Back to the Basics – Kindergarten Readiness Series

Back to the Basics (Story #4 of 5) – Kindergarten Readiness Series

There are few societal issues as large as education. It is grappled with in every community in this country. When a community tries to tackle its specific issues, it’s difficult to even comprehend all of the contributing factors and possible solutions. So how does a community undertake a task such as education and kindergarten readiness?

The Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative of DeKalb County, which is made up of representatives from the DeKalb County Community Foundation, Trauma-Informed Committee, Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C), DeKalb County Regional Office of Education, DeKalb County Health Department, DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board, and local educators knew they needed to try something different.


They began with results from their community-wide study that was conducted in 2014. That study identified the high need area of early education for the county’s youth. Next, the Collaborative turned to research from other communities that had found success in moving the needle on kindergarten readiness.

Studies have shown that eighty percent of brain growth happens in the first three years of life. One such study conducted by Harvard economist, Dr. Ron Ferguson, found that even as early as age two, there are existing gaps in learning due to opportunity and socioeconomic status. For many families, that is before they even start considering formal education for their child.


From that research, Dr. Ferguson identified “The Basics”, which are five evidence-based practices that help infants and toddlers thrive cognitively, socially, and emotionally. These interactions have proven to benefit every child from every background and provide equal learning opportunities for young children to build critical skills. With the help of a grant from the Community Foundation, the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education (ROE) was able to bring Dr. Ferguson to DeKalb to present on his program.

The Basics Five Essential Practices are:

    1. Maximize love, manage stress

Babies and toddlers thrive when their world feels loving, safe, and predictable. Respond with smiles, words, and touch to help them see, hear, and feel your love. You will help them develop a sense of security and self-control.

    1. Talk, sing and point

Babies learn language from the moment they are born. Respond to their sounds, and later, their words. Connect with eye contact and a loving tone of voice, while pointing to help them know what you are talking about.

    1. Count, group and compare

Every child’s brain is wired for math. Talk about numbers, shapes, patterns, and comparisons as you go about your routines together. Watch your child learn to love math.

    1. Explore through movement and play

Babies are like scientists who love making discoveries. Watch to see what interests your child, then encourage their curiosity and help them learn when they play and explore.

    1. Read and discuss stories

Reading turns kids into confident thinkers. Make books a regular part of your relationship from the very beginning. With infants, point at the pictures and speak with excitement. With toddlers, just make it fun.


Over 80 early childhood stakeholders (educators and youth service providers) attended that initial discussion of how a similar initiative might be implemented throughout DeKalb County. The presentation and discussion were well received and members of the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative unanimously decided to integrate Basics DeKalb County into the kindergarten readiness efforts for the County.

“It was at this point that the we saw a need for funding to assist with the coordination and efforts of Basics DeKalb County,” said Amanda Christensen, DeKalb Regional Superintendent of Schools. The Collaborative applied for funding from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, a Chicago based foundation, to provide support for the Basics DeKalb County and community saturation, and they were awarded a generous $100,000 grant.

“After several conversations with other early learning leaders in the state, we developed a working partnership with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, who strongly supports the creation and implementation of the KIDS Assessment. Their mission aligned well with our systems-change approach to addressing inequities in our community,” Christensen continued.

Once funding was established, the ROE hired Courtney Hill as the Basics DeKalb County Coordinator, to oversee county-wide saturation efforts. The role of this Coordinator position is to ensure all communities are exposed to and educated on the Basics, including ways to implement them into daily life. This includes working with local organizations to embed the Basics into the work they are already doing. All resources provided to the community are 100% free and available in English and Spanish.

“We want everyone DeKalb County to know and value the five Basics,” said Courtney Hill. “With this initiative, we can make our community a place that supports the nurturing and development of our young children. Our hope is that families will use the Basics during the course of their busy days, taking the available moments and making them into teachable opportunities. Imagine the positive outcomes we will see in DeKalb County once every parent feels confident as their child’s very first and most important teacher.”

Since July 2019, the Basics DeKalb County has reached over 2,400 adults and 2,700 children through attendance and information sharing at more than 150 community events. With the onset of COVID-19 and the social distancing guidelines in place since March 2020, the Basics continues to seek alternative ways to reach the residents of DeKalb County. Learn even more about the Basics, including implementation partners and institutional funders at

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