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Many kids aren't ready for kindergarten, warns Seattle childhood development researcher

It's important for kids to develop their social-emotional skills to succeed in kindergarten, according to a doctor with the Seattle Children's Research Institute.

SEATTLE — A Seattle doctor said many preschoolers won't be ready for Kindergarten in the fall because children missed out on important social-emotional developments during school closures. 

"Low-income children start school less prepared to learn on average than high-income children, and they struggle to catch up. We're going to see that even more here," said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at the Seattle Children's Research Institute. 

While schools have been closed, Dr. Christakis said many low-income families might not have the capacity to help teach their children at home or provide other enrichment opportunities. 

Kindergarten readiness has less to do with cognitive milestones like knowing how to count or the alphabet, and more to do with social-emotional skills which are better used to predict school and life success, Dr. Christakis said. 

Children develop those skills through play, which many kids have been deprived of during the pandemic.   

"It helps them develop creativity, it helps them develop cooperative skills, it helps them develop social skills," Dr. Christakis said. 

As kids play, they learn to share, take turns, cooperate, negotiate and develop self-control.

Dr. Christakis said studies done in Washington state have shown every dollar invested in early childhood education pays seven dollars back over the course of a child's lifetime. Children who develop social-emotional skills and are prepared for school are more likely to become productive citizens who pay taxes and contribute to society. 

Dr. Christakis said society will need to double or even triple early childhood education efforts in the near future to make up for time lost in the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it's important for schools to reopen as quickly as possible, which he believes they can do safely.