Early Learning & Care in Whatcom County

Very little data is available to help us understand children’s earliest experiences in Whatcom County, so kindergarten readiness is often used. 

“Kindergarten readiness” refers to the data collected by The Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). 

  • All public schools, and some tribal nation schools, in Washington State use a three-pronged process called the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS). 
  • WaKIDS measures developmental skills on a strengths-based continuum in six domains: Social-Emotional, Physical, Language, Cognitive, Literacy, and Math. 
  • In the fall, teachers are required to collect data on the developmental status of entering kindergarteners. Teachers collect this information in 3 ways
    • Family connections (1:1 conference)
    • Connections to early learning & care providers (such as formal transition reports)
    • Using Teaching Strategies Gold (the observational assessment tool) 

While the only requirement for kindergarten is to be five years of age by August 31, children who demonstrate readiness in all six areas are more likely to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

Data caption: In Whatcom County, roughly half of kindergarten-aged children demonstrate Kindergarten Readiness. Children entering kindergarten from families with low income are, on average, half as likely to demonstrate Kindergarten readiness as their Non-Low-Income peers. Kindergarten readiness for different racial groups in Whatcom County is available by school district at https://washingtonstatereportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/

Data caption: Working families in Whatcom County struggle disproportionately with child care costs. While the recommended budget is 7% of income, ALICE families (ALICE means families working but struggling to afford basic needs) spend almost three times that amount or ⅓ of their income on child care. This means an ALICE family of 4 pays over $10,000 more annually than the recommended amount. To afford 7% child care costs, a family of 4 would need to earn nearly $380,000 annually. Source: State of the Children: Early Learning & Care: Northwest Region

Data caption: Whatcom County faces a significant gap between current child care capacity and the projected need in 2025. To meet the growing demand, we need to triple the number of available slots for children under 5.

While the number of child care slots is important, true accessibility goes beyond having spaces available. It’s about meeting the needs of families and children, as identified by the people who know them best: parents and caregivers. Our recent Child Care Demand Study revealed strong desires from parents and caregivers for:

  • More outdoor education: Fostering exploration and connection with nature.
  • Behavioral support: Providing resources and guidance for children of all abilities.
  • Diverse, language-rich classrooms: Celebrating cultural backgrounds and promoting language development.
  • Transportation options: Ensuring accessibility for families regardless of location.

This data highlights the need to build, tailor, and improve child care programs to truly meet the diverse needs of our community’s children and families.

Data Notes: These desires were consistent across families of all income levels and ethnicities.

Dashboards were developed in collaboration with the Whatcom County Health and Community Services data team. For even more Whatcom County data, visit www.whatcomhealthinsights.org.