School readiness — beyond the first day of kindergarten

Parents and organizations play important roles in providing children with positive experiences that prepare them for school beginning at birth.

Over 16 years, Kristy Fenwick has worked with hundreds of Dubuque County families, helping prepare them for the day their children enter kindergarten. Seeing those kids eager and ready for school never gets old.

“I’ve worked with some children from the time they were born,” says Fenwick, who coordinates the Parents as Teachers program through Four Oaks. “Seeing them go from little babies to kindergarteners holding their backpacks and ready for school is so rewarding.”

With the first day of school just around the corner, many people like Fenwick are feeling that same excitement for children about to enter kindergarten. Many are also feeling nervous, wondering how kids will fare in a new environment. With so much importance placed on school readiness, parents and guardians can’t help but wonder: Is my child ready?

School readiness starts at home

As Fenwick knows, preparing children for school doesn’t just happen in the months prior to kindergarten — and it doesn’t end when kids walk into the classroom for the first time. At the Community Foundation, our Every Child Reads initiative is focused on school readiness year-round, and our partners like Four Oaks are key to ensuring all children in the community are prepared for a lifetime of learning.

As children’s primary caregivers, parents and guardians play a major role in getting children ready for school, and Parents as Teachers is a prime example of how local organizations can provide parents and guardians with essential support.

“When it comes to resources for children and families, people often think about schools and child care centers,” Fenwick says. “There’s also a need for resources that help parents — particularly those with children from birth to age 5 — be the best they can be.”

All families in Dubuque County with children age 5 and younger are eligible to participate for free in Parents as Teachers. The program has four components — home visits, groups, developmental screenings, and a resource network — each of which equips parents and guardians with tools to help them create nurturing environments and prepare children for school.

Opportunities for play, bonding and ongoing support

During home visits, parent educators bring activities that foster educational play, such as interactive stories and finger puppets, directly to families and help them understand why these activities are good for the youngest household members. Through group gatherings families get together for positive, supportive activities, such as a scavenger hunt around town based on the Ever Child Reads book Be a Healthy You! In Dubuque.

Beyond fun activities, Parents as Teachers provides resources, including developmental screenings and a robust network of supports. Fenwick says families reach out when they need to know about anything from library events to food baskets.

All of these components foster school readiness in different ways. Play activities are early learning opportunities, outings help children build bonds with neighbors and the community, and resources provide parents with the reassurance that they will have ongoing support throughout their journeys.

Ultimately, they add up to positive experiences that foster social-emotional wellness and help children be ready for school — on the first day of kindergarten and beyond.

If you are interested in participating in Parents as Teachers, contact Kristy Fenwick at or call 563-557-3100.