If you’ve wondered about the benefits of starting your children in school before kindergarten, the Perham preschool teachers have the reasons you should, as they shared with school board members on April 14.

Heart of the Lakes Elementary School Principal Liz Johnson praised the team for their work, including welcoming students and matching their curriculum with the elementary. The preschool program is open for children 3 years old to kindergarten enrollment.

Developing skills in preschool

“The first five years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out,” the teachers shared as one of their opening quotes from Bill Gates Sr.

Within ages 3 to 6 years old, the brain develops 90% of the skills of working memory, cognitive flexible thinking and inability control like emotions, as preschool teacher Heather Briese shared. These skills are built upon, though the time for setting these strong foundations is six years old. Lessons like language, math and social and emotional aspects are pivotal in this time. The skills grow the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which coordinates movement, talking, understanding emotions and problem-solving.

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Children are also taking in their environment and learning cultural competency, such as race and identity, as well as their mental health at these young ages.

“It’s kind of amazing and alarming how many mental health issues you can already see in society in these little littles,” said Laura Lamb, learning readiness teacher.

Students’ experiences from prenatal to 4 years old also start the achievement gap. Students might be starting fresh in this new setting or come in having their alphabet down. The further students go in school, the gap becomes a chasm that only widens, as Lamb explained, which is why the best opportunities to address the gap are in preschool, kindergarten and first grade.

Positive impacts of preschool

At 4 years old, a student’s math knowledge shows how they could do in math and literacy in high school, Lamb said. Early childhood education also has a positive impact on student dropout rates, students becoming a teen parent, entering special education, attending college and being arrested for a violent crime.

Throughout the preschool program, students are becoming school ready and being supported in their future steps of reading, removing the achievement gap, coming through the school system prepared for graduation, college and a career.

Perham preschool teachers and paraprofessionals have math and reading training as well classroom observations and time for setting goals to follow the pyramid learning model of developing and building upon foundational skills, as early childhood coordinator Amy Kimball said.

By starting in early childhood education, students come better prepared into elementary school with understanding what the day is like, developing social skills with their classmates and learning math and reading skills. The preschool teachers shared about students with autism, trauma and speaking another language as their first language. The changes through the program brought following the schedule, working through their emotions and developing conversation skills.

Working early on these aspects meant some students no longer needed intervention support as often. Teachers also said the academic interventions past first grade are less effective because they require rewiring the brain.

"The first five years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out."

— Bill Gates Sr.

Preschool students complete benchmark assessments at the end of September, January and April or early May for their school readiness. The assessments include aspects like comprehension, vocabulary and sentence structure and counting and totaling the number of objects. The assessments help teachers pair students with learning support. Students can receive this support as long as it is needed with intervention time building on the curriculum that is the same for each teacher.

The district also sees the benefit of saving money by some students not needing a paraprofessional after preschool. A paraprofessional’s salary is approximately $18,000-21,500 per year, which totals $90,000-107,500 from a student’s kindergarten through fourth grade experience.

The benefits extend to economic development. Lamb noted a Federal Reserve economist’s example comparing the investment in children at younger ages to the building of a 401k. When you start adding funds to your 401k as soon as possible the returns on your investment are better. And the funds spent on early childhood education equate to “more bang to your buck,” as Lamb said.

“There is always a return on investment in education, so you’re always gaining something but because so much of that development takes place from prenatal to the preschool, kindergarten years this is where we have the most impact,” Lamb said.