A new report shows that 40 percent of the state's children were deemed "not ready" for kindergarten in 2012-13. Almost one-third of third-graders read below grade level -- a figure that jumps to 45 percent for children living in poverty.

The report, "How are Vermont's Young Children?" published annually by Building Bright Futures, the state's early childhood education advisory council, analyzes key factors that affect children's health and academic success. About 180 business leaders, early childhood educators and public and state officials gathered Friday in Burlington for the launch of "Let's Grow Kids," a three-year, statewide public awareness campaign about early childhood development.

Vermont's infant mortality and premature birth rates are very low, while the proportion of children with medical insurance is high, according to the report.

But two out of five Vermont kids under age 6 live in low-income households. And the number of children placed in protective state custody has increased 17 percent since 2002.

Jessica Perrotte, a teacher for 16 years at JFK Elementary School in Winooski, said that she has observed a clear trend of children's social skills declining. They have a harder time sharing and taking turns, she said. Teachers see more "parallel play" among children, when the kids should be interacting.

Her school has developed a shared strategy for responding to this behavior and teaching some kids what they're not learning at home: how to interact and manage their emotions.


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Perotte said her belief is that over-reliance on technology plays a big role in the developmental changes she's noticed.

Dr. Joseph Hagan ties it to parental wellness, and boils much of that down to income inequality. Parents of a lower socioeconomic standing are having to scramble more and more to make ends meet, much less optimize developmental opportunities for their children.

"And God bless them," Hagan said. He didn't criticize the parents in such situations, but observed they simply "don't have a lot of time to talk."

Talking, singing and other interactions with adults are crucial in the early years, however, because of how those activities help the human brain develop, he explained.