Kristen and Luke Yotter

Kristen Yotter's 5-year-old Luke Yotter will start Kindergarten next year. 

WAPELLO — As children and their care providers began arriving at Wapello Elementary, Beth Hines was in her room and ready. She has been teaching kindergarten for 26 years. She has taken part in an open house before. 

"We're trying to get new students and new families," Hines said. "We are opening up our school so they can come in and see and check it out. See what our programs are like."

The open house is for prospective preschoolers and kindergartners. It allows them to come in and look at what next year might look like for them. 

The kindergarten room has its own bathrooms and even lockers for each student. All around the room are mock-kitchens and comfy seats for their children. For the parents, Hines walks around prompting them for questions they might have.

"They just come in and we have some informational videos that talk about what goes on in kindergarten," Hines said. "We just kind of try to answer any questions parents might have."

In the State of Iowa, preschool and kindergarten education is non-compulsory. But as Hines explained, curriculum standards are making early education participation more and more crucial for long term educational success. 

"Preschool and kindergarten are very important," Hines explained. "They need those foundational skills. The way the Iowa Core is now, things that used to be taught in first grade are now pushed down to Kindergarten and so on."

She said that students that come in without the early education foundation face major disadvantages in the classroom. In Kindergarten alone, there is a dizzying list of benchmarks.

"Now they will leave reading and writing," Hines said. "So they have to be able to write in complete sentences. And they will leave knowing how to read at their own level. They can stretch words out, sound them out, put them back together, write them down with a pencil. Not to mention, adding and subtracting."

Some early childhood education advocates look to studies like the 1995 finding from "The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3" that argue that critical brain development in children takes place before they ever reach kindergarten. Early education like preschool and kindergarten become important points of intervention to address developmental inequalities in early minds. 

Hines said that with all of this importance placed on early childhood educators, some pressure has come with it.

"We have a state test now, the FAST test," Hines said. "That goes into the state, they look at that. Our scores are published now. It's a lot more pressure for a teacher."

These expectations come during the formative years where students are learning social skills as well.

"Half of kindergarten, preschool is social learning," Hines said. "How to get along with their peers, how to share, how to learn to take turns. You can't assume with any child that they've been taught manners or they've been taught how to eat at the table or any of that stuff. You have to assume when they come in that they are at ground zero."

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