LIFTing Kids to Success: How One Oregon School is Preparing Kids for Kindergarten


by Celeste Yager-Kandle



The school season is upon us once more, carrying with it the usual back-to-school hustle and bustle of drop-offs and pick-ups, prepping school lunches, homework, and a whirlwind of after-school activities.  

While some of us may not feel entirely prepared for the return to this familiar routine, it’s a different story for young learners at Oceanlake Elementary School. They are ready and eager to embark on their next adventure – kindergarten!  

Little learners proudly shared some of the arts and crafts they completed during the LIFT summer camp.

For the better part of August, soon-to-be kindergartners at Oceanlake Elementary attended the LIFT Super Kind Kids Summer Camp, a no-cost, half-day summer learning program available to children within the Lincoln County School District.  

At the heart of LIFT, an acronym for “Learning is Fun Together,” is a commitment to empower children to feel good about themselves and find the goodness, strengths, and resilience that are already within them. This comprehensive approach involves crafting a secure, supportive, and immersive classroom setting, nurturing caring relationships between students and teachers, and cultivating a sense of belonging within the school community. 

Kathy Cleaver started the LIFT program 12 years ago, as a volunteer with the Lincoln County School District. Cleaver assists in coordinating the LIFT summer camp and also teaches a bilingual parent-child kindergarten readiness class for 3- to 5-year-olds and their parents, from October through June. 

She explained that one of the best ways children learn is through play, which is a cornerstone of the LIFT curriculum. Through play, children learn and practice friendship and social skills, develop supportive relationships with adults, and build positive self-concept.  

“We focus on teaching them social-emotional skills. We call them SEEC learning skills—social, emotional, ethical, and cognitive development skills,” said Cleaver.  

“It’s an expansion of the social emotional learning movement because it incorporates the concept of the innates goodness of the child, connected with the intellectual capacity and executive functions of the brain. So, they learn to open their heart and activate the learning and thinking parts of their brain.” 

A young child sits at a desk with a marker in hand, near their mouth. A coloring sheet sits in front of the child, and a box of markers is nearby.
Three incoming kindergartners sit together at a table, covered with coloring pages. They are participaing in an activity together. One child is playing with what appears to be blocks, the other two children are coloring.

A typical day at the LIFT summer camp serves as a valuable foundation, establishing a structured routine that familiarizes children with what lies ahead when they step back into the classroom come September.  

The daily agenda unfolds with a morning community circle, offering a sense of togetherness, followed by opportunities to engage with peers at “free play” centers around the room. Circle time lessons provide intentional social-emotional development, while artistic expression finds its place in arts and crafts activities. In the later part of the morning, the playground is a beacon for outdoor play and the day concludes with a special closing ritual where children joyfully celebrate the kind choices they’ve made throughout their day. 

Incoming kindergartners at Oceanlake Elementary School in Lincoln City share about kind things they did, to close out the day.

Crista Adovnik is a kindergarten teacher at Oceanlake Elementary and has been teaching with the LIFT summer program for five years. Adovnik is a big proponent of the program because it gives children the chance to practice skills before making the leap into the classroom. 

“The LIFT program is a really good introduction to kindergarten,” Adovnik said. “It gives students a chance to come in and get a feel for the school and meet some of the other classmates. They can come in and play more and share with their peers and see how it is to be with other kids.” 

Orion is an Oceanlake student starting kindergarten this year. Orion’s mom, Shannon Reboh, teaches preschool and knows that the transition from preschool to kindergarten is a big change for many kids. She and Orion feel much more confident about his transition to kindergarten, after his participation in the LIFT program. 

“Orion is now much more familiar with his school and the way it is run,” she said. “He has gotten to learn about the daily routines, lunchroom, playground, expectations, bathrooms, and school activities before the long school days officially begin. I highly recommend this program to help parents support their children have a successful transition into the upcoming school year.” 

LIFT paves the way for a smoother transition into the classroom, instilling confidence, familiarity, and a readiness to embrace the exciting journey of kindergarten for the young learners at Oceanlake Elementary.  


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