Nearly 30 years ago Robert Fulghum published “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.”

What Mr. Fulghum described are the basics of living a fair and balanced life:

“Share everything.

“Play fair. Don’t hit people.

“Put things back where you found them.

“Clean up your own mess.

“Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

“Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. …

“When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”

These heartwarming life lessons can mask the struggle some children face to even begin the ABCs.

Disappointing numbers from School District 65 show that fewer and fewer students are entering kindergarten prepared to master the building blocks of learning:

The percentage of all incoming students meeting the District’s definition of kindergarten readiness declined from 60% in the fall of 2016 to 56% in the fall of 2017 to 49% in the fall of 2018.

The District defines “kindergarten ready” as scoring above the 50th percentile in at least four of the five areas assessed on the Illinois Snapshot of Early Learning (ISEL): alphabet recognition, phonemic awareness, one-to-one matching, letter sounds, and story listening.

The test does not capture the full array of skills that are associated with readiness for kindergarten

There is increasing recognition of the research that shows how very crucial the earliest years of a child’s life are to future success.

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has promulgated five numbers to remember about early childhood development:

• More than 1 Million: In the first few years of life, more than 1 million neural connections are formed every second. Interaction with adults, in particular the “serve and return” reciprocity between infant and adult (making faces, playing peek-a-boo, singing together) “build brain architecture – the foundation upon which all later learning, behavior and health depend.”

• 18: “Differences in the size of children’s vocabulary first appear at 18 months of age,” statistically related to family education and income.

• 90-100%: chance of developmental delays when children experience six or seven risk factors. Risk factors such as poverty, mental illness of a caregiver and child maltreatment have a cumulative effect.

• 3:1: Odds of having heart disease as an adult after having seven or eight adverse childhood experiences.

• 4-9:  This is the dollar amount that is the return on investment for every $1 spent on high-quality early learning programs for low-income children.

Our youngest residents are not just cuddly and smiley to be left to their own devices until they start to talk or become interesting.

They are sponges, bundles of neurons waiting to be stimulated. Infants are already learning – when we pick them up, play with them, show them how to do things or teach them sounds and words.

Even when we are just at our daily routines, they are watching, listening and learning.

Kindergarten readiness starts at birth, at the latest. Prenatal care and nutrition play an early role.

There is already significant momentum with the 36 partners of Evanston Cradle to Career to make kindergarten readiness a shared value in this community.

It’s an easy ask, and the payoff affects the entire community. We should all be willing to put what we can into getting our youngest residents ready for the wonders of kindergarten.

There is no downside to it.