CMSD NEWS BUREAU
When 26 kindergartners walked into Benjamin Colas’ classroom last year for their first day of school at Alfred A. Benesch, Colas was surprised to learn that only one of them knew the alphabet. Two of the students recognized numbers, and many had never held a pencil before.
In the winter, he was inspired to create a child development tool to help make incoming kindergartners more likely to succeed academically. Colas developed a kit that consists of everyday items -- like shaving cream, cereal and rice -- that most families have lying around the house. He calls them Kinder Kits.
Parents and caregivers can use Froot Loops to help children sort by color, count how many pieces are in a pile, and calculate how many are left after the child eats some of the cereal.
Colas said he designed the Kinder Kits to empower parents and caregivers to take an active role in their children’s education.
Colas noticed that even though his students didn’t seem prepared, it wasn’t because their parents and caregivers weren’t concerned. He said one mother told him she wished she had known the expectations for her child upon entering kindergarten.
“I felt like there was a big gap in terms of parents not necessarily knowing what their kids needed to know, or how to develop those skills, and I saw this as a way to kind of try to close that gap,” Colas said.
Alfred E. Benesch is located in Central, one of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods. A recent study from the Child Trends Data Bank showed that 21 percent of poor children ages three to six were able to recognize all 26 letters of the alphabet, compared with 35 percent living above the poverty threshold. And while 67 percent of young children living above poverty were able to count to 20 or higher, only 49 percent of those living in poverty could do so.
Local early education specialists say the kits have the power to make a difference.
Colas is working with Starting Point, a childcare and early childhood education nonprofit. Starting Point early learning navigator Tatiana Wells said the kits have the potential to give incoming kindergartners the boost they need to keep up with their peers.
“If they are failing already in kindergarten, they are not going to be able to succeed in other grades, and it affects them throughout their academic career,” Wells said.
The Kinder Kits are funded by two separate $5,000 grants Colas won through local competitions. Colas pitched the idea at the Accelerate 2016 competition earlier this year and was selected as a finalist by a panel of community members. An audience panel gave him the first-place prize. He won the second award at the StartupScaleup event in June.