Teacher of the Year to talk readiness

by Jim Boyle


Katy Smith, 2011 winner of Education Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year, says the dramatic changes in childhood over the past 40 years are stripping kids of basic brain wiring that is necessary for learning in school.


Smith will address parents and caregivers Saturday, Jan. 26 in Elk River on what they can do to ensure young children enter kindergarten ready to learn and be successful.

“I hope people walk away inspired to take a look at the best parts of their childhood and know that good stuff still works for kids today,” Smith told the Star News while boarding a plane for a talk in another state.

Her talk in Elk River is all part of a Getting Ready to Read and Write: School Readiness Begins at Birth seminar that will be held at the Handke Center.

It will start at 8:30 a.m. with a light breakfast and resource tables, followed by Smith’s presentations from 9 to 11 a.m. Resource tables will be available from 11 a.m. to noon.

Child care will be available. To register, call 763-241-3400, ext. 5528, by Jan. 24.  Walk-ins who do not need child care will be welcome on the day of the event, but RSVPs are encouraged.

The event is sponsored by the Elk River Early Childhood Coalition as part of an Initiative Foundation grant and is co-sponsored by the Elk River Area School District, District 728 ECFE and the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

Smith’s diverse work takes her to schools, churches, community centers, businesses, conventions and conferences. She will make a case on Jan. 26 that between the vast array of technological advances and the harried pace of life and family schedules, children and families have been distracted away from some of the basics for success in life.

“Our tendency is to kind of microwave kids, and they really need to be a slow cook,” Smith said. “It takes a while and steady practice with routines, discipline and structure to get them ready and prepared for school.”

Smith plans to share some great stories and remind people of the importance of “hanging out with your family at the dinner table and talking”  or having a child sitting down on a lap with a paperback book.

“We do not want to be outsourcing that to an iPad too early,” she said. “It’s important to have that foundation laid down.”

Smith will also talk about the importance of uninterrupted play.

“When you’re a kid, your life’s work is to play,” Smith advises. “Take a look at the toys and fun that they have. The quieter the better so they celebrate their imagination rather than a toy maker’s imagination.”

Smith’s message will encourage slowing the pace of life down at times and ask parents and caregivers to pull back on the urge to have kids grow up too fast.

“We’re inviting them to a grown-up world when they’re not really ready for it,” she said. “We’re heck-bent on getting technology in front of them.”

Smith advises copious amounts of unstructured, unfettered time for children to do their life’s work

“Can you remember of a time your child got immersed in a toy and they played for hours and hours?” she asks parents and caregivers. “Instead of rushing to pick it up,  let  them explore that for as long as they can and make sense of their world through play.

“Sometimes we want our houses nice and it stresses us out when they’re not, but kids are really messy and they take really creative ways to get their work done.”

All this reading, playing and talking prepares students and lays ground work for all of the creative thinking they will need to do as an adult, Smith says. This 21st century global skill of creative thinking is wired in the first five to seven years, she adds.

Smith has a Bachelor’s degree in social work and teaching license in parent education from Winona State University in Winona and her Masters of Education from the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse. Smith lives in Winona with her husband and an old cat. Together, they raised three daughters.