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Benefits - Families

A Community Approach to 4 year old kindergarten allows families options in providing quality care and education, regardless of ability or family income.

Click on the 4KCA benefit below to read excerpts from …. Bob Kann’s Report “54 Benefits…” and to see the results of our survey of community councils sharing the impact 4KCA has had in their community.

  1. Increased likelihood that children of working parents can attend 4K.
  2. Opportunity to select the 4K program that best fits their family.
  3. Decreases stress for families.
  4. Increased likelihood that all young siblings are in same location.
  5. More comfort in sending children to a community based program.
  6. More comfort in sending children to a familiar location.
  7. More options for families of children with special needs.
  8. Increased opportunity to see their child with special needs succeed in an inclusive environment.
  9. A variety of financial benefits
  10. Increased understanding of child development.
  11. Increased knowledge of and participation in community programs and resources.
  12. Provides recreational opportunities they otherwise would not have.
  13. Increased contact with ELL teachers.
  14. Opportunity to merge Head Start, Special Education, and 4K services into one program.


12. Having 4K and early childhood programs in the same location increases the likelihood that a child of working parents can attend four-year-old kindergarten.

Colleen Witthuhn, Director of Early Learning Programs at Racine Unified School District, talks about the benefits to working families, and Sarah Dill, from Meeting House in Madison, describes more benefits of 4KCA.


Dana Sommerfeld, Director of State and Federal Programs for the Chippewa Falls School District, explains,

“Parents are allowed to select their 4K location. They can keep their child in the same program they were in before 4K Community Approach. Parents also have the option of bus transportation making it much easier for the parent in terms of scheduling their work life, their family life, and now a new thing that’s coming in to them, a school life. If the parent is using wraparound care, the parent is probably using the same caregiver the child had since they were an infant and so it’s not a big transition for them.”

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13. The 4K Community Approach program offers families the opportunity to select the 4K program location and schedule that best meets their family’s needs.


Marcia Flaherty, Dana Sommerfeld, and Sarah Dill, talk about how 4KCA has helped programs best meet the needs of families in the Manitowoc, Chippewa Falls, and Madison communities.


The 4K Community Approach program provides parents with the widest variety of options of where to send their child for 4 year old kindergarten. For some parents, the program’s proximity to home is the compelling factor guiding that choice. For others, it might be a program that is close to their workplace or offers the hours of care needed by the parents. Some parents choose not to send their four-year-old to their local public school simply because it is too far from their home to meet their needs.


Belinda Grantham, Director of Early Education for the Kenosha Public Schools describes several of the benefits resulting from the choice afforded by the 4K Community Approach,


“It {4K-CA} allows us to have outreach with children that we would not be able to serve in a school setting because of the family’s needs for child care in many cases. It also allows families the opportunity to attend a location that might be actually closer than the school the child would be going to. Bottom line- we’re building stronger foundation pieces- both academic and social and emotional. All of them will be going to kindergarten programs, so we’re just getting them in advance. It’s also increasing awareness of our centers in our school. When the school teachers are reading reports about a student, the report is often from a child care center, so it increases their awareness that the centers are out there.”

Deborah Shimanek, Principal and 4K Collaborative Site Coordinator for the Manitowoc Public School District, shares a story about a particular child who received necessary services because his parents were able to choose a 4K program near their home,

““There’s a little boy named L… who had some significant autistic tendencies. The parents approach was to not have him come to school. He had not gone through the Birth to 3 Program. Even though his pediatrician suggested some things, Mom and Dad chose to not follow through on it. They did enroll him in 4K, but he didn’t come for a while. We began to meet with Mom and Dad. This little boy was overwhelmed by the setting. So we started small, and got him there {to the program} before everyone else got there so he could settle in and get used to the environment before it became too much. Then we were fortunate that we could have therapists work with him right in the setting. We had a big overall behavioral plan for when he got overwhelmed- where he could go for a break, how he could utilize resources that were in the room to provide him a break, and some of those self-monitoring things. By December, he was in school full-time and Mom and Dad were confident about him being in school full-time. He does now have an IEP and we now have connected them with some of the autism resources within the autism community. So I believe without that help, he would have been a kid with severe attendance issues we’d be dealing with as well as not have built that bridge with the parents to say, “We’re going to support you on this journey with us and we have resources available both to help L… and to help you. … I don’t think they would have enrolled him in the 4K program had it not been a site that had been as close to their home as it was.”

Belinda Grantham, Director of Early Education, Kenosha Public Schools, said,

“In some communities, parents also have the option of choosing to have child care at a location different from where the 4K program is located, but the school district transports the child to that second location.”

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14. Having 4K and early childhood programs in the same location reduces the stress for parents who are both working and caring for a young child.



Parents can choose a 4K program housed in an early childhood facility that offers wraparound care. This option has resulted in many working parents feeling less stress because they no longer have to move their children or arrange to have their children moved between locations during working hours. Parents receive information about how their child is doing from only one source. If they need to provide information to a teacher or administrator, they only need to call one program.

Tammy Zielsdorf, Director of Kenosha’s Just Kid Inn Child Care Center, explains,

“… It helps them {parents} if they’re working and they can just leave a child with us and we take care of them after the class is done. So they don’t have to worry about transportation. It’s consistent for their child. It’s always consistent. They’re not moving from place to place. So that’s huge for the parent and the child.”

Belinda Grantham, Director of Early Education, Kenosha Public Schools, said,

“… It enables parents to stay at work because they’re {the children} in a center where they can have the wraparound care- in the morning, afternoon, or into the evening, if necessary. So the parents can continue to go to work or school. In our case a lot of them are going to school.”

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15. Parents with more than one child under the age of 5 can have all of their preschool children in the same location.


The 4K Community Approach has resulted in parents more commonly sending the younger siblings of four-year olds to the same location for child care or other early childhood education programs. This is more convenient for the parents than having their children in different locations. It saves them time, the inconvenience of having multiple drop-off locations, and some transportation costs.

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16. Parents who were hesitant to send their child to 4K in the public schools are more comfortable sending their child to a community-based program.

Sarah Dill, Executive Director at the Meeting House Nursery School in Madison, describes a benefit of 4KCA to families.


Sometimes parents feel uncomfortable sending their young children into public schools. This may be the result of negative experiences the parents had in schools when they were children, fears of placing their children in a setting with hundreds of other children, apprehensions about mixing their young children with older children, or a variety of other reasons. The choices provided by the 4K Community Approach program enable parents who have reservations about sending their four-year-old into a school setting to instead send their child into a community setting.

Deborah Shimanek, Principal and 4K Site Coordinator for the Manitowoc Public School District, describes the benefit of the community option for the family,

“I can think of a story about one set of parents who did not have a good learning experience in their learning setting and were very hesitant to send their child to 4K. It took a lot of encouragement, support, and meetings. We actually picked up the child at home in our vehicles that were licensed to do that to encourage Mom and Dad to get him into school. I’ve now seen that student in first and second grade, and he is blossoming. I believe that building those bridges with the parents early in the community setting was very important. These parents did not feel confidence in the schools because of the painful memories they had of their own learning experiences in schools. Without the 4K-CA, he wouldn’t have had the success. He’s bright, he’s learning well, and he’s confident in his reading. And this is a little boy we had to sometimes carry to 4K and who had a lot of the anxiety because of his parents’ anxiety. That was a huge step for him and I believe it happened because he was in a community site.”

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17. It is more reassuring for parents who have previously had their child in an early childhood program to now utilize 4K in the same learning environment

The 4K Community Approach allows parents to select the location where their child will attend four-year-old kindergarten. Consequently, they may be able to choose the same site for four-year-old kindergarten that had cared for their child prior to entering 4K. Having such familiarity with the program gives the parents confidence and a reassuring sense that their child is being well-taken care of. It also makes the transition to 4K easier for the child.

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18. Families who might not have been able to find a child care program to accept their child with special needs now have access to full-time care at a community child care program.

In many communities, the 4K Community Approach has been instrumental in providing parents who have children with special needs the opportunity to place their child in fully inclusive 4K programs in community settings. The often unprecedented combination of hosting four-year-old kindergarten in venues where wraparound care also is available for children with special needs is almost miraculous for parents who never had this opportunity for their child before. Parents now have increased flexibility in terms of employment, attending school themselves, or other choices they can make with the freedom resulting from having their child receiving care during the day. The child benefits from receiving instruction from a licensed kindergarten teacher, receiving therapies and child care in the same setting as the 4K program, and interacting with peers on a daily basis.

In Manitowoc, the school district is so committed to making sure the needs of children with special needs are met that they reserve three-to-five slots for children with special needs at their Salvation Army 4K program site. If parents of children with special needs required wraparound care for their child, it is now guaranteed that there will be space available in the Salvation Army program. Moreover, this means that their child will have the opportunity to be in a classroom with peers, most of whom will not have special needs.

Lori Brandt, a special education teacher with the Manitowoc Public Schools, describes the initial trepidation felt by many parents of children with special needs as they considered sending their child into a 4K program and their elation when they found out how well it worked for their child and family,

“In terms of children with special needs, it was surprising to me how many parents wondered if their child would really be able to be a part of a 4K classroom out in the community. I think they figured their kids would only be able to be with other kids with disabilities or they thought there would be a lot more special education support if they sent their child to Riverview School {the public school}. I think they needed reassurance at first that their child would do fine and that they would make friends. When they saw that happening, they were surprised and in some cases expressed their pleasure at parent-teacher conferences saying, ’Wow, I can also have my child in wraparound childcare and actually work at my job or get a job.’”

Virginia Brydges, Director of Every Child’s Place Child Care Center in Kenosha, explains,
“…Every Child’s Place is a nonprofit with a place for every child…Those children with special needs are in a great setting with a very astute four-year-old kindergarten teacher and working with our own staff to achieve the goals for that child in the very best possible setting. For me, it’s been a great experience, seeing the child gain from that curriculum {Creative Curriculum}, gaining from that teacher’s expertise, and working collaboration with the therapists that come in and out of there every single day.”

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19. Parents of children with special needs benefit from learning that their child can successfully function in an inclusive 4K program in a community setting.

Prior to the introduction of the 4K Community Approach program, parents in many communities wondered if their children who have special needs would be able to successfully function in a four-year-old kindergarten classroom in a community setting. Historically, children with special needs were typically segregated in classrooms with other children with special needs. The parents often believed that their children would only be able to function in a classroom with other children with special needs or in an inclusive classroom within a school setting. Instead, many of the 4K Community Approach programs enable children with special needs to thrive in inclusive classrooms in community settings. The often surprised parents find that they can simultaneously get their child care needs met through wraparound care, continue to work at their job or look for a job, and take comfort knowing that their children are members of fully integrated classrooms where they can learn from their peers and their peers can learn from them.

Virginia Brydges, Director of Every Child’s Place Child Care Center in Kenosha, describes how parents of children with special needs get to see their children succeed because wraparound care means that their children can flourish when they can remain in one community setting for a longer period of time than just the three hours daily instruction provided for four-year-old kindergarten,

“We service children of all abilities, so there are several children who have autism in our program. For a parent to see the growth and development of their child, who before coming to our program did nothing but scream and yell and kick and maybe bite other children and now the parent has been able to see their child completely engaged, fully participating, making friends, and being around other children without exhibiting all of those negative behaviors. …The transitions the KUSD {Kenosha Unified School District} teachers bring to that group setting, the routine of everything that goes on,
and I think having them in that community setting for a longer period of time than just the three hours of 4K really fosters all of that development. Their parents are able to see that their child is able to conform and follow routines and make friends.”

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20. The 4K Community Approach program can provide financial benefits to families.

Sarah Dill, Executive Director at the Meeting House Nursery School in Madison, describes a benefit of 4KCA to families.

Communities in Wisconsin that offer four-year-old kindergarten have created an opportunity that didn’t previously exist for preschool children to have a high quality educational experience that is not dependent on a family’s income or ability to transport their child to 4K. All participating school districts are obligated to offer kindergarten free-of- charge and to provide transportation to-and-from four-year-old kindergarten at the same level with which they provide transportation to any other K-12 student.

Since four-year-old kindergarten is typically a 4 day per week program for approximately 12 hours per week, the 4K Community Approach may provide more opportunities for parents who can not afford but would like their child to attend a program for more hours. Some Child Care and Early Childhood Education Programs provide scholarships so that the child can stay at their site when the 4K program is not in session. Programs might reduce the full-day rate for children who are in 4K and need additional care..

Parents can also save on transportation costs by having the school transport their child to-or-from 4K and they can combine this with wraparound care services. For example, a child potentially can be picked up at home by the district school bus in the morning and transported to a 4K program. The child can remain in the same venue for an after-school child care program and the parents can pick up their child at the end of the day. Whereas the parent previously would have had to transport the child both to-and-from the child care venue, they now only have to drive once daily. This is particularly valuable for parents who live in rural areas and have to travel considerable distances to transport their child to-or-from the 4K/child care site.

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21. The 4K Community Approach increases parents’ knowledge of child development and their understanding of their own child.

Natasha Harris, Associate Principal at Racine Unified School Districts, talks about benefits of 4KCA to parents.

Wisconsin’s four-year-old kindergarten program allows local communities to determine the ratios between teachers and students. In some community settings, programs decide to have particularly low teacher-student ratios so that they can have more time to attend to each child and to communicate with parents. The latter provides 4K Community Approach program staff with more opportunities to speak with parents about the successes of their child, concerns about the child, insights into child development in general and specifically about their child, and innumerable other opportunities for the community program staff and parents to work together to understand and appreciate the child they’re parenting or working with.

In some of 4K Community Approach programs, teachers send parents daily reports regarding what their child did during the day and any other observations the teacher chooses to share. Sometimes they began this practice because the 4K program is housed in a facility in which the child care and early childhood education programs already were providing parents with a daily report and so the 4K teachers continued this practice. Not only does such communication help parents’ better understand what’s transpiring with their child, but it provides them with conversation topics to initiate with their child.

In addition, many of the community-based programs have specific requirements to provide parent-based education. In Chippewa Falls, for example, each community site is required to provide at least twenty hours of on-site parent education, and they send home a “continuous stream” of information for parents through their newsletters.

Dana Sommerfeld, Director of State and Federal Programs, Chippewa Falls School District, describes how the 4K Community Approach program helps families understand child development,

“…Another benefit is we’re able to help families understand child development in phases. Because we’re continually observing those four-year-olds throughout the year and guiding that growth, we’re able to give parents much better feedback about what they’re doing well and what their children are doing well. We also help parents and children understand that everyone’s developing at a different rate. I think that’s something often missing, especially among at-home Moms, parents using in-home care, or parents whose children aren’t having many experiences with other kids and have little experience with how their child fits into the spectrum…I have a lot of documentation about how that growth occurs over the year and it’s remarkable. That’s a big benefit and a big story for us just to see the amounts of understanding that’s happening with parents about their child’s development.”

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22. The 4K Community Approach program increases opportunities for families to participate in community programs and their familiarity with community resources.

Heather Cramer, Early Learning Principal at Stevens Point Area School District, and John Schlender, Principal at Mayville School District, talk about opportunities families discover in their communities using 4KCA.

The 4K Community Approach program has expanded the opportunities for families to participate in community programs and their access to community facilities and resources. Families who only use the 4K program housed in a community site are invited to the community program’s family fun nights, parent education programs, and other parent/family activities. The community-wide focus of 4K Community Approach program has connected families to community resources in a variety of ways.

In Manitowoc, all families from the participating 4K sites throughout the city have been invited to a family night swim at the Riverview School, the 4K Community Approach program school site. Children and their parents also have ridden the school buses together to spend a day exploring the Rahr Memorial School Forest. Manitowoc’s 4K Community Approach program hosts a Family Activity Night at the YMCA, one of the 4K Community Approach program sites, where families use the facilities and parents learn different ways to play with their children and keep them active and moving. Families in any 4K program in Manitowoc also receive free day-passes to the YMCA as another way of extending this community resource to the families. YMCA CEO Steve Smith said he is seeing parents engaged in more physical activities with their children as a result of 4K Community Approach program. In other words, the 4K-CA program increases opportunities for 4K families to use both the facilities and resources of the schools and those of community venues connected to 4K Community Approach program.

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23. In some community programs, the 4K Community Approach provides children and families with recreational opportunities they otherwise would not have.

A unique strength of the 4K Community Approach program is that it provides communities opportunities to connect educational programming with recreational and activities. In Manitowoc, the community took advantage of this opportunity by remodeling the YMCA and placing three four-year-old kindergarten classrooms within the refurbished YMCA building. As a result, children and families involved with those 4K classrooms receive many opportunities to take advantage of recreational activities offered by the YMCA since it’s all in the same facility.

All children who attend 4K at the YMCA receive free gymnastics and free swimming as part of their programming. Parents often exercise in the YMCA before or after picking up their children from the YMCA wraparound child care program. This gives the parents an opportunity to get their own health and well-being taken care of when they’re not working while simultaneously having the comfort of knowing their child is receiving quality care. All children in any of the 4K Community Approach programs in the city of Manitowoc get invited to family events at the YMCA, such as the Y’s Halloween celebration. The YMCA particularly tries to attract four-year-olds and their families for its New Year’s Eve celebration because of the bonds it’s forged with the 4K community. Hence, the entire city benefits from having a 4K program housed in the YMCA.

Steve Smith, the CEO of the YMCA, also describes how providing physical activities during the day for 4K children has potential benefits for their families,

“…It’s also about giving those parents the opportunity to have those {physical fitness activities} covered during the day so the parent can then say, ‘The child’s already received that during the day. I don’t’ need to come back to the Y to do that again.’ So that helps out with the family time at home making sure they’re spending quality time with their children instead of worrying about ‘where is the next place I have to be.’”

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24. Teachers and translators from the school district can work with English Language Learner (ELL) children and their parents in the community programs.

The 4K Community Approach program enables parents whose children are English Language Learners (ELL) to send their children to community programs where translation services are available to help their children. In Manitowoc, for example, during the first few years of their 4K Community Approach program, ELL children were rarely placed in community sites because translation services weren’t available. In recent years, however, the school district has made a concerted effort to provide translators and other ELL support staff into community sites so that parents can send their children there. According to Deborah Shimanek, the Principal for the 4K Community Approach program for the Manitowoc Public School District, “These families now usually have the best attendance at our family activity nights, so again I think it’s really built some bridges with those families, too.”

Deborah also gives another example of how the 4K Community Approach program benefited an ELL child,

“One Hispanic family- it was their first experience with schooling in our community. With the help of our translator going to the site and talking with the child and more importantly helping us communicate with the parents about our program, the little girl learned English fast. By the time she left 4K, she was almost fluent, and her parents went on some of the school forest trips so that they could experience some of the community resources outside of their home. It really did help that family to have faith and trust in the school system as well as get child to school on time, which we had struggled with at times. They saw the value of the education and the girl continues to have success in our system. The community sites would not have access to a translator without the 4K-CA program.”

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25. The 4K Community Approach program allows communities to merge Head Start, Special Education services, and 4K into one program at multiple school sites.

Lynn Hammen, Director of Education at UW-Oshkosh, Mary Jo Hite, Director at Head Start, and Colleen Witthuhn, Director of Early Learning Programs at Racine Unified School District, share their thoughts on the benefits of 4KCA.

One of the benefits of the 4K-CA approach is that each participating community can design the program to fits the needs of their specific community. There is no expectation nor mandate that one model will fit all communities. In Kenosha, the community took advantage of this flexibility to design a unique 4K Community Approach program in which the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) is uncharacteristically the Head Start program grantee. This has enabled the KUSD to integrate special education services, Head Start, and 4K into the same program at the school sites throughout Kenosha. For parents, this means regardless of where they live in the city, they know that if their child qualifies for Head Start and/or needs special services, they will have the convenience of having all of those services provided in one location close to home {their neighborhood school}.

Belinda Grantham, the Director of Early Education for the KUSD explains,

When it was mandated that we do 4K, we had five years to make it universal. We’re currently in our fifth year, and the part that makes it even more unique is that our Head Start grantee is the school district. This means that in our schools, we have integrated all of our programs. It used to be that Head Start was separate from special educations and separate from 4K. If you qualified for Head Start, you had to go wherever those services were provided. If you qualified for special education, you had to go wherever those services were provided, and if you qualified for 4K, you had to go wherever those special services were provided. What we’ve done because we will soon become universal is that you can go to your neighborhood school now and we will provide whatever services you need at that site. So the special education, the Head Start, and the 4K programs have become integrated, and that seems to be a little different from what the rest of the state is doing. The integration of the programs at the school sites is unique to Kenosha.”

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