UPSTART, Waterford’s at-home kindergarten readiness program, played a major role in teaching Lisette Thurgood’s son how to read, even preparing him for kindergarten with a reading level above most other children his age. UPSTART’s educational songs also engaged both his older and younger siblings, making them excited to learn as well.
Lisette Thurgood knew a strong educational foundation was the best thing she could give her son Talmage before kindergarten, but she was having trouble coordinating preschool schedules around her busy work schedule. A friend in Thurgood’s neighborhood recommended UPSTART.
UPSTART is an easy-to-use, online program that delivers Waterford’s reading, math and science curriculum to children at home the year before they enter kindergarten. In Utah, Thurgood’s home state, UPSTART is offered for free to preschool-age children through funding from the state’s legislature.
UPSTART features more than 7,000 activities, songs and books to help children learn and retain early reading, math and science concepts. The adaptive software adjusts each student’s learning path, tailoring it to meet their specific abilities and needs. Research shows that by using UPSTART just 15 minutes a day, five days a week, children enter kindergarten reading at a higher level than those who haven’t participated.
Challenges and Needs
Before Talmage started UPSTART, he was unable to say the entire alphabet. His parents worked with him on his ABCs and took turns reading with him about 20 minutes every day, but with all of the children’s after-school activities and both parents’ busy work schedules, the family found it hard to keep a consistent schedule. Lisette worried that managing the extra 15 minutes a day for UPSTART would be a challenge for her family to maintain.
She also worried that Talmage might have difficulty using or staying engaged in a computer-based program. “While Talmage enjoys technology, at the time he really had limited experience using it, so I was concerned he wouldn’t stay focused or that he would have a difficult time learning to use the program,” Lisette said.
Lisette registered Talmage for UPSTART online and then attended a local training meeting to kick off the program. There, Talmage took an age-appropriate assessment to determine his academic level and the family was introduced to their UPSTART educational coach and learned more about the program resources.
Each UPSTART parent is assigned an educational coach who supports them, monitors their child’s progress and maintains frequent contact – even providing reminders to use the program, weekly reports, technical support and suggestions for activities for extended learning experiences at home. Coaches are available six days a week by phone, chat and email, and speak English and Spanish.
Lisette also learned how she could monitor and manage the program to best support her son. Parents have 24-hour online access to the UPSTART Parent Manager, which provides real-time progress reports and highlights their child’s areas of difficulty. In Talmage’s case, Lisette knew he needed a strong focus on reading, so she tailored the program to better address those learning activities.
With this support, the Thurgood family found that UPSTART quickly fit into their daily routine. Each morning after breakfast, Talmage knew it was time for UPSTART and he would happily log on each day, even on the weekends. “He grasped UPSTART easily and loved it,” Lisette said. “Music especially seems to catch his attention, so he loved following along with the songs. They were short and simple but catchy enough for him to remember the words and concepts behind them. In fact, the whole family learned the songs and would sing them around the house!”
To keep Talmage further motivated, Lisette used UPSTART’s achievement sticker charts; award stickers are mailed to children monthly, congratulating and encouraging them to “keep it up.” Lisette found that family recognition truly encouraged Talmage. By showing his family his new skills and displaying the certificates and awards from the program, Talmage felt successful and confident.
Talmage quickly advanced through UPSTART, participated in the UPSTART graduation program and entered kindergarten with advanced skills and a strong love for learning. “The technology and the curriculum presentation really resonated with him,” Lisette said. “He would jump right in each day, ready to learn more, and as a result, was well ahead of children his age entering kindergarten.”
To ensure Talmage would continue to learn at a high level, Lisette met with his kindergarten teacher to work on ways to challenge him while still making him feel successful. The teacher initially planned to send Talmage home with books. Because Talmage had already read many of those books six months earlier, his teacher had to up the level of his assignments. “He can read level-2 books; other kindergarteners in his class barely knew the alphabet or the sounds of the letters,” Lisette said.
Talmage’s kindergarten experiences have reinforced what he learned through the UPSTART program in terms of reading, math and science concepts and connecting those pieces together. “UPSTART has given him a very solid foundation in terms of establishing his education early on,” Lisette said. “He’s really set in terms of his reading capabilities — and he loves it!”
The overall experience for the Thurgood family has been highly positive. “I would definitely recommend UPSTART as a pre-K program,” said Lisette. “It was fantastic, not only for Talmage, but for the rest of the family too.”