Helping Children Get Ready to Learn in Kindergarten – PreK Reading Corps

Across Minnesota, 1 in 4 children is entering Kindergarten unprepared. Students who start behind will likely struggle to catch up throughout their academic career. Minnesota Reading Corps partners with elementary schools, Head Start centers, community preschools, and Family Child Care sites to help PreK students build the early literacy and social-emotional skills needed to transition successfully to Kindergarten. Since 2003, Minnesota Reading Corps has helped more than 47,000 PreK children get off to a positive start.

PreK Tutor Nivi Amin has served four years at Bruce Vento Elementary in Saint Paul to equip students with early literacy skills and support their social-emotional development. “In the Reading Corps model,” Nivi explained, “we meet children where they are and then prepare them for Kindergarten.” PreK Reading Corps tutors are embedded into the classroom to support teachers in building a literacy rich environment that benefits all students and also work in small groups and individually with students who need extra support.

Tutors use evidence-based interventions to help children develop early literacy skills which are predictors of later reading success. Nivi said transition songs are key to teaching these concepts. “They are the fastest way to introduce the 5 literacy skills of rhyming, alliteration, letter names and sounds, and picture naming in daily activities.” Transition songs allow tutors and teachers to take advantage of every learning moment throughout the day by singing during times that could otherwise be chaotic, such as morning drop off and lunchtime line up.

Nivi led the children in Repeated Read Aloud three to five times a week. She read the same book aloud and then facilitated a discussion to help children build vocabulary and think more deeply about the story. Nivi said, “When children are exposed to a literacy rich environment at an early age, it forever impacts their future growth.” Repeated Read Aloud is the most important PreK Reading Corps intervention for later reading success.

A key strategy for social and emotional growth includes intentional conversation during daily activities including play time, which Nivi said “is a great way to build relationships and enhance learning in a simple, yet unique way.” Tutors receive training in SEEDS of Early Learning and incorporate the model for quality interactions that encourage children to work together and be confident learners.

External evaluation confirms the program’s positive results. Leading social science researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago found that PreK Reading Corps students, including English Language Learners and low-income students, outperformed their peers on key early literacy measures used to measure Kindergarten readiness. Their scores were double, and in some cases quadruple, those of students who did not have access to Reading Corps.

Nivi saw this dramatic growth in her four-year-old students. She said she is “surprised by the speed with which children can grasp everything in their environment.” She added, “While there are challenges in learning, behavior management, and social development, the skill development is continuous.” Through PreK Reading Corps, Nivi set her students up for success in Kindergarten by not only meeting their literacy needs, but by “opening up a new world of learning.”