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Closing the learning gap: Are your kids prepped for preschool?

Research finds that children who start school behind their peers often stay behind.

But now, social scientists are looking at ways parents can encourage an early love of learning to help kids, with a focus on Latino families, reach their full potential when they enter the classroom.

Students at the Pittsburgh Latino Community Center afterschool program have an important job today: painting a mural that reflects their Latin American heritage.

All this fun also supports early learning skills.

“This is a dual purpose of getting them excited about their heritage, and then them feeling a little better about speaking in Spanish because that is critical. That bilingualism," said Emily Blair, the Out-of-Schooltime Supervisor of the Latino Community Center.

Developmental psychologist Dr. Christina Padilla and former colleagues at Georgetown studied data from approximately 3,500 children of immigrants and children of Hispanic native-born parents as they were entering kindergarten.

“So, kids who start behind in kindergarten even before they’ve even gotten to first grade, if they start behind in kindergarten they tend to stay behind up until eighth grade, high school, and beyond,” Padilla said.

Padilla wanted to see what factors at home could help. Among other things, parents reported on their activities at home, like reading books, playing games, doing puzzles and storytelling in English and Spanish.

“There is a really rich tradition of telling stories of either folklore or stories from the family,” Padilla said.

The researchers found when families engaged in these activities, their children entered school with greater reading skills, better attentiveness and eagerness to learn.

Researchers also found that Head Start participation was associated with higher math and reading scores compared to home-based learning, specifically for children of immigrants. They say that suggests that early education programs that address the needs of immigrant children may be able to better prepare them for entry into school.