Clayton Early Learning
21Aug/13Off

Mixed Company: Preparing ALL Children for School – repost from 8/2012

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden

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Rebecca Soden

Are you a parent or grandparent looking for a quality preschool experience for your child? Great news! Our high quality NAEYC Accredited school here at Clayton Early Learning would like to announce that we now have a limited number of preschool openings available for tuition-based children.

This might be news to some folks in our community who have known Clayton as a program that primarily serves low-income children and families. We recognize that this is a shift from how we have traditionally gone about improving educational opportunities within our local neighborhoods. We want to take a moment to highlight a few of the reasons WHY we are making a change to serve tuition-based families and how YOU can help us to create a future where all children are prepared for success in school and in life.

Why Are Mixed Income Preschool Classrooms Good for Kids?
Here at Clayton, we are always striving for evidence-based practices. We want to be doing the kinds of things that we know are related to better opportunities for children down the road. As universal access to preschool becomes more common across the nation, we have more evidence to help us understand the value that economic integration has for children’s school readiness. Data has been mounting for years that quality early learning experiences (especially literacy building experience that teach vocabulary and expressive language skills) help to prepare children for reading success down the road. Studies that have looked deeply at this issue have found some preliminary evidence that economic integration within preschool classrooms can lead to stronger language skills for ALL children.

  • Low Income Children – After just one year of preschool, low-income children in economically integrated classrooms moved from below the national norm (93) on language scores to above the national norm (101) while children in the low-income only classrooms were still well below the national norm in the spring (Schechter & Bye, 2007). Classroom quality was high within all of these preschool rooms suggesting that learning alongside peers from different economic backgrounds might have played a role in these gains.
  • Middle and Upper Income Children – Gains in the mixed-income classrooms were similarly strong for children who were coming from more affluent homes. The great news is that ALL children benefited, not just low-income children (Schechter & Bye, 2007).

Another reason that we are striving for economic integration is because we are working with families to gain upward economic mobility. As families in our program achieve their goals and their income levels increase, we want to provide avenues for children to stay at our school with the continuity of care that we are so committed to providing. Offering a tuition-based preschool option is one more way that we are trying to meet the needs of our families and our community.

How Can You Help?

Give the gift of high quality learning to your child. We want our preschool to be full when the new school year begins. We want every preschool child (low, middle and upper income) within Northeast Denver to have a quality early learning experience and to be fully prepared for success in Kindergarten. Please take a moment and complete an Interest Form online or call us at 303-355-4411.

28Aug/12Off

Mixed Company: Preparing ALL Children for School

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden

By

Rebecca Soden

Are you a parent or grandparent looking for a quality preschool experience for your child? Great news! Our high quality NAEYC Accredited school here at Clayton Early Learning would like to announce that we now have a limited number of preschool openings available for tuition-based children.

This might be news to some folks in our community who have known Clayton as a program that primarily serves low-income children and families. We recognize that this is a shift from how we have traditionally gone about improving educational opportunities within our local neighborhoods. We want to take a moment to highlight a few of the reasons WHY we are making a change to serve tuition-based families and how YOU can help us to create a future where all children are prepared for success in school and in life.

Why Are Mixed Income Preschool Classrooms Good for Kids?
Here at Clayton, we are always striving for evidence-based practices. We want to be doing the kinds of things that we know are related to better opportunities for children down the road. As universal access to preschool becomes more common across the nation, we have more evidence to help us understand the value that economic integration has for children’s school readiness. Data has been mounting for years that quality early learning experiences (especially literacy building experience that teach vocabulary and expressive language skills) help to prepare children for reading success down the road. Studies that have looked deeply at this issue have found some preliminary evidence that economic integration within preschool classrooms can lead to stronger language skills for ALL children.

  • Low Income Children – After just one year of preschool, low-income children in economically integrated classrooms moved from below the national norm (93) on language scores to above the national norm (101) while children in the low-income only classrooms were still well below the national norm in the spring (Schechter & Bye, 2007). Classroom quality was high within all of these preschool rooms suggesting that learning alongside peers from different economic backgrounds might have played a role in these gains.
  • Middle and Upper Income Children – Gains in the mixed-income classrooms were similarly strong for children who were coming from more affluent homes. The great news is that ALL children benefited, not just low-income children (Schechter & Bye, 2007).

Another reason that we are striving for economic integration is because we are working with families to gain upward economic mobility. As families in our program achieve their goals and their income levels increase, we want to provide avenues for children to stay at our school with the continuity of care that we are so committed to providing. Offering a tuition-based preschool option is one more way that we are trying to meet the needs of our families and our community.

How Can You Help?

Give the gift of high quality learning to your child. We want our preschool to be full when the new school year begins. We want every preschool child (low, middle and upper income) within Northeast Denver to have a quality early learning experience and to be fully prepared for success in Kindergarten. Please take a moment and complete an Interest Form online or call us at 303-355-4411.

23Sep/11Off

What Does the Economy Have To Do With Continuity of Care?

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden

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Rebecca Soden

Research on optimal early learning environments seem to converge on the finding that ongoing, consistent and stable relationships (attachments) between teachers, children and families are critical to school readiness.  Anyone working within community based early childhood programs understands the impact that a financial crisis has on continuity of care.  When a family runs into a financial crisis, children often experience an emotional crisis by losing the supportive attachments and friendships that programs like ours provide.  While the Federal government, state and local communities are working together to develop safety nets for children whose families undergo sudden financial changes, gaps in funding or funding restrictions still exist.

Charlotte Brantley, President and CEO of Clayton Early Learning, testified earlier this month at a Senate hearing on the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which provides child care subsidies for needy families, and described it as “the glue that holds multiple funding streams together”.  Ed Week ran a summary of her testimony for anyone interested in reviewing it.  In the real world of ECE programming,  it is difficult to count on these funds to ensure continuity of care for the child because family circumstances such as a parent’s work hours, or a small raise in income can disrupt services.  This results in children who are eligible for quality childcare one month and then suddenly not eligible the next month.  What ends up happening is that children suffer as early attachments and meaningful relationships are disrupted when funding to attend a high quality program is no longer available.

We want to hear your thoughts on this topic.  How has the financial crisis and funding eligibility guidelines impacted your child, your family or your school?

20May/11Off

What is a book? E-books in ECE

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden

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Rebecca Soden

Something happened this week that could indicate a fundamental shift in what it means to “read”.  Amazon announced that the sale of e-books has now surpassed the sale of paper books.  For every 100 paper books sold, Amazon sells 105 e-books.  After hearing this on the news, the impact that e-books might have on young children started to slowly sink in for me.
For the past five years, I’ve been working with teachers and coaches to implement the kinds of classroom literacy practices that most effectively prepare children for success at reading.  We’ve worked to help children learn “book knowledge” skills, like how to hold a book, turn the pages, start from the front of the book and continue toward the back.  While these are and will always be important emergent reading skills, I wonder if we are missing the opportunity to build children’s skills with other types of books (like e-books)?
Adults aren't the only ones using e-books either, elementary-aged children are enjoying them too (as highlighted in a recent New York Times article).  When I talk about using technology to support reading with other educators, I sometimes sense a reluctance to explore its potential.  There is a concern that if we aren’t exposing children to REAL books and REAL objects that they are somehow missing out on the REAL world of learning.  Considering this news about the prevalence of e-books, I would ask all of us to consider what the REAL world is for children and how we are preparing them for the world if we are not introducing them to a variety of reading methods.
What are your thoughts?  What do you think would be important to consider when introducing this type of technology into an early childhood classroom?

25Feb/11Off

And the Children Shall Lead Us: Advice for Governor Hickenlooper

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden

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Rebecca Soden

Governor Hickenlooper joined us here at Clayton Early Learning this month to share a birthday breakfast celebration.  The children were excited to spend time with him and to talk about what they would do if they were in his shoes.  At breakfast, the children presented the Governor with a book they had created called If I Were Governor. What strikes me most about the book that our Clayton Educare children wrote for Governor Hickenlooper, was that their ideas for leadership touched on the fundamental values of what it means to be an American.  Children have a very special way of telling the story of their own dreams, hopes and aspirations.  Though light-hearted and funny, they carry with them the same message of equality, community and opportunity that Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned for our nation.  I couldn’t begin to do the children’s voices justice, so I will share them here in their own words.

I would dance and help everybody, like those who are not happy and need my help! ~ Itiah

I would buy a school bus and give everyone free rides to school. ~ Donovan

I would make sure that all people had jobs and could move into a house.  I think we should all share bikes if you don’t have a car, I could share my own bike. ~ Trista

I would keep people safe and if people try to mess with them I would be the red Spiderman. ~ Quan’tre

I would build a school with a big, big garden, so we could grow the food and feed all the kids. ~ Veronica

I would give people free medicine. ~ Jayla

I would rescue people and be a good person. ~ Jeremiah

I will say I will help you; I will fix your house; I will give them hugs. ~ Nijaha

Make sure that all the people have good schools. Help the poor people build houses, for people that don’t have houses. ~ Kaylin

I will help people fix things if it was broken. I would also plant some plants. ~ Tiana

We could make food for all the people, not just one, but all of them. ~ Kenika

Tell people that the only thing I can’t do is nothing. ~ Avian

I am so glad that our children shared these ideas on governing.  Their words remind me that we are all leaders (even the youngest among us).  We do not have to wait until we hold a government position to take action on these dreams for our world.  We have the power within ourselves to lead change within our own communities and schools.  Avian certainly has it right when she says that, “the only thing we CAN’T do is NOTHING”.  What would the children in your life suggest to Governor Hickenlooper if given the chance?

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12Jan/11Off

Talking to Babies Makes a Meaningful Difference

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden

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Rebecca Soden

You might have heard the National Public Radio story this week about “Closing the Achievement Gap with Baby Talk” that referenced a seminal research piece in our field.  If you’ve been working in early childhood education for many years, you are likely familiar with the book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children by Betty Hart and Todd Risley.  I know that it has a prominent place on the shelf above most of the desks here at Clayton Early Learning because this was one of the first longitudinal research studies that looked specifically at the differences in language environments for young children and what matters most about those differences.  First published in 1995, their findings challenged some widely held assumptions of the day and helped us identify children most at risk when it comes to learning language.  They found that, “race/ethnicity doesn’t matter; gender doesn’t matter; whether a child is the first in the family or born later also doesn’t matter, but what does matter is relative economic advantage”.

We learned from this work that what parents say and do with their children before they are even three years old has an enormous impact on how much language their children will learn and use.  We also learned that this way of parenting is somehow related to family income.  Identification of this opportunity gap for children provides the justification for much of our approach to early intervention and the types of programs that we deliver here at Clayton Early Learning.

If you’re like me, your next question is, “How are middle and high income families talking to their infants, toddlers and preschools and how can we support all families to talk in those same ways”?  This research gave us some ideas about how we can talk with very young children in ways that will prepare them for school.

  • Just talk. The number of words parents say makes a difference and if we can provide a variety of different types of words (nouns, verbs, modifiers) that is even better.  Children who do well in school hear their parents say an average of 382 words each hour.  They talk in the car.  They talk during dinner.  They talk while they are cleaning up the house.
  • Show encouragement for your child to talk and learn. Parents of children who do well with language use a lot of positive and affirming words when they’re conversing with their children.  They support their child’s attempts at language by repeating and extending what their child says.  When their child points and says ‘dog’, they say something like, “Yes sweetheart! You see that big furry dog across the street.”
  • Tell your child about things. Children who do well have parents who make language important.  They name and explain things to their baby whether or not their baby is able to fully understand it yet.  They talk about what they are doing while they’re doing it, “I’m changing your diaper because I know how much you like to feel fresh and clean.”
  • Give your child choices. Parents of children who do well in school seem to encourage autonomy from very early on.  Even before their child is three, they tend to ask for compliance more often than they demand it.  This is not to say that they set no limits, just that they provide options when a child is able to make safe choices.  For example, “It’s time for us to leave.  I can either hold your hand while we walk to the car or you can hold onto the shopping cart.”  Some people believe that encouraging these choices for children allows them to build initiative and self-regulation which helps them to cope with a variety of life experiences.
  • Listen. Children who do well with language have parents who are fully engaged with them.  In today’s world of instant communication and cell phones, this is a real challenge for most parents.  My own four year old son recently said to me, “Mommy, please listen to me with your eyes too!”  Parents of kids who do well in school make time to be fully present with their children, even if only for ten minutes a day.  When a toddler is first learning how to say words and create phrases, “wait time” where the parent is giving eye contact, nodding and smiling is an important form of listening.  It’s all too easy to rush in and finish a child’s sentence or thought, so we sometimes need to remind ourselves in those moments that this listening is helping our child to succeed and thrive when they enter school.

What parenting strategies have you found to work well related to language and conversations?  What ideas do you have for making a meaningful difference for the children in your care?

3Dec/10Off

Curious Minds: Three things to remember about STEM in Early Childhood Education

Rebecca Soden

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Rebecca Soden

What do you think of when you hear the words Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)?  If you’re like the majority of us, your heart starts racing a little.  I’ve heard colleagues discuss the ways in which they learned about science and math when they were in school.  Their reflections are often laced with a sense of trepidation and they usually mention the heavy mental burden that they remember feeling during these subjects.  Some parents and teachers are moved to tears by the sense of failure they experienced in STEM courses.

But we can write a new STEM story (for ourselves as well as our children).  When we look at STEM through the lens of early childhood education, we can apply our tradition of weaving content into play-based classroom experiences that are naturally engaging and reinforcing to children.  What a wonderful opportunity to make learning science and math a joyful time!

I’d like to share with you three things to think about as you approach STEM with young learners.

1. Children are more COMPETENT in math and science than teachers and parents realize.

We are born using intuitive math and science skills to interpret and react to the world.  Infants as young as 9-months old have some sense of number and will move their eyes to a picture of two circles when two drumbeats are played (instead of a picture of 3 circles).  Studies of language development indicate that from birth, babie’s brains work like a statistical program by sifting through all of the sounds that they hear in the world and determining which sounds go together in their native language.  In fact, when infants were played a tape of a “made up language” with sounds that were not a part of their native language, they got bored and stopped listening.  But, when new combinations of the sounds of their own language where introduced into the “made up language” they started attending again.  Over and over, babies are making connections and decisions about the world around them.  They are “choosing” to attend or not attend based on data that they gather, interpret and act on.

2. Gender and socioeconomic GAPS related to STEM develop sometime in the preschool years and tend to grow as children move through the primary grades.

We’ve learned that math scores in preschool predict both math and literacy outcomes and that one possibility for closing opportunity gaps is to help children learn the types of higher level thinking skills that are used by scientists, mathematicians and readers alike.  Quality STEM education in preschool is not a ‘cherry on the top’ to be incorporated once the language, literacy and social-emotional development have been mastered.  STEM education in ECE is an issue of equity because we know that these higher level thinking skills and math knowledge are key to closing achievement gaps for kids.

3. To teach STEM in early childhood classrooms, you don’t have to know all the ANSWERS, but you do need to know the QUESTIONS.

At Clayton Early Learning, we’re working on supporting children’s school readiness and we spend a lot of time thinking and learning about what teachers can do to really make a difference for kids.  We are understanding more about the specific ways in which teachers can facilitate children's thinking during play that have been shown to correlate with academic outcomes in first grade and beyond.   These ways of questioning and interacting with children can be used across content areas, but they work very well to support STEM activities.

Ask questions that…

Focus on helping children understand concepts - “Why doesn’t this shape (rectangle) belong with the other shapes (triangles)?”

Encourage children to use analysis and reasoning skills - “Why do we need to wear a coat outside today when we didn’t need one yesterday?”

Support children to link concepts across activities – “Remember when we looked at and touched different types of rocks yesterday?  Today, we’re going to make some guesses about how heavy or how light those rocks are.”

Help children apply concepts to their everyday world – “Let’s make a graph to show how each of us got to school today.  Bring your picture up and put it next to the bus, the car or the walking feet”.

Spark children’s creativity about ideas – “Let’s brainstorm all the ways we might get from the door to the playground.  How would you get there?”

Support children to observe and evaluate their ideas and conclusions. “Would you want to live in the house that we built out of straw or would you rather live in the brick house?” “Why?”

Help children to think about their own process of thinking by asking questions like “How did you know that?” or “How did you figure that out?”

Don’t be afraid to use academic language – “What are your observations?”, “Let’s document what we find by drawing a picture.”, “My hypothesis is that it will grow one inch. What is your guess?”, “When we finish graphing our data, let’s see which one is bigger.”

Let’s support every child to be a Scientist, Engineer, Techie and Mathematician!  Building on children’s early STEM competencies through our intentional use of questions that promote higher-level thinking can make a difference for vulnerable children.  What are your thoughts about incorporating STEM into early childhood classrooms?  Please share your ideas and joyful STEM experiences so that we might all learn and grow together.

16Sep/10Off

Head Start: Are We Accountable?

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden

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Rebecca Soden

It’s back to school time here at Clayton Early Learning. We just held our annual all staff meeting at Park Hill Golf Course to start off the new school year.  We had the opportunity to watch a documentary about Sargent Shriver, the founder of Head Start and his dedication to the War on Poverty.  Ironically, during our session break, the TV in the clubhouse was playing a report on CNN about Head Start Fraud. For many of us, it was difficult to see the report from the Government Office of Accountability stating that some Head Start programs had enrolled children who were not eligible for the program based on federal guidelines.

Hearing this report, led me to reflect on the work that I’ve seen in our Head Start program and the value of our services for children, families and the Denver community.  I can say with experience that accountability for the Head Start Performance Standards and responsibility to fulfill the mission of closing opportunity gaps for low-income children has been a constant focus of our collective work for the fifteen plus years that I’ve  worked with Head Start.

“Accountability” is certainly the buzz word of the times, but at Clayton Early Learning, we’ve been living this term for over a decade.  A pioneer in using child and program data for accountability and continuous improvement purposes, we’ve been consistently invited to present at national Head Start meetings and conferences.  Sharing our story with other Head Start programs does not mean much however if we aren’t able to make the tough choices everyday that lead to excellence.

That day, at the staff meeting, we shared some of the outcomes of those tough choices:

  • Teachers here at Clayton Early Learning are implementing expansive care giving strategies with babies and toddlers.  They have extended conversations with children and create well organized classroom environments with stimulating materials and activities.  Child outcome measures indicate that our infants and toddlers are communicating at above average levels with their caregivers and are maintaining these high levels over time.
  • Preschool children tend to come to us with rather low vocabulary scores. However, the data suggest that our program has been successful in supporting children to increase their vocabulary scores. Children, on average, increase approximately 5 standard score points during the course of one year, indicating that their rate of vocabulary growth substantially exceeds the typical rate of growth in vocabulary.
  • Children heading to Kindergarten are leaving our program prepared for success, with readiness scores on or near the national average.  Kindergarten-bound children who attend both EHS and HS at Clayton tend to have higher scores on school readiness measures, echoing results from the Bounce Learning Network that children who enter earlier leave more prepared for kindergarten.

Our appreciation for the depth and breadth of outcomes created by the dedication and diligence of Head Start staff may not be measurable for years to come, but our eyes remain fixed on measuring our impacts in the ways that we can and in tailoring our resources to realize the mission of Head Start to promote school readiness for low-income children.  Please share your Head Start success stories with us by posting a comment.

11Aug/10Off

Back to School Parenting

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden

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Rebecca Soden

I was at our neighborhood playground with my three year old son this week.  I was hovering over him, attempting to explain why keeping rocks on the ground is a better idea than throwing them, when another young child walked up beside me.  He couldn’t have been much older than five, but his words were wise beyond his years.  He shook his head from side to side and said, “It’s hard work bein’ a parent.”

I smiled back at him and thought of how true that simple statement is, especially at this time of year, when our kids are returning to school (or starting school for the first time).  It isn’t merely the stress related to coordinating schedules, purchasing school supplies and figuring out transportation that fills our minds at this time of year.  It is the awareness that the hopes and dreams we have for our children rest in the experiences that they will encounter at school (both positive and negative).  It is the recognition that when I walk my child into his new classroom, he will be just one of many students joining a teacher who may or may not see the sparkle in his eye that I see, may misunderstand his potential or even think of him as a “difficult child”.

Good teachers and quality schools are very important contributors to our kid’s success, but we (as parents) have a far greater impact on the trajectory of our children’s lives than any other factor.  During this busy time of going back to school, I would ask each of us to think about providing the kinds of supports for our children that go beyond backpacks, pencils and composition notebooks.   Here are some questions to ask yourself when thinking about how to support your child’s literacy development and life long love of learning:

  • How do I find ways to enjoy reading and learning myself? Your child sees you as a role model and will grow to understand that reading is important in your life.  Let her see you read your email, the newspaper, magazines and books.
  • How do I read to my child? Read anything that you enjoy or that your child brings to you.  Don’t worry about always reading the words exactly from the text, but instead have conversations about the book.  Ask for your child’s ideas about the story and have her tell you about the pictures.  This type of Dialogic Reading really helps kids learn language and the skills that lead to independent reading later in life.
  • Does my home reflect the importance of reading? Have books in your house.  Ask your kids to help you with recipes and measuring ingredients.  Ask your kids to help you sort through the mail and let them help you organize your household paperwork.
  • Do I engage my child in conversations? Talk with your child while you’re cooking dinner, driving in the car, shopping for groceries, waiting in line at the post office.  Tell family stories.  Ask for your child’s ideas and opinions.  Don’t be afraid to use complex words in your conversations with your child.  This exposure to rare and academic words will make a real difference when your child starts learning to read for themselves.

When I think back on what the wise young child said to me on the playground this week, I completely agree with him.  It is hard to be a parent, but it is also rewarding to see your child develop a love of learning.  During this busy time of going back to school, I'm going to try to focus on helping my children find joy in reading and in school.  What thoughts do you have about the role that parent's can play in a child's school success?

17Jun/10Off

Eliminating Early Reading First: How can we invest in children?

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden

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Rebecca Soden

Those of you following funding for early childhood education probably already know that federal allocations for Early Reading First (an initiative promoting literacy for at-risk preschool children) have been eliminated.  I understand that as a nation, we’re always faced with choices about where to put our money.  If we invest in one thing, we can’t use that same money to invest in another thing.  Just like in our personal financial planning, we can choose to put our money into a savings account (which will give us smaller gains more quickly) or we can choose to invest in a 401K (which will give us greater gains that might take years to cash in).  I want to encourage our federal leaders not to rely on the savings account approach for funding literacy education (remediation for struggling readers in high school), and to continue investing in the early childhood years (birth to grade three) that will grow over time and produce the compounded, long-term outcomes that we want for children.

The new federal plan folds Early Reading First funding into a different literacy initiative (called Striving Readers) which at present targets middle and high school students only, but will expand to include some (15% total) funding for children birth to five.  This is a surprising choice to me for a few reasons.  First, research on achievement gaps in reading suggests that gaps between socioeconomic and racial groups (if present at third grade) tend to remain consistent throughout middle and high school, but that there is real opportunity to change the trajectory for children if intervention occurs prior to third grade.   Second, findings from multiple studies clearly point to the long term advantage of investing in early childhood programming.  Indeed, high-quality pre-kindergarten programs help narrow the achievement gap between poor and affluent children, with the benefits of these invest­ments (to children and the community) outweighing their costs to taxpayers.

We recently completed an Early Reading First project and the opportunities that our project afforded hundreds of children are at the forefront of my mind.  While our project did not include an experimental evaluation, we can say that children enrolled in one of our Early Reading First classrooms for at least 6 months were significantly closer to their same age peers in the areas of emergent literacy that are most predictive of future reading success.  One teacher, when asked what she learned through the Early Reading First project, said that teachers in her program are now “creating opportunities, asking open ended questions, encouraging conversations and building unforgettable relationships with our children and families.”

At this point, the important question to ask is, how can we continue to offer these opportunities despite de-funding of Early Reading First?  I propose the following considerations for inclusion in any restructuring of the Striving Readers program:

  • ensure programming that includes a focus on young children (birth to five) and systemic support for a family-school connection
  • include a comprehensive curriculum that focuses on the prevention of reading difficulties (and not merely remediation for struggling readers)
  • include teacher professional development opportunities that are focused, applicable and research-based
  • include mechanisms for evaluating effectiveness that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for young children

What are your thoughts on how to ensure that early literacy stays at the top of the national agenda?