Forty-five children with attention deficit and emotional control issues in the same room? Sounds like a recipe for chaos, but it turns out to be a stepping stone for academic readiness. Welcome to Florida International University’s summer treatment program for pre-kindergarten kids.
“Our whole goal is to help get kindergartners off on the right foot, we want kids to feel successful and families to feel successful as they transition into the school years,” said Dr. Katie Hart, an FIU psychology professor who runs the eight-week camp.
They emphasize academic basics combined with behavioral, social, emotional, and developmental readiness.
“Performing in the classroom isn’t just about academics, although that is an essential component to becoming a good learner, but it’s also about how you behave in the classroom, how you interact with your classmates,” Dr. Hart explains.
The teachers go over basic concepts, like identifying each letter and the sound it makes, because knowing that is a key indicator that the child will be reading at grade level as he or she grows older. It also fosters confidence if a child doesn’t feel left behind.
“That’s not only important, it’s essential,” says Dr. Hart. “Especially at this age, this is the age where kids are really starting to understand the world, they’re connecting their feelings to behaviors.”
The camp uses sports, such as soccer, to teach teamwork and social skills. Mary Jones, a teacher herself, said she sees definite improvement in her son.
“He’s not jumping up and down, his issues with anger, he’s now learning how to cope with it, manage it, he’s gotten great coping skills here,” Jones said. “Now he has the tools to do what he’s supposed to do and be able to flourish and enjoy school.”
John and Anaya Verdi moved to Miami from New Jersey for the sole purpose of putting their son in this program. He was having control issues in pre-school.
“He’s making an amazing amount of progress, he’s able to self-regulate, he’s able to tell us how he’s feeling as opposed to just breaking down,” said Anaya Verdi. “We’re excited now, whereas before, we were trepidatious, we were scared, oh no, are they going to send our son home from kindergarten?”
Parents in the program are required to undergo training as well, to reinforce at home what the children are experiencing in camp. Dr. Hart says much of the progress made by the kids would go down the drain without parental involvement at home.
“Parents being involved in students’ education is what really makes the difference when your child goes to school, but that shouldn’t start when they go to kindergarten, that should start from the time they’re infants,” Dr. Hart said.
Parents are always told to read to their children from the time they’re babies. Dr. Hart says that’s great advice, and parents should do so for at least 20 minutes every day.
She explains that it not only builds a child’s interest in reading, it also helps grow their vocabulary and creates a bond between parents and children and between children and books.
As summer ends, Dr. Hart has some common-sense advice for all parents of school-age kids: start getting them back into a school mindset now, so they can shake off the vacation rust and hit the ground running when the first bell rings.