Who didn’t steal, or eat, their friends’ crayons in Kindergarten, pull their neighbors pony tail or have a meltdown over not being first in line at recess.  It happens, to the best of us.  But our behavior in Kindergarten could be a huge indicator of future success, according to a newly released 20 year study.

Performance in Kindergarten varies widely and can be impacted by many factors including socio-economic status, working vs. stay at home parents, parents education, race, gender, urban vs. suburban schooling, etc.  But there are averages or standards in children’s abilities entering Kindergarten that can be seen, according to the US National Center for Education Statistics:

  • 66% of entering Kindergarteners can recognize letters
  • 94% of entering Kindergarteners can count 10 objects

Overall health too may play a factor, according to parents on a five-category scale of general health status, ranging from “excellent” to “poor,” 51% of kindergartners are rated in the highest category and 83% are in at least “very good” health. With no more than 3% rated in “fair” or “poor” health.

This same group also shows some with advanced skills:

  • 29% of kindergartners can do more than recognize letters by name: they can associate them with sounds at the beginning of words.
  • 17% can associate letters with sounds at the end of words as well.
  • 2% of pupils (1in 50) begin kindergarten able to read simple sight words
  • 1% are also able to read more complex words in sentences.

Traditionally, it was accepted that the most academically advanced children in Kindergarten or grade school would have the most promising futures, but a new study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation from researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Duke University published in the American Journal of Public Health that followed children from Kindergarten over 20 years has shown that their social skills entering Kindergarten are a better predictor of success than academics.

Researchers tracked over 700 children across the US between Kindergarten until age 25.  Beginning in 1991, teachers assessed how kindergarten children interacted socially on a range of criteria including cooperation with peers, helpfulness to peers, ability to read and understand feelings, and problem solving ability without adult intervention.

Researchers then tracked if these Kindergarteners went on to graduate high school on time, attend college, earn a college degree, and if they found and kept a full-time job by age 25.  On the opposite side, negative behaviors were also tracked like involvement with crime, drugs, the need for public assistance and rate of mental health issues.

What researchers found were socially competent children in Kindergarten were much more likely to have a college degree and a full-time job by 25 than those children that showed limited social skills. Plus, those with limited social skills also had an increased chance of negative outcomes including getting arrested, binge drinking, and the need for public housing.

Researchers concluded that this study showed the importance of helping children develop social and emotional skills, not just academics.  According to Kristin Schubert, program director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation “emotional skills can determine whether a child goes to college or prison, and whether they end up employed or addicted.”

According to the lead author of the study, Damon Jones of the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Pennsylvania State University, this study shows that “intervention at a young age can help improve social and emotional skills in children.”