Kindergarten Olympics – More Than Just Fun and Games

Imagine kindergarteners of all colors, ethnicities, abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds gleefully, respectfully, joyously participating in fun, stimulating Olympic-like activities. Children and families were having the time of their lives on an overcast Tuesday in May at East Hartford’s O'Connell School’s Kindergarten Olympics. While to an outside observer this event might have looked like just another end-of-year field day, its purpose was for more than just fun and games.

East Hartford Public Schools developed the Kindergarten Olympics district-wide curriculum and event based on the information the district learned about the strengths and needs of their young students through the EDI (Early Development Instrument) study. The instrument was administered by kindergarten teachers in late 2017 as a result of a partnership between the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving (HFPG) and East Hartford Public Schools. UCLA worked with the East Hartford school district and its kindergarten parents to help synthesize and analyze the students’ data results according to the following five domains: Social Competence, Emotional Maturity, Physical and Health Well-Being, Language and Cognitive Development, and Communication Skills. Findings indicated that East Hartford kindergarteners were 11% more vulnerable than the national average on at least one of these skills.

During the month of May, East Hartford kindergarten students practiced their development of these skills in every East Hartford elementary school, in each of the five areas, by rotating among ten activity stations that aligned to the five EDI domains. The stations involved balance, letter recognition/sounds, hopping, jumping, obstacle course, social-emotional learning, letter formation, pincher grasp, number recognition/addition and skipping. The themes of healthy living, teamwork and collaboration were also integrated throughout the event. 

Isaiah Torres, along with his wife and baby daughter, attended O’Connell’s Kindergarten Olympics with his son and shares, “It was great to see the kids participate in activities that weren’t just games or gym class activities. They had to use their brains and motor skills to complete the given tasks and had fun while doing so. My wife and I were happy to receive a follow-up packet of additional take-home activities from the school that identified the resources and activities we can do with him over the summer to continue to develop his skills in sight words, counting and arts and crafts.”

“The Kindergarten Olympic events were incredible examples of how educators and families can work together to make learning come alive and be most impactful to students’ needs,” explains Cynthia Ritchie, Assistant Superintendent, East Hartford Public Schools. “These events engaged more than 400 young learners and their families and left a lasting mark on each one, as well as (permanent) marks on the schools’ blacktops. Educators and parents/caregivers alike modeled how to align research-based best practices regarding brain development in early childhood and simple but powerful hands-on learning activities to help support students’ developmental continuum of learning. Most of all, everyone had fun participating in the activities at each station.” 

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving Early Childhood Investment department originally piloted the EDI in Connecticut in 2014 with Hartford and West Hartford public schools. The Instrument is used to gauge the learning readiness of incoming Kindergarteners from different neighborhoods. It is a population measure of how young children are developing in communities in preparation for school in the U.S. based on a teacher’s observation of the child over five months, and has been used in more than 40 communities in the United States, as well as internationally.  

The Hartford Foundation has supported the EDI in Hartford, West Hartford, Windsor, and East Hartford Public Schools. According to the Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development, 2011, “The emotional, social and physical development of young children has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they will become.“

“Positive relationships and supportive environments guide a young child’s development and provide the foundation for future learning and well-being,” said Richard Sussman, director of Early Childhood Investments at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. “While the EDI provides important data, the most impactful aspect of this project is the collective action strategy which encourages parents, residents, and communities to use data to make positive changes to support young children and families in their neighborhoods. Kindergarten Olympics are just one-way schools and neighborhoods can be responsive to data about their young children and build learning experiences that are fun and enjoyable for all.”

For communities/school districts interested in learning more about the EDI, contact Richard Sussman at or 860-548-1888. 

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. Made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations, the Foundation has awarded grants of more than $720 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit or call 860-548-1888.