Katy Smith

Teacher of the Year - Minnesota


Successful kindergarteners have grown up practicing self-regulation.

Self-regulation is, very simply, the ability to keep your hands, your thoughts and your words to yourself until it is your turn. Schools and life will continue to require it.  According to Dr. David Walsh (Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids 2010), self-regulation is twice the predictor of academic success as intelligence is. For generations, children learned self-regulation in schools, in churches, on long car rides with the family, and at home. Today’s childhood is devoid of opportunities to practice the art of waiting.


Successful kindergarteners come to school with lots of unstructured, unsupervised playtime under their belts.

They have wired their brains for creative thinking by playing with toys that do none of the thinking for them. Trains, blocks, dolls and the great outdoors are great examples of tools children need for the very important task of play. Small children wire their imaginations through make believe, experiential play and the gift of a long Saturday morning with nothing scheduled. Those opportunities only happen in early childhood when adults make the time and space for them. Children will be better thinkers and learners throughout their lives because of play.


Successful kindergarteners know the wonder and the power of the written word.

They have been read to by someone they love. The brain wiring for reading was connected because of the pleasure they gained from sitting on a lap and enjoying a book read by someone who cares about them. Their world has been full of words that have laid down the foundation for literacy. If you can read, you can learn. Readers start their magical journey with real books and a welcoming lap.


Successful kindergarteners have been protected from a world that doesn’t often have their best interests at heart.

They have been shielded from a media-saturated, consumerist culture that works diligently to make them customers. Very young children in our country are watching far too much on screens. When we know that 90 percent of the brain is wired in the first five years of life, we need to pay very close attention to the speed and the content of what we wire those very new brains with.


Parent education is the key to the academic success of America’s children.

By waiting until a child has entered kindergarten, we have lost valuable time to teach parents the important information needed in a student’s social, emotional and academic development. Logically, parent education should begin as early as possible. It just makes sense for schools to connect and support families especially as they navigate their child’s first five years. Parents are a school’s most prized partners in the academic hopes of our children. When we support parents with a sense of community, with parent education, with the resources they need to parent well, we will see a real difference in the lives of children.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


As a Parent Educator and the first Minnesota Teacher of the Year to represent Early Childhood and Family Education, Katy Smith has had the opportunity to engage adults in a conversation about our best hopes for young children and childhood.  Her classroom varies day to day from schools, community centers, living rooms, coffee shops, college campuses, and churches.  Katy is passionate about childhood and what children need from it.

Katy has bachelor’s degrees in social work and a parent education license from Winona State University in Winona, MN. She has a master’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse. Katy is pursuing a master’s degree in Early Childhood Public Policy and Advocacy from Walden University in Maryland.