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The impact of ready environments on achievement in kindergarten.

Abstract. The purpose of this study was to examine how young children's homes and preschool programs influence kindergarten achievement by being "ready environments." Ready environments provide opportunities for cognitive and social growth through culturally and developmentally appropriate activities, interactions, and materials. This study used kindergarten assessments, and parent and teacher questionnaires from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort database. Data from more than 10,000 kindergarten children were analyzed to determine if learning activities in the home and preschool attendance had an impact on young children's cognitive skills in kindergarten. The results showed that learning activities in the home had an influence on children's approaches to learning. Preschool attendance had a significant positive effect on children's reading and math achievement in kindergarten. Recommendations for how to support parents and increase preschool attendance for all children are provided.


Previous research has focused on school readiness and has predicted kindergarten success by measuring children's level of "readiness," which has been defined in numerous ways. Kagan (1990) reports that readiness can be defined in academic terms that reflect a set of cognitive skills that children must possess to enter a particular educational program. These skills may include knowing the alphabet, counting to 20, and writing one's name. Readiness also can be viewed as a level of maturity that is determined by certain social skills, such as self-control and cooperation. Or, it can be based on biological development and, thus, all children who have fully functioning cognitive structures are considered "ready to learn."

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (1990) believes that all children are ready to learn and the responsibility rests on parents and schools to support their readiness. Thus, the focus shifts from measuring a child's level of readiness to measuring the home's and the school's level of readiness. Ready homes are places where children are cognitively and socially stimulated. Ready schools provide programs that are developmentally and culturally appropriate for children of all ability levels and backgrounds.

In sum, readiness is viewed in terms of the environments in which children live and learn, rather than a characteristic within the child. This study examines how ready environments can affect the achievement of kindergartners. Because a child's success in kindergarten is a strong predictor of future school success, this study focuses on kindergarten as an important transition year (LaParo & Pianta, 2000).

The study addresses these questions:

1. How does participating in learning activities at home affect achievement in kindergarten?

2. How does preschool attendance affect achievement in kindergarten?

3. What are the interaction effects on achievement in kindergarten between family risk factors and the aforementioned home and preschool factors?

Literature Review


Research has shown that children in poverty are less likely to be ready for school (Zill, Collins, & West, 1995). Causes of poverty, such as high school dropout and single head of household, are also factors that place young children at risk for school failure. Families that have any of these risk factors have to focus their energies on meeting basic survival needs, and thus have less time to create "ready home environments."

Therefore, effective education interventions for children in economically disadvantaged homes should help families find ways to improve their economic status. Sacks and Watnick (2001) describe a successful early intervention program in Florida. Families receive help from an education specialist who works at the Parent Resource Center. The education specialist develops a Family Education and Support Plan. The families comply with the plan by attending programs at the center. The education specialist helps the family find social, medical, and financial resources. The program has been successful in empowering families to obtain additional education and find stable employment. Children benefit by having parents who have the resources to create a ready home environment.

McGroder (2000) conducted a study on low-income, African American single mothers and their parenting styles. She was particularly interested in defining their parenting style based on their levels of aggravation, nurturing, and cognitive stimulation. She found high levels of aggravation, but also high levels of nurturing. Her research revealed that when there are low levels of aggravation, high levels of nurturing can somewhat mitigate the negative effects of low cognitive stimulation on children's development. If there is high aggravation, however, high nurturing cannot compensate for low cognitive stimulation. These results emphasize the need for intervention programs that help parents address the stressors in their lives that prevent them from being able to provide a nurturing and cognitively stimulating home environment.

Outside support for parenting can come from many institutions in a community. Beasley (2002) examined the effect of culture-related activities in the community (e.g., attending a concert, play, or live show; visiting the library, museum, or historical site) on children's readiness. Although other factors are important, such as parental involvement through home learning activities and attending preschool, involvement in culture-related activities also has a positive effect on children's cognitive development. Thus, cultural institutions play an important role in helping parents provide cognitive stimulation for their children. Herb and Willoughby-Herb (2001) explain that libraries are particularly important. Libraries provide excellent literacy programs for preschoolers and their parents. Parents can attend story hours that are designed to meet their needs and the needs of their children, as young as newborns. Libraries also offer hands-on literacy experiences for toddlers through play, puppetry, and art projects. A central component in all library programs is introducing children to quality children's literature and engaging them in developmentally appropriate literacy activities. Librarians are trained to model literacy activities for parents and provide resources that will help them create what Britto and BrooksGunn (2001) call "family literacy environments." Family literacy environments are characterized by language and verbal interactions, the learning climate, and the social and emotional climate. They found that each dimension of the family literacy environment was associated with children's academic performance, as measured by school readiness and language tests. Creating family literacy environments is very complex and parents need support and information from multiple institutions to create them.

Huebner (2000) describes a community-based program that focused on teaching low-income parents methods for shared reading experiences with their children. Sixty-one preschoolers and their families received books and instruction on interactive reading techniques. This program had a significant impact on children's interest in reading and the frequency of reading in their homes.

Home learning activities should not be limited to literacy experiences. Play is also important. Fantuzzo and McWayne (2002) studied the relationship between interactive play experiences in the home and social behaviors of preschoolers in a school setting. Play at home has a positive effect on social skills and motivation to learn in school. Conversely, children who had aggressive and chaotic play experiences in the home exhibited these same behaviors in the classroom. They suggest that early intervention programs need to help parents facilitate positive play experiences for their children.

Overall, research has shown that learning that occurs through informal and formal activities in the home has a significant effect on children's future school success. Therefore, it is important that all parents are informed about how to provide these experiences.


Another important factor in the kindergarten success model is preschool attendance. Research has shown that students who attend preschool perform better on cognitive assessments than children who do not attend preschool (Taylor, Gibbs, & Slate, 2000). This is particularly true for children from impoverished backgrounds. This effect occurs across all preschool programs regardless of type of program.

Parents' awareness of the positive impact of preschool and their expectations for preschool programs have increased. They expect preschool programs to prepare their children for school. For many parents, this means that the children will learn letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and how to write their names (Diamond, Reagan, & Bandyk, 2000).

While preschool teachers are willing to take on this responsibility, they want parents to realize that school readiness is more than academic preparation for school. It also involves school socialization, which includes interpersonal skills. Thus, teachers believe it is important to focus on developing these skills in preschool. Therefore, teachers also need to help parents understand the importance of social skills and how these skills need to be reinforced at home.

Preschool's greatest impact can be achieved through the formation of an educational partnership between the home and school environments. In such a partnership, information about the child is shared between the home and school. Teachers learn more about each child's background and parents learn more about appropriate school expectations. This is particularly important, given that several studies have shown that teachers and parents tend to have different beliefs about what the focus of preschool and kindergarten programs should be. Teachers and parents agree that curiosity and a positive attitude about learning are important. However, parents believe that the primary focus should be on attaining skills rather than on approaches for how to attain skills (Harradine & Clifford, 1996; Piotrkowski, Botsko, & Matthews, 2000; West, Hausken, & Collins, 1993).

In sum, previous studies provide evidence that enriched home and school environments have a positive effect on children's academic performance. The current study focuses on cognitive and motivational aspects of achievement in kindergarten to determine the degree of influence on children from high- and low-risk situations.



The data are from the 1998 kindergarten cohort of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (2001). There are approximately 23,000 cases in the file, which contains: direct assessment information on children's cognitive, language, socioemotional, and physical development; parent reports of the family demographics, interactions, characteristics, and health status; survey information on teachers' backgrounds, classroom environments, and students' behavior; and administrators' descriptions of school demographics, programs, educational goals, and objectives.


The sample for this study includes 14,880 kindergarten children for the home activities analysis and 10,307 kindergarten children for the preschool analysis. These children were first-time kindergartners during the fall of 1998. This sample is drawn from a nationally representative sample of 23,000 kindergarten children in the United States. A stratified cluster sampling technique was used to include subjects from various regions, social class levels, racial backgrounds, metropolitan areas, and school types and sizes.


Data were analyzed from subjects with responses to the following items:

Risk: The at-risk variable combines four scale items: primary language spoken at home, primary parents' highest education level, recipient of federal aid in the past 12 months, recipient of food stamps in the past 12 months. Subjects that have at least one risk factor are considered at-risk and coded as one and subjects with no risk factors are considered not at-risk and coded as zero.

Home Learning Activities: The home learning activities variable represents nine scale items: reading books, telling stories, singing songs, doing arts and crafts, doing chores, playing games, talking about nature and science, building things, and playing sports. Subjects who have participated in any learning activities are coded as one and subjects who did not participate in any learning activities are coded as zero.

Preschool Attendance: The item asks if students attended preschool at a center before kindergarten. A "Yes" answer was coded as one and "No" answer was coded as zero. This item does not provide information on type of preschool program in terms of curriculum and schedule.

Reading Achievement: The assessment score represents knowledge of letter recognition, beginning sounds, ending sounds, sight words, and words in context in the fall of the kindergarten year. The assessment scores are derived using item response theory, which estimates scores on the higher level items based on patterns of right and wrong for the lower level items.

Mathematics Achievement: The assessment score represents knowledge of number and shape, relative size, ordinality, sequence, addition/subtraction, and multiplication/division in the fall of the kindergarten year. The assessment scores are derived using item response theory, which estimates scores on the higher level items, based on patterns of right and wrong for the lower level items.

Approaches to Learning: This assessment determines subjects' level of persistence, motivation, and interest in learning activities in the fall of the kindergarten year. Parents and teachers were asked to rate the frequency of several behaviors as never/ sometimes and often/very often.


Two two-way MANOVAs, using the math, reading, and approaches to learning test scores as outcome variables, were conducted. Each MANOVA examined the effects of being high risk with one of the intervention variables (home learning activities and preschool attendance). Bonferroni post hoc analysis was conducted to determine how each intervention affected each assessment. Sample weights for spring kindergarten assessment data and parent interview data were used in the analyses to produce estimates that are representative of kindergarten children in the United States. In order to determine what the hypothetical estimates would be using a simple random sample, a design effect is used in the analysis. The value of the design effect for this sample is 4.39.


The first two-way MANOVA was conducted with home activities and risk as independent variables, and reading achievement, math achievement, and approaches toward learning as outcome variables. There is a significant main effect of home learning activities (Lambda (3, 14,874) = 12.43, p< .01) and a significant effect of risk factors (Lambda (3, 14,874) = 11.11, p< .01). The effect size for home learning activities is .003 and. 105 for risk; both are significant. The interaction effect is not significant.

Parents who engage in learning activities have kindergartners who score higher on mathematics (F (1, 14,876) = 14.87,p < .01) than children in homes where no learning activities were presented. They also score higher on the reading assessment (F (1, 14,876) = 13.2, p < .01) and approaches toward learning assessments (F (1, 14,876) = 27.92, p < .01). Children with risk factors score lower on mathematics tests (F (1, 14,876) = 28.38, p < .01) and reading tests (F (1, 14,876) = 26.31, p < .01). See Table 1 for results.

The second MANOVA was calculated with preschool attendance and risk factors as independent variables, and mathematics achievement, reading achievement, and approaches toward learning scores as outcome variables. There is a significant main effect of preschool attendance (Lambda (3, 10,301) = 26.97, p < .01) and having risk factors (Lambda (3, 10,301) = 136.86, p < .01). The effect size for preschool attendance is .009 and the effect size for risk is .064; both are significant. The interaction is not significant.

Students who attend preschool have higher mathematics scores (F (1, 10,303) = 62.39, p < .01) and reading scores (F (1, 10,303) = 68.98, p < .01) than children who have not attended preschool. Children with risk factors have lower mathematics scores (F (1, 10,303) = 387.37, p < .01), reading scores (F (1, 10,303) = 274.26, p < .01), and approaches toward learning scores (F (1, 10,303) = 39.31, p < .01) than children without any risk factors. See Table 2 for results.


What parents do in the home has a significant influence on children's cognitive development. Parents who engage in multiple formal and informal learning activities with children on a regular basis give their children a strong foundation for future learning. Home learning is the only factor that leads to higher scores on assessments of how children approach learning. Approaches to learning assessments determine how motivated and interested children are in learning. The internal motivation to learn has an influence on achievement in all areas. Children who are intrinsically motivated to learn will persist when faced with academic challenges and work hard to understand new concepts. Parents can model this through daily interactions with their children. As their children's first teachers, parents have more opportunities to model how to learn than teachers do. Thus, they have more influence in this area than teachers do. This is a key finding that emphasizes the importance of making parents aware of the influence they have on their children's learning and achievement in the early years. They provide a unique contribution that child care and preschool programs do not. Therefore, it is important that funding be provided to support parents in providing stimulating home learning activities for their children during the preschool years (Christian, Morrison, & Bryant, 1998).

Preschool attendance, regardless of type of program, leads to higher scores on reading and math achievement tests in kindergarten. This supports previous research on the effects of preschool and also emphasizes the need for more funding to provide opportunities for all children to attend preschool (Hosley, 2000).

Even when children with risk factors come from enriched home environments and attend preschool, they still perform lower than children from risk-free environments. This points to a need for more social and financial support for families if we are to lessen the risk factors present in their environments. Therefore, just targeting resources at children will not be enough to increase achievement (Oden & Ricks, 1990). To make significant gains in achievement for all children, aid and attention must be given to the caregivers of these children.
Table 1
MANOVA for Home Learning Activities

Source df Mean Square F Sig.

Home Act. (H)
 Math 1 243.52 14.87 .000
 Reading 1 306.74 13.20 .000
 Approaches 1 1.48 27.92 .000

Risk Factors (R)
 Math 1 464.78 28.38 .000
 Reading 1 611.41 26.31 .000
 Approaches 1 .28 4.48 .034

 Math 1 19.13 1.17 .280
 Reading 1 8.51 .37 .545
 Approaches 1 .24 .07 .793

 Math 14876 16.38
 Reading 14876 23.24
 Approaches 14876 5.291E-02

Table 2
MANOVA for Preschool Attendance

Source df Mean Square F Sig

Preschool (P)
 Math 1 1016.73 62.39
 Reading 1 1640.40 68.98 .000
 Approaches 1 4.398E-05 .90 .765

Risk Factors (R)
 Math 1 6312.75 387.37 .000
 Reading 1 6522.24 274.26 .000
 Approaches 1 1.94 39.31 .000

 Math 1 19.38 1.19 .275
 Reading 1 22.98 .97 .326
 Approaches 1 1.258E-02 .00 .987

 Math 10303 16.30
 Reading 10303 23.78
 Approaches 10303 4.941E-02


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Diamond, K. E., Reagan, A. J., & Bandyk, J. E. (2000). Parents' conceptions of kindergarten readiness: Relationships withrace, ethnicity, and development. The Journal of Educational Research, 94(2), 93-100.

Fantuzzo, J., & McWayne, C. (2002). The relationship between peer-play interactions in the family context and dimensions of school readiness for low-income preschool children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(1), 79-87.

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Herb, S., & Willoughby-Herb, S. (2001). Preschool education through public libraries. School Library Media Research, 4. Retrieved September 19, 2002, from

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Huebner, C. E. (2000). Community-based support for preschool readiness among children in poverty. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 5(3), 291-314.

Kagan, D. L. (1990). Readiness 2000: Rethinking rhetoric and responsibility. Phi Delta Kappan, 72(4), 272-279.

LaParo, K. M., & Pianta, R. C. (2000). Predicting children's competence in the early school years: A meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 70(4), 443-484.

McGroder, S. M. (2000). Parenting among low-income African American single mothers with preschool age children: Patterns, predictors and developmental correlates. Child Development, 71(3), 752-771.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1990). Making schools ready. Young Children, 46(1), 39.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2001). Early childhood longitudinal study, kindergarten class of 1998-99. Base-year public-use data file. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Oden, S., & Ricks, J. (1990, April). Follow-up study of Head Start's role in the lives of children and families. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston.

Piotrkowski, C. S., Botsko, M., & Matthews, E. (2000). Parents' and teachers' beliefs about children's school readiness in a high-need community. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15(4), 537-558.

Sacks, A., & Watnick, B. (2001). Family-school partnership increases school readiness. Children & Schools, 23(3), 188-193.

Taylor, K. K., Gibbs, A. S., & Slate, J. R. (2000). Preschool attendance and kindergarten readiness. Early Childhood Education Journal, 27(3), 191-195.

West, J., Hausken, E. G., Collins, M. (1993). Readiness for kindergarten: Parent and teacher beliefs. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement

Zill, N., Collins, M., & West, J. (1995). Approaching kindergarten: A look at preschoolers in the United States. Young Children, 51(1), 35-38.

Regena Fails Nelson

Webstern Michigan University
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Author:Nelson, Regena Fails
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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