Getting ready for kindergarten during the pandemic: How one local nonprofit is helping Utah families

4:04 PM, Aug 11, 2020
Kindergarten at Waterford UPSTART

Getting ready for kindergarten during the pandemic: How one local nonprofit is helping Utah families

Little about this spring was ideal for children or for learning. COVID-19 left teachers scrambling to move their teaching online, and parents were left to be the teacher at home.

Even though many schools quickly adapted to online learning and virtual classrooms, children were faced with a monumental shift in their educational habits. As the nation heads back to school, we will certainly see the impact. Studies show that even during normal years, children can lose up to 30% of their year’s gains over the three-month summer break. This year’s Summer Learning Loss might look more like a COVID cliff.

Amid these challenges, one Utah nonprofit,, is looking out for the littlest learners and their families to make sure they go back to school ready to learn.

No Cost to Participating Families

Waterford’s at-home kindergarten readiness program, Waterford Upstart, has been a part of Utah’s educational landscape for the last decade. The online learning platform is provided free of cost to participating families the year before their preschool-aged children start school.

“Our experience was wonderful,” said Lisa Lewis, mother of Waterford Upstart graduate. “It prepared him for kindergarten. He’s already reading books to me.”

To meet the unique challenges of 2020, provided special summer access to all Utah families, especially focused on those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This special offer included an accelerated version of the program, designed to catch children up on any learning they lost or missed in the final months of the 2020 school year. offered a similar summer access program to nine other states across the country, which in total served over 13,000 families.

Geography Isn’t a Barrier to Education

Waterford Upstart is done entirely at home, so families can complete the program in a safe and controlled environment. Because it is an online program, even families in extremely rural areas with no in-person preschool centers can participate. Geography does not need to be a barrier to education. Waterford Upstart is always free for families. It is funded in Utah by the State Legislature, and by generous philanthropic support and grants in other states.

“This Utah-created, early education solution is proving successful at reaching 4-year-olds all across Utah, regardless of where they live or their economic background, and getting them ready for school,” said Senate President Stuart Adams. “In 2009, the Utah Legislature saw a need for an early education option for those families who didn’t otherwise have access to PreK. Because of the success of the Waterford Upstart program, we’ve expanded access to even more children. Whether they are in PreK, at home with mom or in daycare, they can use the program at home with their parents to get a cognitive boost.”

The program includes Waterford’s award-winning software, which adapts to children’s skill level. This means they move at the pace that’s best for their learning; it also means they master concepts before moving on. also provides computer and Internet access to families who need them, so any family with an eligible-aged child can participate.

Academic Gains that Last

Waterford Upstart is proven by third-party studies as effective in helping children enter school confident and ready to learn. In fact, on average, graduates of the program enter kindergarten reading at almost a first-grade level, and children retain those gains into the 4th grade.

Last year, Waterford Upstart was named an Audacious Project. Audacious projects, in partnership with the TED Organization, are ideas that have the power to change the world. The program has also been awarded numerous grants from both nonprofit and government groups to help them reach more families across the county.

Waterford Upstart is currently enrolling for its standard school-year program for children entering kindergarten fall 2021. They will learn the basic reading, math, and science skills they need to be ready for school. To learn more about the program or to register your child, click here.


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