Instructional Continuity from PreK to Kindergarten Matters

Instructional Continuity from PreK to Kindergarten Matters

By: Jasmine Ernst & Arthur J. Reynolds

PreK-to-3rd-grade (P-3) initiatives and programs are increasing in priority across the nation. The two major reasons for this are to (a) improve children’s learning during the key years of schooling and (b) ensure that PreK gains are sustained over time [5].

A critical mass of research, including our own, demonstrates that continuity in instruction from preschool to kindergarten benefits young children’s learning [5]. A combination of teacher-led lessons and child-initiated exploration in both PreK and K is associated with higher academic performance, and child-initiated exploration into kindergarten can provide an extra boost in academic performance beyond the benefits from PreK instruction [2: Ernst, J.R., & Reynolds, A.J. The added value of continuing child-initiated instruction from preschool to kindergarten: relations to academic achievement. (Poster)].

Instructional continuity refers to providing a consistent approach to classroom instruction from one year to the next. This alignment promotes learning, exploration, helps children know what to expect in the classroom, and eases transitions.

There are multiple aspects of instruction that can contribute to continuity, but here we will be focusing on two instructional approaches: teacher-directed and child-initiated instruction.

Teacher-directed instruction involves the teacher leading structured lessons. This usually involves the teacher leading a lesson for the whole class at one time.

Child-initiated instruction involves letting children explore by providing a variety of options and letting them choose where to spend their time. This is commonly seen during center-time or other kinds of free-choice time.

Many studies of the P-3 Child-Parent Centers have found that a combination of teacher-directed and child-initiated instruction in PreK is associated with higher academic performance sustained through 8th grade, higher income in adulthood, and greater educational achievement [1: Ernst, J.R., & Reynolds, A.J. (2020, July 21-23). Why preschool instructional approaches matter? Adult well-being outcomes in a low-income sample. [Poster], 34].

Recently, we found that continuing child-initiated instruction in kindergarten provided an extra boost in reading scores for children already exposed to teacher-directed and child-initiated instruction in PreK. This boost in reading scores associated with continuing child-initiated instruction into kindergarten was identified at the end of kindergarten, 3rd grade, and 8th grade [2].

Instructional continuity does not end in kindergarten! The positive benefits of participation in high-quality instruction for only one year can dissipate over time, and even if sustained, they are usually not large enough to substantially reduce achievement gaps. Research from the Child-Parent Centers indicates that high-quality education with an emphasis on P-3 continuity promotes sustained gains in achievement and positive adult well-being [5].

By: Jasmine Ernst & Arthur J. Reynolds