Getting Keiki Ready for Kindergarten: Education Starts with ‘Ohana

mom holding her happy daughter

by Kirra Downing, INPEACE

‘Ohana are the foundation to building lifelong learners. With 90% of brain growth happening before kindergarten, families play a critical role in fostering a positive, lifelong, learning journey.

Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, working part-time, or have the support of family or friends to help raise your keiki, keiki need nourishment and care to foster the skills, attitudes, and habits of well-rounded adults and engaged community members.

The Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (INPEACE) and sister organizations Keiki O Ka ‘Aina and Partners in Development Foundation provide educational programs to nurture the growth and development of keiki through ‘ohana-focused models.

“We know there are many reasons that caregivers cannot, or choose not to, send their keiki to an early childhood program,” said Maile Keli‘ipio-Acoba, INPEACE Chief Executive Officer. “However, we found that once we remove the barriers such as cost, access, and location, we can reach more families where they’re at with our Family-Child Interaction Learning sites.”

grandpa attending early education program with his granddaughter
Early childhood education settings help keiki learn how to communicate, share, take turns and develop relationships.

Family-Child Interaction Learning is a multi-generational approach that actively engages parents, grandparents, caregivers, and extended family members in the early learning of their keiki. It provides a diverse and wholistic early learning experience that builds skills, knowledge, and strategies for family members to effectively advocate and participate in their keiki’s education throughout their entire academic journey.

INPEACE’s Keiki Steps program serves as the bridge between home and formal schooling. It’s free, part-time curriculum introduces keiki to a structured learning environment, routines, and basic academic concepts to prepare for a smoother transition to kindergarten. Keiki learn to socialize and acclimate to a school setting while feeling safe with their caregiver.

Designed to promote children’s development and school readiness through an indigenous lens, Keiki Steps draws upon enduring Hawaiian cultural understandings and traditional Hawaiian cultural practices like moʻokuʻauhau (genealogy), nohona ʻohana (traditional family systems), oli and mele (chant and song), and haʻi moʻolelo (storytelling traditions) to shape parent and child learning interactions. Keiki Steps educators and families work in partnership to prepare students for school, establish a firm foundation for success in education and life, and build pride and confidence in knowing who they are and where they come from.

grandpa playing with blocks with his granddaughter
Providing enrichment opportunities and training for grandparents and caregivers can have a big impact on school readiness.

As one parent shared, “In the year I attended Keiki Steps with my two boys, I was given the tools to help me become a more successful parent with the `Ohana Talks and ideas of what I can do with my kids. I love that they are always learning something new – especially all the singing and songs as well. We still sing all the songs every day!”

Not only are family and child interactive learning programs helpful for the keiki, but these programs also encourage collaboration between makua (parent) and kumu (teacher). This partnership supports learning and development, creating a holistic approach to education that extends beyond the classroom. Through mentorship and socialization with other caregivers, makua feel empowered to take an active role in their child’s education and find greater agency to invest in the future of their families.

Keiki O Ka ‘Aina’s Parent Participation Programs (PPP) meet twice weekly at ten different communities on O‘ahu and Maui. Strong families make strong communities and to support parents, Hawaiian values such as aloha (love), malama (care), kuleana (responsibility), and laulima (many hands) are some of the daily values practiced in class. Through culture-based family engagement programs, participants are empowered to take leadership roles, first in their own families and then in their communities.

“KOKA believes parents are their child’s first and best teacher and our Learning Centers are set up to support hands-on learning and equip parents,” said Momi Akana, Keiki O Ka ‘Aina’s CEO. “Through our focus on culture-based education, we re-awaken the traditional strengths of Hawaiian families as leaders of their children’s education. Parents begin see themselves as bearers of shared traditional responsibility.”

Partners in Development Foundation’s Tutu and Me Traveling Preschools reach thousands of keiki and their caregivers in over 28 communities across the state. The Tutu and Me Traveling Preschool has worked with Native Hawaiian families with keiki ages birth to five in remote and rural communities for more than twenty-four years. The goal of Tutu and Me is to meet the educational, social, and emotional needs of families so that keiki will enter school ready to learn and succeed.

mother and daughter saying goodbye to teacher
Early Learning and School Readiness programs are designed to prepare you and your little ones for a future of lifelong learning.

“In the Hawaiian culture, grandparents or tutu are oftentimes the caregivers of keiki. Even if both parents work, childcare is often unaffordable, so other family members are called upon to care for keiki,” said Shawn Kanaʻiaupuni, Partners in Development Foundation’s President and CEO. “Tutu and Me meets this need by providing rich opportunities for keiki’s socio-emotional and academic development while supporting and equipping caregivers in their critical role.”

Whether you’re looking to get a head start on potty training, early literacy and numeracy, or want a few hours of socialization with other caregivers and keiki, INPEACE, Keiki O Ka ‘Aina, and Partners in Development Foundation offer year-round programming to help your keiki get ready for kindergarten.

To find and enroll in a free, part-time, Hawaiian cultural-based early childhood education program, visit

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