Point of View: Pre-kindergarten puts kids on solid path

Howard Burnston
A pre-K class in Bay County, Fla., during story time.

What is the best thing a parent can do to help their child succeed in kindergarten? Put them on the path for success.

Kindergarten teachers are effective at teaching skills such as reading and math. But what happens when a student doesn’t know how to sit still and listen to directions? Or how to socialize and communicate with peers and adults?

This is where Florida’s Voluntary Pre-kindergarten educational program (VPK) comes in. Child care centers and early learning providers offering VPK are properly trained in preparing children for kindergarten and instilling these lifelong skills in young learners.

At the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County, it is our mission that every child in Palm Beach County is ready for school and life. VPK is free and available to all 4-year-olds residing in Florida regardless of family income.

During this pandemic, unfortunately, Florida is seeing a 22% decrease in VPK enrollment. The drop is 19% in Palm Beach County, which causes the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County to worry about the incoming classes of kindergarten and VPK students.

We all want our children to be good readers, and VPK programs expose children to text-rich environments that plant the seeds for reading success. Research shows that high-quality early childhood education, such as VPK, improves attentiveness and has a positive long-term effect on children’s cognitive and social-emotional development.

We know that early language, phonological awareness, and pre-writing and pre-literacy skills that lay the foundation for reading ability and school readiness are acquired and built during the first years of life. In addition to early literacy skills, VPK also provides an early childhood educational experience that supports the development of pre-math skills and scientific thinking. Children will then be able to enter kindergarten with these important educational skills intact, setting them up for success for future learning.

Why is this so important? Children who participate in Florida’s free VPK educational program are more ready for kindergarten than those who don't. Children will enter school with more confidence, having already learned what to expect from teachers, peers, and the classroom setting itself. Simply put, quality early learning and VPK programs help to create and build a brighter future for our children.

If you have a child who was born between Sept. 2, 2016, and Sept. 1, 2017, they are eligible for the 2021-2022 school year VPK program. And if you have a child who was born between Sept. 2, 2015, and Sept. 1, 2016, they are eligible for this year’s 2021 VPK summer program — and it’s not too late to apply or enroll. The 2021 VPK summer program starts in May or June of 2021, depending on which provider you choose. Apply today from a computer, mobile phone, or other digital device. Visit or call the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County at 561-514-3300. We have a team of compassionate, knowledgeable, and dedicated specialists ready and able to help you enroll your child, and to answer any questions you may have. As parents, we want what’s best for our children.

We may not always have all the answers, but fortunately, we have the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County available to help point us in the right direction. Please, take advantage of the state's VPK programs to set your child on the path for future success.

Howard Burnston, senior vice president and senior corporate counsel at First Horizon Bank, is board chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County.