Here's how to make sure your child is ready for kindergarten

So many Oak Park agencies ready to help

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By Cassandra West

The first day of kindergarten is just a few weeks away for many children -- and their parents. Will your child be ready?

Before a child enters kindergarten, parents and health care professionals use developmental screenings which allow early identification of barriers to readiness. Screenings are regular checks, which typically start with the first well-child exam. They also can be useful in connecting families to opportunities and resources that support a child's development if needed.  

Screenings observe whether a child is meeting typical developmental milestones in learning, speaking, playing, behaving and moving. Developmental delays, learning disorders, and behavioral and social-emotional problems are estimated to affect 1 in every 6 children, research shows.

For health providers, kindergarten readiness starts before a child starts school, says Dr. Stephanie Weller, medical health director at the Infant Welfare Society's Children's Clinic in Oak Park. "It starts at the first contact we have with a patient, whether as a newborn or the first time we see them for that kindergarten physical. We want to maximize educational success for all the kids."

The clinic starts screenings at the 2-month visit and continues through age 6, "to identify any issues that might interfere with learning -- as early as we can," says Weller. Physicians at the clinic follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics in terms of screening and use a system called Ages and Stages Questionnaire. Often referred to as ASQ, it relies on parents as experts to take snapshots that can catch delays and mark milestones.

The Collaboration for Early Childhood, which leverages the resources of local agencies to support children during the critical first five years of life, has made access to screenings a cornerstone of its work. Through its screening project, it provides support to pediatric and family practice physicians and early childhood education and child care professionals to conduct developmental screenings of all children in their care.

That support takes the form of training and technical assistance to conduct the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Third Edition (ASQ-3) and Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social-Emotional (ASQ:SE) developmental screenings. 

These screenings can be completed by parents using the ASQ Online database system. They can be done in an early childhood setting, a pediatrician's or family practitioner's office or during a session from home visiting professional, says Shannon Ellison, development screening coordinator for the collaboration. 

The collaboration has 30 screening partner sites that include four medical practices and lots of the local family child care providers. Ellison trained them on how to use the ASQ online system and how to interpret the completed questionnaires. Two community sites, the River Forest Public Library and Wonder Works Children's Museum, also have screening kits -- wi-fi enabled tablets -- that parents can borrow to access the screening questionnaires.

ASQ requires twice-a-year screening and that is what the collaboration recommends, Ellison says. "We don't want to over screen children. And we don't want parents to get so tired of screening that they're not interested in doing it. We want to make sure the results they're getting are meaningful. If screening results indicate a child needs extra experience or practice of what we sometimes call monitoring, then those children might be screened more frequently."

A screening is more formal than monitoring and normally done less often. The ASQ system allows for quick scoring and provides an electronic record of children's development.

In addition, the collaboration has a developmental screening committee, "a group of professionals who make sure we are paying attention to children's developments," says Ellison, whose job is also to promote the screening project, increase public awareness and help families get access.

When a screening does indicate a potential concern, providers like the Children's Clinic will work with parents on different activities that can be done at home to make sure their child is where they should be for their age, says Denise Gonzalez, director of behavioral health. If larger concerns arise, Gonzalez says, the clinic helps arrange an early intervention referral "to make sure someone is working with the child." 

When clinic physicians and social workers see a child older than 3 is struggling in certain areas, they will work with parents to have the child evaluated and to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). 

"We give the child the support they need to catch up," Gonzalez says. "That way, by the time they get into kindergarten, they will have the tools they need."

SIDEBAR: The role of reading in development

SIDEBAR: Why is early screening important


Early childhood resources

Collaboration for Early Childhood Resource Directory:

Help and Watch Me Grow Developmental Milestones for Birth to 5 years:

Parent Leadership Program with Community Organizing and Family Issues:

More about the COFI model
Currently covering Self, Family & Community:

New Moms
New Moms exists to interrupt the cycle of poverty and create strong families by offering supports to young moms in: stable housing, job training, and parenting skills. 
5317 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60651
Phone: (773) 252-3253

Early intervention and family support services
120 Madison Street 
Oak Park, IL 60302
(708) 434-2525

Wonder Works Children's Museum
Wonder Works is 6,400 square feet of fun, a place of creative play for kids birth to age eight.
6445 W North Ave,
Oak Park, IL 60302
(708) 383-4815

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).  

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