10 things California parents should know about transitional kindergarten | Quick Guide

Sarah Tully/EdSource

English learners who attend transitional kindergarten enter kindergarten with stronger reading and math skills, according to a recent American Institutes for Research study.

Even as families continue to notice pandemic-induced learning loss and emotional disruption, California is expanding early childhood education programs that can help young learners start to get back on their feet.

Next year, Transitional kindergarten, or kindergarten, will be available for more children from 4 years old. In the 2023-2024 school year, children whose fifth birthday is between September 2 and April 2 will be eligible for the program. In the 2024-25 school year, children who are 5 years old between September 2 and June 2 will be able to enroll in kindergarten. And by 2025-26, this program will reach all children aged 4 years.

Many districts are starting to enroll new students for the coming year, so now is the time to reach out. Here’s a quick primer on 10 things parents should know about extended transition kindergarten, a $2.7 billion program hailed by many experts as a game-changer for families in the state with nearly 3 million children under 5 years of age.

1. Why is early childhood education so important?

The first three years of life are often described as the brain’s window of opportunity, experts say, a time of great promise. The most critical growth occurs early, with the brain doubling in size in the first year. Given that 90% brain growth occurring before kindergarten, it is important that children receive sufficient intellectual and social stimulation to help build brain architecture.

2. What is Transition Kindergarten, or Kindergarten? Is it mandatory?

Kindergarten is often described as a stepping stone between preschool and kindergarten, which are now more academically rigorous than ever. Kindergarten and kindergarten are optional. Children are only required to attend school in California once they are 6 years old. Until that age, it is up to the parents to decide whether to enroll their child in a kindergarten or preschool or to keep them at home. However, in recent years momentum has grown in the Legislature to make kindergarten mandatory and full day in a bid to help close the widening achievement gap.

3. Is Kindergarten free? How to pay?

Kids can attend Kindergarten free of charge as it is part of California’s K-12 public school system. Districts receive funding for Kindergarten students based on average daily attendance.

4. Why was TK created in the first place?

kindergarten occurs after the DPR approves Kindergarten Readiness Act in 2010. Until then, children who turn 4 on September 1 can still enroll in regular kindergartens as long as they turn 5 on December 2 of that year. But the new law changed that. Starting in 2012, children must be 5 years old by September 1 to enroll in kindergarten.

The transition left about 100,000 children, forcing them to wait another year to start school. A transitional kindergarten was originally established in 2012 to serve these 4-year-olds, who were previously eligible for kindergarten. Teachers often refer to these students as “dropped babies.”

5. What is the difference between the early Kindergarten program and the new transitional Kindergarten program?

The kindergarten initially serves only 100,000 children, mainly those aged 5 between September 2 and December 2. These are students who barely crossed the deadline for ordinary kindergarten. The new $2.7 billion universal kindergarten program, by contrast, will eventually be available to every 4-year-old in California, serving nearly 400,000 students. It will essentially function as California’s version of a universal preschool program, available to all children regardless of income.

6. How long will it take for the extended transition kindergarten program to be fully launched?

The plan is to gradually phase in younger students each year until all 4 year olds are eligible by 2025-26. However, some school districts are ahead of the curve, having expanded kindergarten to mostly 4-year-olds. Check with your local district for details.

7. Will Kindergarten be a full day or half day program?

Kindergarten, like kindergarten, is a full-day or part-day local option. However, many districts offer pre- and after-school services through the state Expanded Learning Opportunities program.

8. Does a child in kindergarten have to meet the same vaccination requirements as in a regular kindergarten?

Yes. The same vaccination criteria apply.

9. What can parents do to help prepare their children to start transitional kindergarten?

There are many skills kids can practice at home, from cutting with safety scissors and holding a pencil to using glue. All of these activities help build fine motor skills. In academia, teachers recommend that parents spark early math skills by counting objects around the house and talking about bigger versus smaller. Reading is also key. Spend quality time cuddling with a book every day so your child associates reading with warmth, love, and fun.

10. What is often the biggest challenge for families?

Separating from parents and guardians is often the biggest hurdle for children who have never gone to daycare or preschool, experts say. While these milestones may move parents and children alike to tears, they don’t last forever. Say goodbye, the teacher suggests, and let the staff handle it. The longer you linger, they warn, the harder it will be for both of you.

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