It’s a startling statistic: Just a little more than half of Minnesota children who started kindergarten last year were ready for the experience, according to a state school readiness study.

As the state’s workforce ages and jobs require more skills, community stakeholders say it’s more important than ever that Minnesota’s children go to school ready to learn and succeed.

That’s why a group of business leaders developed an easy-to-use website to help parents gauge whether their children are on track for kindergarten. Minnesota Business for Early Learning is asking businesses across the state to promote the site — — to working parents.

“I think we have something pretty unique for working families,” said Fred Senn, executive board member for MnBEL and founding partner of Minneapolis-based Fallon Worldwide. “There’s a vast number of kids that just aren’t quite ready. Those are the families we’re after.”

The site has a 10-minute quiz designed for parents with questions about their child’s development. State education officials and University of Minnesota experts helped boil down research on developmental milestones into laymen’s terms to help parents determine how their child is progressing in language, social, cognitive and motor skills.

If the child needs more attention in an area, the website provides links to helpful resources.

Research shows that investing early in the most disadvantaged kids saves taxpayers in the long run. But children from more well-to-do families also lag behind when it comes to the skills they need to be successful in school, said Art Rolnick, senior fellow and co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Sometimes parents wait too long, believing they don’t have to think about school readiness until their child is 4. Getting ready to learn begins much earlier than parents realize. They can use everyday experiences to strengthen their child’s cognitive and social skills, said Rolnick, the former director of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis who has touted the economic benefits of early-childhood education.

“The site is a very inexpensive way to reach those parents where their kids are on the cusp. There’s virtually no cost to businesses to disseminate that information to employees,” Rolnick said. “Now, the question is will parents use the site and use its information to intervene if their child needs help.

And that’s what’s important, experts say. If a child starts school behind, it’s not easy for him to catch up. Studies show that if kids don’t read proficiently by third grade, odds are against them for all future learning.

Rolnick said he sees as a starting point. Minnesota needs to invest more money in early childhood development, he said, especially for its most disadvantaged kids.

This raises the awareness for everyone on the importance of early education,” Rolnick said. “We have to figure out ways to make this issue more visible and more concrete to the general public.”

That’s part of the intent, said Mark Scally, former CEO of McGladrey and an executive committee member of MnBEL.

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Source: St. Cloud Times –