Hunter: Building the Foundation for Future Sucess in Transitional Kindergarten

Cheryl Lilley’s sons, Hunter and Shane, are separated by just three years, but their experiences in kindergarten have been a world apart. Cheryl has seen firsthand the difference that a year of transitional kindergarten makes, and what happens when one child has access to this important early learning opportunity, while another one does not.

Facing Challenges Without Transitional Kindergarten

Shane, Cheryl’s older son, was born on Nov.30, and that meant he was the youngest kindergartener at Mariemont Elementary School in Sacramento when he started in the fall of 2008. Without the maturity and social and emotional skills that some of his older classmates had, Shane struggled in kindergarten.

While the rest of the class marched on through the curriculum standards, Shane’s motor skills were still emerging.  “When a kid is having difficulty just holding the pencil correctly, imagine how it must feel to be faced with solving mathematical word problems, writing sentences, and reading books,” Cheryl says.

Because of his young age compared to his classmates, Shane continued to face challenges in kindergarten, and then first grade, and eventually ended up repeating first grade.  “It’s hard to be an enthusiastic learner when you have to run when other people walk to do the same level of work. They might be just as smart as the other kids, but they feel like they’re failing because they just aren’t at a point where they are developmentally ready for the material, and that’s not their fault,” Cheryl says.

Thriving With the Gift of Time in Transitional Kindergarten

Three years later, when her younger son, Hunter, who was also born in the fall, was about to enter kindergarten, Cheryl knew she had to do something to ensure he did not face the same challenges that his older brother had.

Cheryl had heard of something called transitional kindergarten, a new grade serving younger students with birthdays between September and December. The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 changed the kindergarten entry date so that children enter kindergarten at age five, and established transitional kindergarten so that young learners can gain the confidence and skills that will lay the foundation for their academic careers.

Cheryl approached Center Joint Unified School District with the idea of piloting a transitional kindergarten class by writing to the superintendent and board of education. She was ecstatic when the district responded to her voice as a mother and launched transitional kindergarten early.

Hunter went to his first day of transitional kindergarten last August. Cheryl watched proudly as Hunter blossomed during TK. Given the time he needed, he was able to focus on forming letters and learning the building blocks of literacy in an environment that fostered his social skills. It gave him a level playing field to learn side by side with his peers – children who were the same age as him.

The Difference Transitional Kindergarten Makes

After an exciting year in transitional kindergarten, Hunter graduated from transitional kindergarten with the strong social, emotional and academic skills necessary to be a successful learner in kindergarten and beyond.

He can hardly wait to enter kindergarten this fall with his other classmates from TK.