United Way of Skagit County’s bold goal is by 2025, all Skagit children entering kindergarten are ready to learn. According to the 2018 State of Children and Families Report by Northwest Early Learning, only 36% of students entering kindergarten in Skagit County have the foundational skills needed to succeed in kindergarten.[1]

Why aren’t all children in Skagit County ready for kindergarten? The answer cannot be pointed to a singular cause, but several factors may contribute to a student’s overall success in kindergarten. A child’s development is impacted by the entirety of their experiences. Below are just a few of the obstacles children and their families face.

  1. Kindergarten is Different
    The expectations placed on kindergarten students has shifted over the last decade. Increased academic rigor may be related in part to the federal No Child Left Behind Act as well as additional accountability pressures. A 2016 study from the University of Virginia indicates, the kindergarten classroom of today is much different than the 1990’s, with greater emphasis on academic skills in math and literacy. Kindergarten students spend much less time on art, music, and science. In fact, the study reports that the kindergarten classroom of today is “increasingly similar in structure and focus to typical first grade classrooms of the late ‘90s.”[2] Developmentally, some students just aren’t there yet and may not have the social emotional skills required for the kindergarten learning environment. These social emotional skills include: the ability to sit and concentrate for extended periods of time, engage with other children, successfully navigate the give and take of play, and manage their emotions. The increased expectations of the kindergarten classroom combined with other risk factors has created learning gaps and without a strong start in kindergarten these learning gaps are likely to increase.
  2. Heightened Risk Factors
    There are certain characteristics that are risk factors for children’s development and school outcomes. Whether the child lives in a single-parent household, the child’s mother has less than a high school education, the child’s household income is below the federal poverty line, and the primary language spoken in the home is not English – is linked to lower academic achievement, reading and math delays, and increased school dropout. A 2010 study indicates that the more risk factors a child has, the lower their kindergarten assessment scores.[3]

Further, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), potentially traumatic experiences ranging from abuse and neglect to living with an adult with a mental illness, have lasting negative effects on health and well-being in childhood or later in life. Data reports indicate that in Washington State, 36% of children between the ages of zero and 17 have experienced 1 of the ACEs, and 11% have experienced 3 or more (comparable to the national average). Trauma caused by adverse childhood experiences is becoming so prevalent, some consider it a “silent epidemic”. It is important to note that the two most common ACEs are economic hardship and the separation or divorce of a parent or guardian, again, risk factors associated with lower academic achievement.[4]

Speaking of economic hardship, the growing mismatch of incomes and housing costs is the primary contributor to growing homelessness in Washington state. Counties with fast growing economies and rents continue to see increases in homelessness. According to 2018 reports, in Skagit County there are approximately 338 homeless individuals living as family units and 9% of children under the age of five are living in extreme poverty.[5]

Young children experiencing homelessness are underrepresented in early care and learning programs. According to the Administration for Children & Families, “Lack of resources, lack of awareness of children experiencing homelessness, high rates of mobility among families experiencing homelessness, and stringent documentation requirements (e.g. immunization forms, health records, birth certificates) are a few of the unique challenges to providing high quality early care and learning services to children experiencing homelessness.”[6]

The good news is that high quality early learning experiences provide children with developmental support to build the social emotional skills required for kindergarten success and to reduce the gaps. The bad news? Not everyone can afford preschool or even find a center with an opening for their child.

  1. Lack of Quality Early Care/Education
    In Skagit County, there are 7,398 children under the age of five, but only enough childcare/preschool spaces available for 35% of those children.[7] In other words, what could be the primary solution to the gaps in kindergarten readiness, is not only a resource that is lacking in our community but cost prohibitive to much of our workforce. The median cost of tuition for infant care in Skagit county is $1,023.[8] To put that cost in perspective, the average monthly tuition for a state resident at Western Washington University is $532.[9]

We’re Ready!

The first five years of life are critical for a child’s healthy development. United Way of Skagit County works with community partners to build pathways to success. The programs that we support include parenting classes, play and learn groups, teacher training, developmental preschool programs, and Born Learning Trails.

 We’re ready to do what it takes to ensure that every child is set on a path to success – a path that begins at birth, continues through school, and lasts a lifetime.

To find out more about what United Way of Skagit County and other community organizations are doing to support children, read the First 1000 Days report published by the Public Health Trust and Children’s Council of Skagit County and the 2018 State of Families & Children report published by Northwest Early Learning.



Jen Lindbeck has a M.Ed., Early Childhood Education, Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University and is the Early Learning Resource Coordinator for United Way of Skagit County.


[1] Northwest Early Learning (Ed.). (2018). State of Children & Families(Publication).
[2] Bassok, D., Latham, S., & Rorem, A. (2016, January 6). Is Kindergarten the New First Grade (Master’s thesis, University of Virginia, 2016). Sage Journals,1-31. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2332858415616358

[3] Bernstein, S., West, J., Newsham, R., & Reid, M. (2014, July 15). Kindergartners Skills at School Entry: An Analysis of the … Retrieved from http://www.sesameworkshop.org/wp_install/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Kindergarten-Skills-Report-2014.pdf
[4] Sacks, V., Murphey, D., & Moore, K. (2014). ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES: NATIONAL AND STATELEVEL PREVALENCE(Rep. No. 2014-28). Retrieved September 20, 2018, from Child Trends website: https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Brief-adverse-childhood-experiences_FINAL.pdf
[5] Northwest Early Learning (Ed.). (2018). State of Children & Families(Publication).
[6] Administration for Children and Families. (2014, July). Promising Practices for Children Experiencing Homelessness … Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ecd/final_promising_practice.pdf
[7] Northwest Early Learning (Ed.). (2018). State of Children & Families(Publication).
[8] Region: Northwest Washington Child Care Rates. (2016, December). Retrieved from http://wa.childcareaware.org/families/family-resources-1/jan-2017-nw-wa-rates
[9] Northwest Early Learning (Ed.). (2018). State of Children & Families(Publication).

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