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FINE Newsletter, Volume V, Issue 1
Issue Topic: New Directions for the New Year

Voices from the Field

Harvard Family Research Project talks with Sonia Gómez-Banrey, Director of Countdown to Kindergarten for Boston Public Schools (BPS), and Katherine (Kacy) Hughes, Senior Project Manager for Early Childhood and Family Learning at Boston Children’s Museum, about the collaboration between BPS and the Museum as part of the Countdown to Kindergarten program.

How did the Countdown to Kindergarten program begin?

Countdown to Kindergarten (CDtoK) began in 1999 as a small initiative within the Boston Public School (BPS) system that focused on helping families with the transition to kindergarten, mainly from preschool programs and Head Start programs. The program began with multiple community partners, including Boston Children’s Museum, whose mission, in part, is to serve the educational needs of the broader community. CDtoK has maintained these partnerships and has since expanded its programming to include a wide variety of school readiness activities that families can do at home and in the community to prepare their children for kindergarten.1 A major focus of CDtoK is increasing families’ awareness about the importance of early kindergarten registration.

What are a few of the noteworthy aspects of CDtoK’s development, particularly as they relate to the partnership between Boston Children’s Museum and BPS?

First, we established the CDtoK program to respond to the most significant issues that the BPS community was facing related to school readiness. We used local data, including input from parents and teachers, to get an understanding of their concerns so that we could better prepare children and their families for the transition to kindergarten. Second, while we originally designed our program to address specific problems related to kindergarten registration and enrollment, we have since broadened our focus and outreach considerably. Today, in addition to assisting with these logistical issues, one of our primary goals is to help foster a sense of community and support among families in the BPS system so they can feel connected to one another as well as to the schools their children will be attending. And third, the CDtoK program has a committed partnership with Boston Children’s Museum, a major community institution, which furthers the goals of CDtoK. The Museum has created a permanent exhibit space that is modeled after a kindergarten classroom to help children and families learn about the kindergarten experience while visiting the Museum.

Why did early kindergarten registration become a focus of the program?

Countdown to Kindergarten EventBoston Public Schools' Superintendent, Carol Johnson, and a family attending the Celebration event.

We realized that late kindergarten registration was a significant issue within the BPS community, which was impacting families’ ability to secure a spot in a kindergarten classroom that was a good fit for their child. Kindergarten enrollment in BPS is determined by school choice, and the registration process begins early in the year prior to enrollment. Families are invited to visit schools starting in November and register for their top choices in January and February. School assignments are mailed out beginning in late March. Our data revealed that many families—up to 73 percent in a given year—were not participating in the first round of registration, which meant that they came into the process too late to take full advantage of the school choice system. Additionally, some families were not enrolling their children in kindergarten at all.2 We recognized that many families and children were missing crucial benefits of goodness-of-fit kindergarten learning experiences and developed strategies to help promote families’ awareness of the benefits of kindergarten enrollment, in general, and early registration, in particular.

To help address this issue, we have developed a variety of outreach methods to try to inform as many families as possible that the BPS system is based on school choice—but that “choice” is something that they can meaningfully take advantage of only if they are proactive about the school selection process. We provide parents with a timeline that describes what they should do each month, from October to August, in the year before their child begins kindergarten in order to ensure that their child has as many school options as possible. We also provide resources about the different types of schools that exist within BPS, so that families can make informed choices about which school to enroll their child in—choices based not only on test scores, but also on specific programming and the overall culture of each school.

Tell us more about the collaboration between BPS and Boston Children’s Museum—what does this partnership look like in practice?


Ready for Success: Creating Collaborative and Thoughtful Transitions into Kindergarten

This brief examines important elements of high-quality kindergarten transition strategies and profiles promising practices from six states.

 A New Approach to Transitions: Welcoming Families and Their Ideas into Kindergarten Classrooms

This FINE Newsletter article profiles the Ready Freddy: Pathways to Kindergarten Success program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development.

Boston Public Schools and Boston Children’s Museum have co-developed several engaging transition-focused projects. As one of the founding members of CDtoK, the Museum has been instrumental in helping to further CDtoK’s goals. In 2010, the Museum created the Countdown to Kindergarten classroom exhibit, which serves as a go-to place for parents, caretakers, and teachers seeking resources about kindergarten. The space is modeled after an “ideal” kindergarten classroom, where visitors—children and parents alike—can get a sense of what to expect in a BPS kindergarten classroom. The CDtoK classroom also features resources for parents and teachers about specific developmental competencies that foster school readiness.

In addition, before the new school year begins, the Museum holds a CDtoK Citywide Celebration for BPS families at the Museum. This is a free event that helps children, their parents, and other caregivers get really excited about starting kindergarten.

How was Boston Children’s Museum’s CDtoK classroom developed?

When we began to develop the CDtoK classroom exhibit, we brought in local preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, and parents to solicit their feedback and address their concerns so that the classroom would represent the interests of all of these stakeholders. We knew that many parents within the BPS community had lots of unanswered questions about kindergarten and weren’t sure how to best prepare their children for the kindergarten year. The classroom is designed to engage all Museum visitors, regardless of their age; help children and families reflect and build on what children have already learned in preschool; demonstrate what is expected of children in kindergarten; and support parents’ efforts to help their children be ready to start school.

The classroom features resources and suggested activities that address key childhood developmental competencies. For instance, by providing writing boards and puzzles to enhance children’s fine motor skills in the classroom, we can help parents recognize the importance of these foundational skills, learn how to practice them at home with their children, and understand how children will use these skills in kindergarten. We also distribute BPS Kindergarten Handbooks to parents, which emphasize the skills that children should be learning not only at home but in kindergarten as well.

Why did you create the CDtoK Citywide Celebration event?

The Museum had already started thinking about holding a family event focused on the transition to kindergarten because of our work with local preschool programs, and then we learned that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and BPS were exploring ways to make the transition to kindergarten easier for children and families. We proposed a family event for all children entering BPS kindergarten programs and held the first Celebration event in August 1999.

These Celebrations help to foster a sense of community among incoming kindergarten families by bringing them together to celebrate the completion of the months-long registration process and their success in enrolling their children in a school of their choice. For some families, the Celebration visit is their first time in the Museum. We open up all of the exhibit areas and staff them so that families can explore the whole Museum and see all of the different learning experiences it has to offer.

The event also gives us an opportunity to provide families with information and guidance on a wide range of topics, including the importance of nutritious food as “brain fuel” to help children learn and grow, as well as the best kinds of clothing for kindergarteners to wear, given the activities that are likely to take place during the day and the fact that they will be expected to go to the bathroom independently. We also offer information about local libraries; provide free vision and basic dental exams, including referrals for any necessary follow-up appointments; and organize a panel of representatives from the BPS system to answer parents’ questions about everything from transportation to BPS’s Parent University classes.

How has the CDtoK classroom changed over time?

We have made a number of changes to the set-up of our Museum classroom exhibit, based on our observations of the needs and interests of the families that take part in our program. When we first created the classroom, we did not anticipate that so many toddlers would love the exhibit! We realized that many toddlers were visiting the CDtoK classroom in the mornings and during the weekdays, even though the classroom’s resources and activities were designed for a slightly older age group. This led us to think harder about the kinds of messages we could convey to a parent of an 18-month-old about kindergarten readiness. We now design programming for younger children on most days. For instance, we always keep blocks, small cars and trucks, and puppets in our dramatic play area.

We also use feedback from families to understand which aspects of the CDtoK classroom they find valuable and what activities and features they would like to see implemented the next time they visit. Many families have said that they appreciate having a CDtoK staff person (“teacher”) in the classroom, not only to answer questions but also to model activities.

What progress has CDtoK made over the years?

Each year, we see an increase in the number of parents attending school-based events, such as the pre-registration School Preview Time sessions that occur from November through January, and we have seen a corresponding increase (from 27 percent in 1999 to 90 percent in 2011) in the number of families who are registering during the first round of the process.

In addition to helping families better navigate the registration process, we use the CDtoK program to raise public awareness about the value of kindergarten itself. Kindergarten is not mandated in Massachusetts, and when we started this program, up to 8 percent of first graders were coming into the BPS system without having attended kindergarten. This put them at a big disadvantage because they had not experienced the “orientation” to the social and academic dynamics of the school environment that kindergarten provides. Since the launch of our program, we have seen an increase in the number of new families registering for kindergarten, which shows a cultural shift in public opinion. In the fall of 2011, for instance, the percentage of incoming first graders who had not attended kindergarten was down to 4 percent.

We have also noted an increase in the number of parents attending our Celebration event. At the first event in 1999, 658 families attended. This past August, 1,631 families came out to help celebrate the transition to kindergarten, with another 1,200 families opting to participate in smaller local Celebrations, called Kindergarten Days, held in local public libraries. We believe the collaboration between BPS and Boston Children’s Museum has contributed to these gains by allowing us to leverage a variety of school readiness and kindergarten awareness strategies that we could not have successfully addressed by ourselves.

Because of these successes, we have been able to broaden the CDtoK program’s reach beyond the BPS system, both directly and indirectly. The Museum is using funds from the federal Race to the Top program to work with all Massachusetts regions in creating CDtoK Celebration events, and we will soon be consulting with Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, to help them create a Countdown-style classroom exhibit. In addition, the idea of CDtoK-style programs has been disseminated nationally, with many communities creating similar programs, such as the “Blast Off to Kindergarten” program in Saint Paul, Minnesota.


1 There is more to the Countdown to Kindergarten program than the collaboration between BPS and Boston Children’s Museum; for additional information, please visit: and

2In Massachusetts, kindergarten is optional.


This resource is part of the February 2013 FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family involvement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access the archive of past issues, please visit



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