Clayton Early Learning

Why is Block Play Important for Toddlers and Preschoolers? What are they learning?



Building with blocks provides one of the most valuable learning experiences available for young children.  Block play stimulates learning in all domains of development, intellectual, physical, and social-emotional and language.  The current research shows that block play is fundamental for later cognitive success for learning math and numbers.  In a research study, “Block Play Performance among Preschoolers as a Predictor of Later School Achievement in Mathematics”, published in the Journal of Research in Early Childhood Education, the researchers proved that children who play with blocks when they are three, four and fives years of age will do better in math, especially Algebra in middle school.

The progression of block play and concepts learned

Toddler playing with colored blocksThere is a natural progression of block play and introducing infants and toddlers to block play is invaluable.

Toddlers- When toddlers are first introduced to blocks they may learn how to hold on to them, how they feel, how heavy they are, they explore the bright colors, and begin to carry them around.  They will experiment with how blocks may sound when they fall, or when they bang them together.  Soon toddlers are learning cause and effect as they are filling and dumping, stacking, knocking down and laying blocks side by side on the floor.  Concepts such as learning sizes, comparing objects by making exact matches and the order of objects are also being learned.  Socially, block play contributes to their developing self confidence, for example as they learn how to stack blocks they are proud of their success and feel a sense of accomplishment.  Through block play a young child’s expressive and receptive language is being expanded by learning words such as “fill,” “dump,” “pick up,” “stack,” “balance,” “tall”, and “short.”

Three year old- Three year olds block play will look different as they move into a simple constructive type of play.   A three year old usually plays alone or near other children and are beginning to engage in pretend play.  They are starting to build enclosures that resemble zoos, farm pens, roads and castles.  They are learning concepts such as sorting, ordering, counting, one to one correspondence, size and shape.

Four and Five Year olds-At four and five children’s block play is more experienced, developed, balanced coordinated and organized.  Constructive play involves play that is more open- ended and exploratory.  Children begin to combine structures to make more complex buildings.  Socially, four and five year olds are beginning to share ideas and are starting to cooperate and build with others.  They may use block accessories such as people, transportation vehicles, and animals to engage in imaginary/ pretend play.  They are learning more complex patterns, classifying, sequencing, counting, fractions and problem solving.  According to article “Constructive Play” written by Walter Frew, “Block play shows the opportunity for conceptual understanding in the area of structural engineering as children explore forces of gravity, compression, tension and the relationship between materials and successful design to achieve balance, stability, and even aesthetic sensibility.”

Preschoolers are beginning to notice and explore more 3– dimensional objects such as cones, cylinders, cubes and prisms, (geometry). Science is also being learned through block play as children start making predictions, comparisons, experiment with cause and effect, stability and balance.  Their vocabulary is also expanded by block play as they develop an understanding of spatial relations and words such as “under,” “over,” “off,” “bottom,” “top,” “through,” and “beside.”

What type of environment and materials are needed to encourage block play?

Toddler Environment- Block play should be set up in an area that is free from other distractions and out of traffic.  The type of blocks needed in meet the Environment Rating Scale for Infants and Toddlers – Revised Edition, should be non-interlocking and at least 2 inches by 2 inches.  The ITERS-R tool suggests at least three sets of different types of blocks.  Each set should contain at least 10 blocks to allow the children enough to properly explore.  Accessories such as people, animals and transportation vehicles should also be available to expand play.  Types of blocks recommended are:

  • Light weight hollow brick blocks
  • Cardboard blocks
  • Fabric blocks
  • Hard and soft plastic
  • Homemade
  • Wooden and foam blocks

Preschool Environment- The space in a classroom for block play is critical since preschoolers will be doing more constructive play where larger complex structures are made, with larger sized blocks, and many children working together.  It is essential the block space is large enough to accommodate this type of play.  The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale – Revised Edition recommends the block play area should be big enough to allow at least three children to build sizable structures. Block play is more vigorous and louder than other areas in the classroom and should be located in a more active area of the classroom.  Many teachers locate the block area next to the dramatic play area since both areas encourage cooperative imaginary play.  The ECERS -R recommends the preschoolers have at least 2 different sets of blocks with 10-20 blocks in each set.  Types of blocks suggested:

  • Large hollow blocks, ramps, boards
  • Unit blocks (as many shapes and sizes as possible, wooden or foam)
  • Cardboard blocks
  • Blocks made from boxes or milk cartons, covered with cloth or contact-paper
  • Packing boxes Boards, sticks, logs, tree-stump rounds and stumps
  • Cardboard, metal, or plastic tubes

Accessories are also essential to allow children more imaginary play.  The blocks should be stored in low open labeled shelves.  The unit blocks should be labeled by shape to encourage organization, shape matching, and easy clean up.

Block play is also strongly encouraged outside as there is often times more room for children to build even larger structures.  The ECERS-R tool recommends a large flat surface, out of the way of traffic, with enough blocks and accessories for three children.

The teacher’s Role?

In the article, “Constructive Play” the authors suggest the teachers receive “Professional development experiences that feature hands on constructive play with open-ended materials.  Adults who engage in active inquiry and construct knowledge through creative exploration with materials are more positively disposed to encouraging children to do the same.”  The article goes on the say that teachers who play develop an understanding and appreciation of play!

Teachers who describe the children’s action while they are engaged in block play are helping the children develop receptive and expressive language.  Teachers who ask open ended questions encourage more conversation and opportunities to expand on the children’s thought process.  Encourage children to reason by asking  “reasoning type” questions, “ What will happen if you put that block on top?,” “Which row is bigger, which one is smaller?,” “How many blocks high is that structure?”  “Is that taller than your friend?”

The lessons learned in block play are fundamental to the growth and development of children.  It is an activity which should be a part of every child’s experience throughout the early years.


Walter Drew, James Christie, James Johnson, Alice Meckley, and Marcia Nell. July 2008, “Constructive Play” NAEYC Young Child, 38-44

Eugene Geist, May 2009, “Infants and Toddlers Exploring Mathematics” NAEYC Young Child, 39-41

Charles H. Wolfgang, Laura L. Stannard, Ithel Jones, Spring- Summer 2001, Block Play Performance Among Preschoolers As a Predictor of Later School Achievement in Mathematics”,Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Spring-Summer, 2001.  Retrieved July, 2 2009 from,

Thelma Harms, Debby Cryer, Cathy Riley, 2003, All About the ECERS- R, New York, NY: Kaplan Early Learning Company.

Thelma Harms, Debby Cryer, Cathy Riley, 2003, All About the ITERS-R, New York, NY: Kaplan Learning Company.


Listening to our Echoes and Cultivating a Culture of Courage



Kids say the darnedest Picture of a small girl with a teddy bear sitting on a chair.things. I am still caught off guard when I hear our preschool students use one of my phrases. Sometimes I hear a student say, “Okey Dokey Artichokey” or “Silly Willy,” two of my common goofy phrases. Other times I hear my students say, “How can I help you?” or “What are we going to do about this?” When I stop and listen, I hear myself in my students. Considering how much my students absorb from their environment, I realize my approach is deeply influential in our classroom culture.  After hearing my echo across our classroom, I decided to more intentionally examine how to shape our culture to foster vulnerability, courage, resilience, and security.

The Office of Head Start describes ideal classroom environments as:

…places where children feel well cared for and safe. They are places where children are valued as individuals and where their needs for attention, approval, and affection are supported. They are also places where children can be helped to acquire a strong foundation in the knowledge and skills needed for school success. (“Creating a Learning Environment,” 2002)

In my efforts to move closer to this ideal environment, I began reading books and listening to TED talks  by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Brown researches shame and vulnerability and identifies practices that lead to “wholehearted living.” In her recent book, Daring Greatly: How Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brown discusses how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. While reading Brown’s book, I discovered that vulnerability is a vital part of any culture that inspires innovation and learning.

Picture of book cover, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Gottham Books.Brown describes culture as “the way we do things around here” (Brown, 2012, p. 174). She writes about how culture describes who we are and what we believe. When thinking about cultures of organizations, schools, faith communities, and teams, Brown asks these ten questions:

  1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

These questions stirred me to consider the culture in my classroom, my workplace, and my family. While all questions provoked my thinking, questions seven and ten most inspired me to think the cultures in my life.

Question #7: What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?

Failing, disappointing, and making mistakes are part of the learning process. Everyone makes mistakes, but we need to fix our errors, clean up our messes, and reconcile injured relationships.  When resolving issues in our classroom, we collaboratively problem-solve and identify a solution. We acknowledge the mistake, but we spend most of our time and energy working toward a resolution.

Question #10: What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

This question caused me to consider how I give feedback and challenge my students. I often tell my students, “I am still learning how to do this.” All of us are still learning something, but we also recognize our strengths so that we can help each other improve. Comfort in our classroom has more to do with our relationships with each other and less to do with the content of our curriculum. When we work on challenging projects that push us out of our comfort zones, each of us is stretched to try new things and do our best.

After reflecting on Brown’s questions, I pay more attention to my echoes. What are my students saying? How are do they respond to each other? Can I see evidence of their sense of security, their willingness to try new things, and their tolerance for the discomfort of learning?

Where do you hear your echo? In your family? In your co-workers? In your students? What do your echoes tell you about your culture? Which question(s) provoke you to try something different in your communities?

 Blog by Megan Bock


Brown, B (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Gottham Books.

Creating a Learning Environment for Young Children. (2012). Teaching our Youngest. Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force. ED/HHS. Retrieved from


I Love to Read Month at Educare Denver



February marked Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning’s third annual participation in “I Love to Read” month.  During the month, a committee of Child and Family Educators and teachers partner together to carefully plan for the event by creating several eye appealing and comfortable areas throughout the Educare building.  These reading nooks encourage and entice young children and their families to sit together and read from Clayton’s tremendous selection of developmentally appropriate and interesting books.  At our school, we find value in creating a special time for families and children to sit together and share the excitement a good book can bring, but more than that, we know that the bonding and connection between parent and child during those special moments is equally important.

I Love to Read bookEach year this dedicated committee plans a month-long calendar of events to provide several rich opportunities for families and children around reading books.  This year, we offered two days of dialogic reading training for families in both English and Spanish.  According to Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst, Ph.D, “Dialogic reading is just children and adults having a conversation about a book” .  In our school, teachers have been trained to use this technique with children in the classroom.  They document children’s comments and questions as well as make note of unusual words that they then incorporate into their daily conversations with children.  Whitehurst also asserts, “Dialogic reading works. Children who have been read to dialogically are substantially ahead of children who have been read to traditionally on tests of language development.  Children can jump ahead by several months in just a few weeks of dialogic reading.”

I love to read Apple next to kids reading table at Clayton EducareShauna Scott, Mentor Coach Child and Family Educator is one of the “I love to Read” committee members.  She is passionate about reading and the benefits of children and families doing this activity together.  “I love to Read month for me is a great way to instill a love of reading.  We might look at dialogic reading and think it is so complex, but it’s not.  [Families] are already doing it.  It’s such a great way for parents and children to feel valued.  Parents can take a trip down memory lane and recall what they loved about reading and remember the books they loved as a child.”

I love to read Apple at Clayton EducareAs families read or use dialogic reading, they are encouraged to document the books they have explored with children to be displayed in the Atrium of our Educare building.  This year the theme used for the display is a giant apple, which is home to a big green book worm.  Little apples documenting the book read and the child’s name are attached to the giant apple display.  Last year by the end of February, more than 1000 books had been read!  Staff and families were encouraged to guess the total number of books read, and the closest to the actual number received a gift card.  This year, we will accept documentation of the books read through the end of the day Thursday, February 28, 2013. Another drawing will be announced for those who guess the total amount of books read.

I love to read Apple at end of February!February and “I Love to Read” month is a fantastic opportunity for us to highlight the work we do with children all year long.  Every day teachers spend time reading to children during classroom time.  Full-day Head Start Teacher, Vivian Sandoval believes reading is an excellent way to make a “real” connection with children.  “Reading is great for children because regardless of what situation they may be in they can escape with a book to go anywhere they want to go.”  Part-day Head Start classroom Teacher, Megan Bock appreciates the value of “I Love to Read” month as well.  “I like I Love to Read month because it accentuates the importance of families and children reading together.”

Please take a few minutes to sit with a child and help them to explore the wonderful world of books.  This simple act has long-lasting and profound benefits to the children in our lives.  Together, we can make the love of reading last throughout the year!


Planting Seeds, Sprouting Wings



Several years ago, I decided that it was time to further my career by enrolling in a Master’s Degree program. I had spent my post-Bachelor years in the human services field; however the focus always was on children and families. As a matter of fact, my lifelong passion had been children and families; however, I had a specific interest for English Language Learners and the importance of maintaining individual home languages. Nonetheless, I was at a complete loss for what type of post graduate degree I should aim for.

I knew that I wanted to help advocate for this particular community, but I had no idea what career paths were available to take. I contemplated getting a Master’s in Bilingual Education but that never seemed to come to fruition. As I continued my work with children and families, I started to notice a large portion of culturally insensitive practices continuing to occur in the preschool classroom. Oftentimes these occurrences led to unnecessary IEPs and/or inappropriate goals placed on IEPs. This led me to consider a Master’s degree in Special Ed, yet I was unaware how this would allow for a specific concentration on ELLs, nor could I imagine what path I would embark on after receiving this degree.
I continued exploring different options for obtaining an MA, that would really allow for individualization for my passion. Eventually the perfect program came along. They were looking for candidates for the 1st year of the Buell Early Childhood Education Leadership Program. I was encouraged to apply. Again, I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure that I could embark on my desired career path from the resulting degree.
After tons of discussion with multiple mentors, I decided to go for it. I applied, was called in for an interview and waited excruciatingly long for a response. Unfortunately I was not accepted. The following year, I was personally contacted with a request to reapply. I did so begrudgingly, expecting another rejection. Luckily this wasn’t the case.

I recall the first day, sitting in the familiar classroom setups that are so often trademarked by interactive classrooms to facilitate discussion and collaboration. I was completely intimidated as we went round robin “telling about ourselves”. By comparison, the breadth of knowledge all my fellow fellows (pun intended) seemed expansive.

As the year passed, and we discussed, debated and informed ourselves about the issues in the Early Childhood Field, I became more confident. I found my voice. I spent my year researching my passion which was centered on English Language Learners with Special Needs. All the research culminated in a grant to develop a Toolkit for Families going through the IFSP/IEP process. In short, I built a strong foundation that would propel me for the next stages in my career.

In the years since then, my tie to the Buell community has served me well. Since the first year that I applied, 97 Buell Fellows from all around Colorado have completed the program. The beauty of the program is that your learning doesn’t stop the day you end the program. You continue participating and advocating in a variety of ways in the ECE community. You continue growing, discovering and evolving. You find a new sense of purpose and passion.

I signed up for the Buell ECE Leadership Program with the sole intention of getting a MA. I got that and so, so much more.
(…and now you can too. Buell is currently accepting applications. The deadline is February 22, 2013. Apply here)

You can follow Jennifer's blog at,


Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Shedding Light on Character Education



Open the pages of Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed , and you will find stories, research, and narration offering insight into the ways children harness grit and curiosityto overcome obstacles to reach their potential. The book highlights research studies which challenge what Tough calls the “cognitive hypothesis,” the belief that IQ is the key indicator of success. Instead, Tough argues strong character and behavior skills are a better indicator of success than standard measurements of intelligence.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character cover, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin HarcourtTough examines different factors influencing a child’s ability to eventually graduate college and pursue a career of their choosing. He discusses how children who grow up in highly stressful environments must become resilient to adversity in order to be successful in school. One research study by Michael Meaney, a neuroscientist at McGill University, demonstrated how rats were able to overcome stress with a parental buffer. Meaney noticed how rat pups’ stress levels increased when scientists handled them but recovered when returned to their mothers who licked and groomed them. He noticed different rates of licking and grooming among rat mothers and set up an experiment where researchers compared rat pups that experienced high and low rates of licking and grooming. He found that rats who had high rates of licking and grooming did better on all tests; they were better at mazes, more social, more curious, and less aggressive. They had more self-control, were healthier, and lived longer. Meaney also found striking differences in the size and shape of brain centers that regulate stress response of high- and low-licking and grooming rats. While the social and intellectual worlds of human children are likely far more complex than those of rats, Meany and other scientists have seen this phenomenon in humans as well, which is often referred to as attachment. Children who are securely attached to a caregiver have similarly positive results.

Tough also explores Walter Mischel’s marshmallow test and subsequent research studies as evidence of self-control as an essential non-cognitive skill (Tough, 2012, p. 64). In the late 1960’s, Mischel conducted an experiment at Stanford University where children were given a marshmallow and told they could eat the marshmallow or wait until the researcher returned and receive another marshmallow. The experiment tested students’ ability to defer gratification, an important element of self-control. Follow-up studies showed that children who were able to delay gratification longer received higher scores on the SAT assessment.

A focus on social emotional development has been commonplace in Head Start since its inception in 1965 (“Domain 6,” 2003). Social emotional development is included as a domain in Head Start’s Child Development and Early Learning Framework and Clayton’s early learning curriculum. Just as students need to leave preschool with critical thinking skills and letter and number knowledge, kindergarten-bound students must learn self-control, deferred gratification, and positive responses to failure in order to do well in school. As described on the Head Start website, “Promoting young children’s social-emotional development is a major responsibility of any early childhood program. Because so many Head Start children experience emotional and social risk factors, the Head Start program has the added responsibility of taking steps to help children develop skills that contribute to resiliency. These steps include providing warm, positive relationships with teachers and other adults, helping children make friends with other children and developing their interests and abilities” (“Domain 6,” 2003).

While social emotional development has been a priority in ECE for many years, educators on all grade levels are beginning to prioritize both cognitive and social skills. Tough describes how Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) kindergarten through high school charter schools emphasize both academic and character education. Students at KIPP receive report cards that describe both academic and character skills. Teachers discuss students’ progress in grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity (Tough, 2012, p. 76).

Tough’s work causes readers to think about how we educate our students and examines why students need support and teaching beyond ABC’s and 123’s. Tough (2012) wrote:

Science suggests… that character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate; they don’t appear in us magically, as a result of good luck or good genes. And they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded, in measurable and predictable ways, by the environment in which children grow up. That means the rest of us- society as a whole- can do an enormous amount to influence their development in children. (p. 196).

As a community invested in molding our next generation, we need to remember what we can do. When teaching students, do we praise students’ work ethic and their persistence to complete a task? Do we remember the significance of students waiting their turn, the importance of a positive teacher/student relationship, and the enormous effect of a smile and a high five?  Do we consider the profound impact of engaged and responsive parenting and our ability to influence a child’s environment to create positive outcomes?


Domain 6: Social and Emotional Development. (2003). The Head Start Leaders Guide to Positive Child Outcomes. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. Retrieved from of Child Development/Social and Emotional Development/edudev_art_00016_061705.html

Tough, P. (2012).  Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.


Children Act on How They Are Treated



On multiple occasions a year, the staff at Clayton Early Learning gathers into one of our many meeting spaces for professional development.  This is an opportunity for us to look at various aspects of research and we are challenged to deliberate and often are called to action. This school year has been no exception. Early this year we gathered together to review a piece of research that would help us improve our practice and encourage us to focus on building stronger relationships with the families we work with; Metatheories of Childrearing by Ronald Lally can be found in the pages of Concepts of Care: 20 Essays on Infant Toddler Development and Learning.

Lally draws attention to the fact that every person has a theory, fed by experiences, that contributes to their point of view on child rearing.  This is important to understand, especially by those who are in the position of working directly with parents, caregivers or home visitors in matters of childrearing, guidance and discipline.  Being that each individual will be bringing a different set of values and opinions, there can be a difference of opinion between practitioners and clients.  These differences are typically caused by conflicting Metatheories of Childrearing.  Simply put, a meta-theory of child rearing is the story carried by an adult about what makes a children act and how a child must be treated given those actions.  By identifying our individual and organizational beliefs in child rearing we are able to work more effectively with our children and families by reaching a third space where you can work together around new ideas.  These Metatheories are popular amongst both caregivers and parents:

The Blank Slate (Empty Vessel): From this point of view the way children turn out is completely based on the experiences the children have in the environments in which they are raised and through the provision of information by others.

The Unfolding Flower (Noble Savage): The child is viewed as a flower that is blossoming with a trajectory for healthy growth that is present from birth.  From this meta-theory a child’s development can be damaged from too much interference from the outside.

The Constantly Tempted:  Also referred to as the “Devil On Left Shoulder – Angel On the Right”.  Individuals who see child rearing this way want the child to be on guard so that they pay attention to whom is whispering in the ear.  They will warn the child to pay attention to that angel whispering, not listen to the temptation of the devil and to stay vigilant. They continually remind the child that they are in a struggle between good and evil, and will be tempted to do bad things.

The Savage:  From this point of view unless impulses are strongly inhibited and controlled right from birth the child will be an un-socialized wild person.

The Unknowing/UnfeelingThe Unknowing/Unfeeling: This metatheorie suggests that little engagement happens until age two and pretty much anything can happen in front of children of a younger age without permanent consequence.

The Late/Early Bloomer: This philosophy believes that until a child is about 5, 6, or 7 years old – the age of reason – that the child does not have the capacity or the  responsibility for right or wrong actions. children are given free reign to explore, allowed to play, allowed to transgress i.e. to “be children”.  But come age 5, 6 or 7 things change dramatically. Expectations of  children change quickly, almost over night as do socialization patterns and educational practices.

The Predestined: From this perspective those who care for children see their roles as both one of nurturance and  of facilitation of the child’s learning agenda.

What if your Metatheorie on Childrearing?  How does it impact your decisions as a parent or educator?



101 Three Friends 7131 (2010). [Graph illustration February 12, 2010].  Retrieved from


Multicultural Learning through Family Involvement



At Clayton we work hard to reflect culturally relevant programming that is responsive to the community and families we serve.  By embracing the daily experiences of the students, their families and the community, we hope to create connections and teach students how to investigate and integrate diverse ways of thinking and doing.  None of this work is possible without the involvement of the family.  Everyone from our teachers and child family educators to our kitchen and helpdesk support staff have a genuine investment in each family that walks through the front doors of our school.  Our upcoming Culture Night is a night for us to showcase our families in a way that encourages multicultural learning in its rarest form.  As we are working hard on our events for the evening we meet and interview parents so they can guide the vision and ensure authenticity to the displays we put together.  We use their memories, draw upon their traditions and cook recipes that have passed down through generations alongside the families themselves.

Multicultural Principles for Head Start Programs Serving Children Ages Birth to Five: Culturally relevant programming requires staff who both reflect and responsive to the community and families served (7); Multicultural programming for children enables children to develop awareness of, respect for, and appreciation of individual cultural differences (8).   Multicultural Learning is learning that integrates and explores the rich tapestry of perspectives reflected in the world around us. It occurs when differences among learners are both valued and explored. Multicultural learning recognizes and reaches across boundaries of ability, age, class, gender, nationality, race, religion and other personal, social and cultural identities.  Research supports the idea that children's early childhood experiences are powerful in influencing their cultural understandings (Banks, 1993).  Kids from around the worldThere are many types of activities and resources that can enhance children's multicultural learning.  Family stories, written by children and parents about themselves as families and shared in the classroom, can stimulate tremendous growth and sensitivity; you can find some of these stories in our hallways and in children’s individual portfolios.  Displays throughout each of our classrooms include representations of people from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds engaged in meaningful activities. These displays vary from family photos, original work by the children in the class and contributions from children's parents.  We often as educators use parents as our primary resource; asking families to share cultural items like artifacts, pictures, family recipes, dramatic play props, music and stories.  This is just one of the many ways we use family involvement to create a multicultural environment.


Banks, J. (1993). Multicultural Education for Young Children: Racial and Ethnic Attitudes and Their Modification. In B. Spodek (Ed.), Handbook of Research on the Education of Young Children. New York: Macmillan. ED 361 107.

Mulitculuralism in Education. (2011). [Graphic illustration Children Around the World, February, 23, 2011]. Multicultural Education. Retrieved from



Parent-Teacher Conferences: Collaborating to Facilitate Children’s Success



At Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning (CEL), it is time once again for teachers and parents to come together to discuss children’s successes and challenges at school. For teachers, this process is a highly reflective one, and it requires them to analyze and synthesize their child data in order to create a meaningful picture to share with families. The goal is to share with families what they have observed as well as what assessment data tells them about each child’s learning outcomes, and it also involves the family’s input in creating and setting goals for their children that teacher’s will consider in their future planning. This information will be discussed in our Early Head Start classrooms with families of infants and toddlers, as well as in our Head Start classrooms with families of preschool age children.

Since teachers are constantly trying to build relationships with the families of the children in their care, they value Parent-Teacher conferences as a way to spend some one-on-one time with families while focusing their attention directly on the needs of the children. On the day of Parent-Teacher conferences, our classrooms are closed. Each family attends a scheduled meeting with their child’s primary caregiver during the day. Confernence week - parent's, teacher's and children meet to discuss what's going on at school.Teachers prepare in advance Individual Child Care Plans (ICCP’s) that document the teacher’s view of each child’s strengths, their goals for children’s growth, and also some activities or strategies that will be used to help children achieve the goals identified. All teachers use their ongoing observational records documenting children’s interests and abilities as well as assessment data from Teaching Strategies GOLD to assist in identifying areas on which they want to focus as well as to help them understand where a child is in a developmental continuum. This helps them better understand how to scaffold a child to the next level in their learning. Infant and Toddler teachers also use data from their curriculum, Learning Through Relating (LTR). Additionally, teachers have been supporting the work of CEL’s Institute by working with the Research and Evaluation Team who have been assessing and documenting children’s learning for the last several weeks. With the data complete and ready to share, the Research and Evaluation Team will have previously met with teaching teams to reveal and discuss implications of the results of several screenings. At the Parent-Teacher conference, teachers facilitate parents completing an ICCP as well. In this way, teachers and families can come together to discuss all the strengths, goals and strategies identified, and by doing so, they can partner to support the child at school and at home.

We have high expectations of our teachers and for our children. We rely on current research to inform our practice, and we are committed to incorporating our many endeavors to improve early education for young children with the Early Childhood Colorado (ECC) framework. This framework, created in 2008, identified several goals, outcomes and strategies for action to support Colorado’s young children and their families. “ECC provides a framework that recognizes the needs of the whole child and family, communicates the vision for comprehensive early childhood work, focuses on specific measurable outcomes, [and] guides, organizes, and focuses the actions and accountability of public and private stakeholders” (Early Colorado Framework, July 2008). Additionally, ECC’s principles call all those working with children to, “…be child-focused and family-centered, recognize and respond to variations in cultures, languages, and abilities, [to] use data to inform decisions, build on strengths of communities and families, focus on children from birth to age 8, promote partnerships, [and to] act at state, local, and statewide levels” (Early Colorado Framework, July 2008).

As we move forward in partnering with the families of the young children in our care, it is good to reflect on the multiple ways we have collaborated within our own interdisciplinary teams in preparation for conferences. Much time, dedication, and consideration has gone into the preparation of information that we will share with families. I am mindful that it truly takes a village to raise a child, and I am proud to be a part of this one.

Early Childhood Colorado Framework (July, 2008). Retrieved from on November 12, 2012.


Developing a Sense of Wonder



In our fast-paced world we educators are concerned that children are no longer able to spend unhurried hours exploring our natural world. When I was a child, many of my fondest memories were playing outside for hours in nature with friends. Today’s children are not receiving the same unstructured experiences, and are disconnected from nature spending more and more time in an electronic world.

As educators we must be intentional with providing experiences outside for children to be able to slow down and develop a sense of wonder from our great outdoors. “Caring for simple things in nature- like caterpillars, flowers, and lady bugs- help children develop a sense of themselves as nurturers and as people who care. Looking up into the brances of a tree changing colors in the fall.This sense of self contributes to a peaceful way of living- with self, with others, and with the natural world.” (Wilson, 2009) Providing environments rich in nature also supports creativity and problem solving. Studies conducted of children on playgrounds found that children engage in more creative forms of play in the green area. They also played more cooperatively (Bell and Dyment, 2006). Play in nature is especially important for developing capacities for creativity, problem solving, and math. In a recent case study conducted in 2011, Young children develop foundational skills through child initiated experiences in a Nature Explore Classroom, (Veselack, Chang, and Miller 2011) the findings showed interacting with natural materials, peers, and teachers provided children with many opportunities to develop early math skills. Children explored patterns, the attributes of objects, and shapes, as well as opportunities to measure and count. The math experiences were more meaningful to children because they used the math concepts naturally, in the context of their play.

Creating a nature-based outdoor environment can seem very overwhelming. One simple way to begin is by adding more experiences and activities for children while they are on the playground. I encourage teachers to stop thinking about outside time as just “recess” and to start thinking of your playground as an outdoor learning environment. Plan for outdoor learning with the same intention as you plan for indoor learning.

Fall in Colorado is my favorite season with beautiful colors all around us and pleasant temperatures. Autumn is a wonderful time to incorporate more science/nature activities outside. Here are a few easy suggestions to get your nature-based outdoor classrooms started:

  • Add pumpkins for children to explore, carry, and roll. Carve one of the pumpkins so children can see the inside, and watch what happens to the inside over time.
  • Make binoculars out of paper towel tubes and take the children on a nature walk, find different shapes in nature, listen to the sounds of nature: birds, squirrels, wind, or how leaves sound when you step on them.
  • Add sticks in many different lengths for the children to explore. Incorporate math by comparing how the sizes of two small twigs can equal one larger twig. Count how many small twigs will be needed to add up to one large stick.
  • Add leaves. Ask children to pick a leaf and then try to find another one that looks the same, then find leaves that look completely different.
  • Create an area for children to do leaf-pounding. Add leaves, paper and hammers. Layer the leaves between the papers and discover what happens when the leaves release chlorophyll.
  • Plant a tree
  • Add small and large tree cookies for the children to explore, carry and stack.
  • Get more in touch with trees by learning about the different parts of a tree, and feel the different textures. Make bark rubbings.
  • Sort the seeds from trees such as acorns, walnuts or buckeyes.

As you spend more time exploring nature observe your children to see if they are calm, less distracted, and happy! Please share your favorite fall nature activity.

Resources to consider when creating your natural environment:

Project Learning Tree -

Arbor Day Foundation -

Colorado Division of Wildlife -

Colorado Head Start -

CPSC Playground Guidelines  -


Looking upwards into the center of a green tree.Bell AC, Dyment JE. (2006) Grounds for Action: Promoting Physical Activity through School Ground Greening in Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Evergreen; 2006.

Veselack, E Cain-Chang, Miller D, 2011, Young Children develop foundational skills through child-initiated experiences in a Nature Explorer classroom: A single case study La Canada, California. Growing with Nature, 87

Wilson, R.A. 2009 The color of green: A “go” for peace education. Exchange Magazine, 31 (3): 40-43


The CLASS: One teacher’s thoughts on using evaluations to improve quality.



As a teacher, I am impacted by my students’ immense affection, unlimited creativity, joyful laughter, and sponge-like ability to learn new material. When I taught a classroom of English Language Learners, I was amazed when my students became fluent English speakers in one year. Having witnessed such rapid development in my students, I realize that I am in a position to capitalize on their potential. My students deserve an excellent education, so each day I ask myself, “How can I be a better teacher?  What can I do to push my students past the achievement gap?”  I know that preparing my students well for Kindergarten can make a lasting difference in their academic careers. I often wonder how early childhood educators collectively can work together to influence students’ academic trajectories. My questions multiplied after attending Education Nation, a statewide education conference featured on NBC.

In a session at the conference, I listened to some of the most prominent voices in Colorado education discuss what will make the difference in education reform. The moderator asked the panel, “How will we make sure our third grade students are reading to learn instead of learning to read?” When answering this question, most of the panelists, including the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools and the Lieutenant Governor, said that you must begin early. The consensus seemed clear: quality early childhood education can improve the outcomes of students into elementary school and beyond.

New questions arose: What does quality look like in early childhood education? How does quality affect student outcomes? How do we measure quality? I started reading articles and looking at the factors that determine quality in ECE.  I discovered that one of the most comprehensive assessments of quality is the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, commonly referred to as CLASS. CLASS assesses the nature and quality of teacher-child interactions, specifically in three global dimensions: Instructional Support, Classroom Organization, and Emotional Support.  Higher scores on CLASS often predict growth in pre-k children’s achievement (Burchinal2010, p. 168).

Considering my own experience with CLASS and looking at data from classrooms around the country, I know achieving high scores on the CLASS is difficult, particularly within the Instructional Support dimension. CLASS is rated along a 1-7 scale, with 1-2 indicating low quality, 3, 4, 5 indicating mid-range, and 6 or 7 indicating high quality. In a research study about how quality assessed by the CLASS tool corresponded to student outcomes, CLASS evaluations were compiled from 671 classrooms in 11 states.  The mean score for Emotional Support was 5.49 and the average score for Instructional Support was 2.04. The study indicated that “children acquire academic skills only when the minimal standards represented by [the] cut-off point of above 3.25 on the CLASS Instructional Quality Dimension are met…” (Burchinal 2010, p. 174). Only 13% of these classrooms scored above 3.25 in Instructional Support.

After considering this data, I realized we have more to learn about how we can achieve high quality in early childhood education. The depth, rigor, and intentionality outlined in the CLASS assessment invite better teaching. As I approach each day asking myself, “How can I be a better teacher?” I now know practicing skills assessed on the CLASS tool can help me answer that question. Collectively, our ECE community must ask ourselves, how do we increase quality in our classrooms? How can we reach scores of 5, 6, and 7s in Instructional Quality? What supports do we need to reach these levels?

Through considering these questions and practicing teaching skills that lead to improved quality, early childhood educators have the power to push students beyond the achievement gap and set them on the path to “reading to learn instead of learning to read.”


Burchinal, M., Vandergrift, N., Pianta, R., & Mashburn, A. (2010).Threshold analysis of association between child care quality and child care outcomes for low-income children in pre-kindergarten programs. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, 166-176.