NIH News Backgrounder
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development

EMBARGOED BY FORUM ON CHILD
AND FAMILY STATISTICS
Thusday, July 13, 2000
Contact: Barbara Marenus
(202) 502-7391

Special Indicator Shows Majority of Beginning Kindergartners Know Letters

A special indicator from the America's Children report showed that 66 percent of children entering kindergarten can recognize letters of the alphabet, and 29 percent could recognize the sounds associated with letters that begin words.

The indicator, "Beginning Kindergartners' Knowledge and Skills," measured children's knowledge of letters and letter sounds, social skills, and the ways in which they approach school and learning. The full report on which the indicator is based is available at http://nces.ed.gov.

One measure found that, overall, 66 percent of children entering kindergarten could recognize the letters of the alphabet--an essential prerequisite for learning to read. This skill varied by the mother's level of education, with 38 percent of children whose mothers had not completed high school being able to recognize letters, as opposed to 86 percent of children whose mothers had a bachelor's degree or higher.

An important skill needed for learning to read is the ability to recognize the sounds of letters that begin and end words. In all, 29 percent of children could recognize the letter sounds that begin words, and 17 percent could recognize sounds at the end of words. (A report by the National Reading Panel found that teaching children to understand and manipulate such letter sounds significantly improves their reading and spelling abilities. Copies of the report are available at http://www.nichd.nih.gov and from the NICHD Clearinghouse, 1-800-370-2943.)

Regarding social skills, the America's Children report stated that children's experiences with their peers will likely influence their attitudes toward school and learning. As rated by their teachers, 74 percent of beginning kindergartners often accepted peer ideas for group activities, and 77 percent often formed and kept friendships.

The report noted that children's dispositions and inclinations toward learning also affect their ability to learn. According to their teachers, 71 percent of kindergartners often persisted at tasks and 75 percent often seemed eager to learn.

The report also noted that children's abilities in all these areas varied widely and were dependent upon their mother's educational levels.