MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Students who were toddlers during the height of the pandemic are heading to kindergarten, and SC First Steps is working to close the gap with young children who fell behind.

Beth Moore, the communications director at SC First Steps, said this is the group’s biggest year of child development for the organization that has been helping kids succeed in school since 1994.

“The past few years have been especially hard on families,” she said. “The pandemic has been stressful for parents. We know it has created social isolation. Children did not have those connections they needed to build their brains. We know from early data that a lot of children are behind when they are starting kindergarten.”

The state was awarded more than $950,000 from the South Carolina Department of Education and the South Carolina Department of Social Services. Moore said this allowed SC First Steps to expand its Countdown to Kindergarten program statewide.

The goal is to get children ages 4 through 5 excited about learning and prepare them for the upcoming school year. First Steps will offer a wide range of programs that involve families working with elementary teachers one-on one for five weeks in the summer.  

Moore said the group worked with the South Carolina Department of Education to develop a description of school readiness back in 2015. The report includes 60 milestones for incoming kindergarten students.

“We are really seeing that a lot of children are behind in a lot of the skills and abilities,” Moore said. “So, this is not only early reading and early mathematical thinking skills, but it is social and emotional skills — their ability to follow simple rules and directions to resolve conflicts with peers. These are the kinds of things that are critical to being prepared for kindergarten and being excited and ready to learn.”

This year, SC First Steps is partnering with the EdVenture Children’s Museum in Myrtle Beach to host events to connect families with resources in the community, provide school supplies and provide helpful tips that will help get them prepared for the next school year. 

“It is especially important that we’re out there making sure that families and caregivers have the resources, they need to be their child’s first and best teacher, so that when they show up at kindergarten on day one, they’re excited about school, and they’re ready to learn,” Moore said.

Their first event at EdVenture in Myrtle Beach will be in August.