of the house. Keep them stimulated both physically and mentally.
RAMIREZ: If it's a museum, your parks, your public libraries - using the outdoor spaces, whether it's the beach, the mountains, going for a hike.
NEELY: Ramirez is a working mom, and she knows not every parent has time for these kinds of activities. That's where tip three comes in. Turn everyday moments into learning opportunities.
RAMIREZ: Doing chores, even at home - if you have your very young child help you sort socks and make pairs, that's, you know, sorting and classifying, which is a very important mathematical concept.
NEELY: Putting this work in early can make a big difference down the line.
ARTHUR REYNOLDS: A high school graduation, involvement in the justice system, need for remedial education, you know, employment outcomes.
NEELY: Arthur Reynolds studies the long-term effects of early childhood education at the University of Minnesota. He says parent participation isn't just about keeping kids stimulated.
REYNOLDS: Parent involvement in school or engagement in school - it's a role model for children.
NEELY: And that's an important example to set long after the first day of kindergarten. For NPR News, I'm Priska Neely in Los Angeles.
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