By Peter Blank
Lorrel Esterbrook, Mentor Coach for Family Engagement at Clayton Early Learning, has years of experience working with various center and family based programs. In addition to overseeing the Play and Learn programs here at Clayton, she has a wealth of knowledge about the HIPPY program (read more about HIPPY here). She recently transformed this wealth of knowledge into a published story book rooted in the HIPPY curriculum, "What I Saw". I asked Lorrel about her experience in family engagement, her wonderful book, and life as a published author. The following is an edited version of our conversation.
PB: What drew you to a career in ECE and specifically home and family based instruction?
LE: While I was in college I started working for a community center in Denver’s Five Points/Curtis Park neighborhoods teaching art classes and job readiness skills to adolescents that were either already gang affiliated or at risk for drugs, violence, and gang affiliation. While doing that work the importance of family engagement became even more apparent to me. I also saw the critical role that programs like Head Start played in fostering parent engagement. Eventually I started working with a Head Start program and then I started working with a school based early childhood and family engagement program. That’s when I was introduced to home visiting. I was fortunate to work with a small but passionate team that was conducting home visits in three different languages to immigrant and refugee families from around the world. The families we served taught me about a wide range of wonderful family and parenting practices. Parents would sometimes ask me for “the right way” to parent their child. That broke my heart because it implied that they were in some way doing something wrong. My goal became honoring their cultural style of parenting while giving them a buffet of options they could try out as they learned the culture of their new home.
PB: When did you first get involved with the HIPPY program?
LE: As happens in our field, the grant for the ECE and parent engagement program I was working with ended. I stumbled upon a position as a HIPPY Coordinator for a county Head Start program. I knew HIPPY by name, but little else. Within a few days of accepting the position I was in Little Rock, Arkansas attending the HIPPY pre-service training for coordinators. By the end of the week I was hooked! HIPPY is rooted in some of my core beliefs. All parents want good things for their children. HIPPY strives to honor the parenting tools that families have already, and introduces them to new strategies to help their child learn and grow.
PB: You were a HIPPY coordinator for ten years and work as a National Trainer for HIPPY USA. How did you become involved with the program as an author?
LE: A few years ago the HIPPY curriculum underwent a major rewrite. That revision was led by a team from Clayton Early Learning including Michelle Mackin-Brown and Jan Hommes. My decision to apply for a position at Clayton was influenced in part by the positive experience I had working with this curriculum development team. Several HIPPY sites were selected to pilot the new curriculum and the site I was working with was one of those. In that capacity I had an opportunity to provide feedback to the curriculum revision team and helped rewrite the coordinators manual for the model. I attended a curriculum meeting at the HIPPY USA 2014 Leadership Conference in Washington DC. During that meeting there was discussion about updating the story books for the curriculum. We were asked for our thoughts on what was needed for a new story and I had a lot to say and a lot of ideas. A few weeks later I got a call from HIPPY USA asking me if I would like to try putting all of my ideas into book form. I was thrilled with the idea and jumped right on the opportunity.
PB: What inspired you to write “What I Saw”?
LE: “What I Saw” is about a kindergartner named Tasha who is nervous about talking in front of the class during show and tell. The teacher Mrs. Hart has asked all of the children to bring pictures of animals they have seen. Mrs. Hart provides encouragement and opportunities for the children to expand their language and learning around animals like birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Mrs. Hart accepts each child where they are at, while giving them opportunities for growth. This leads Tasha to feel more comfortable talking.
I’m a huge animal and nature lover. When I was a kid I loved books about animals. I felt this was an opportunity to introduce some big vocabulary and science to preschool age children. I tried to pick a wide range of animals so that every child reading the book could identify with seeing at least one of those animals. But I also wanted to provide opportunities for children to be introduced to animals they might not have seen. I specifically chose the North American Wood Duck as one of the birds in the story. This type of duck was hugely important to me as a child and was considered endangered during the 1970’s. My family worked with and supported these ducks on our property as part of a species conservation plan. Because of the program my family participated in you can now see North American Wood Ducks living all over the country including Denver’s City Park.
All of the children in “What I Saw” are named and modeled after children in my own family and family friends. The teacher in the story is one of my HIPPY Mentors, Gayle Hart. Illustrator Debbie Clark, did an amazing job of portraying all of the characters. I wanted all of the children in my life to be able to look at the book and see a child that they could identify with on some level. Maybe they identify with a child because of the way they look, or they might identify with a personality trait, or the structure of the family.
PB: Why is it important that children have access to literature like this?
LE: There are three main points that stick out for me: First of all “What I Saw” is designed to prompt parents to talk with their children about the book. To ask children open ended questions. It models questions that parents can ask, it shows possible responses and how parents can build on their child’s response. Secondly it gives children an opportunity to learn some new big vocabulary in a very age appropriate manner. I love hearing children tell their parents “That’s a dog, it’s a mammal because it has fur”. Lastly, but maybe most important, I think it’s important for children to see themselves in the stories they read. As I said before, all of the children and the teacher are modeled on real people, people I love, respect and care about. Some of those individuals had expressed that they didn’t see people like them in children’s stories. I wanted to change that. I wanted those individuals to know how important they are and their unique qualities are to me.
PB: What advice would you give other education professionals who are interested in becoming authors?
LE: Have someone who can give you good honest and constructive feedback. Writing taps into your emotions. I put a lot of heart and soul into this story. Getting constructive criticism could have been a painful experience, but it wasn’t because the person in charge of filtering the feedback back to me took the time to honor and respect my feelings on my work. For every hour you spend writing you will probably spend ten hours thinking, researching, and problem solving. I think that might have been the biggest surprise to me. Children need to hear stories told from many perspectives and many voices. Add your unique voice and perspective to the world of children’s literature. Write about who and what you love.
PB: You are attending the upcoming HIPPY Leadership Conference next month. What is the focus of this conference? What is your role at this conference?
LE: The conference is held every other year and is an opportunity for HIPPY coordinators and staff to meet, engage in professional development and learn about new developments with the HIPPY model and curriculum. This year there will be a book signing event where some of the HIPPY authors and illustrators will be signing books for the conference participants. I will be co-presenting a workshop called “HIPPY Hacks”. We will be presenting and crowd sourcing ideas on how to save time, money, and sanity while running a HIPPY program.
You can find more information on the upcoming HIPPY Leadership Conference by following the link.
By Peter Blank
Clayton Early Learning has been working to increase early literacy skills with the help of the innovative Ready to Read (RTR) project since 2012. As the project moves into its fourth year let’s take a closer look at the various levels and true depth and reach of RTR.
Clayton received a grant to implement the Ready to Read project, in collaboration with our partner organization Mile High Montessori Early Learning Centers (MHM), from Mile High United Way. The goal of RTR is to foster early literacy skills through interventions, focusing on oral language and vocabulary, in children birth to three. RTR encompasses two different evaluation studies, one in center based care the other in informal care, in an effort to achieve this goal across various care settings. A variety of tools and unique curricula, including Dialogic Reading and Cradling Literacy, are being used to nurture these literacy skills in participating families and children.
Center Based Study
The RTR center-based evaluation study takes place at Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning and four MHM early learning centers across Denver. Within these centers all participating classrooms are trained in and implement Dialogic Reading. According to Shelly Anderson, Project Manager of RTR, Dialogic Reading is an interactive approach to literacy “where the child becomes the storyteller and the adult takes on the role of active listener, following the child’s lead”. By using picture books and letting the child direct the story, it focuses on developing oral language skills as well as a passion for storytelling and books. Dialogic Reading is designed for children birth to five, so even infants and toddlers can begin developing literacy skills at their young age.
In addition to Dialogic Reading, some center-based classrooms are supplemented by the Cradling Literacy curriculum. This additional intervention is an evidence based professional development curriculum for teachers. Developed by Zero to Three, it includes 12 two hour training sessions that cover various topics of literacy development such as the benefits of storytelling and working with families to foster emergent literacy skills.
Play and Learn Study
RTR isn’t just helping children in center-based programs develop early literacy skills. Five Play and Learn groups are also participating in the project. (For more information on Play and Learn, check out this blog.) Parents and caregivers at these Play and Learn sites also receive Dialogic Reading training and work on developing this practice during group sessions and at home. Additionally, some Play and Learn families receive coaching and feedback on their language interactions with children via LENA recording devices. LENA devices are like a pedometer for words, capturing language interactions including child vocalizations, adult word count, conversational terms, and the audio environment like TV and radio. Understanding just how much and what kind of language children hear day to day is integral for emergent literacy and language development.
With a multitude of approaches and evidence based tools, the Ready to Read project has been truly innovative in its approach to early literacy. It will be exciting to continue reviewing the results for the remainder of the project, which ends in the fall of 2017.
For more information on Ready to Read, contact Shelly Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Peter Blank
What is HIPPY?
There are many program options available to families at Clayton Early Learning. In addition to the numerous center-based options our schools offer, many families participate in various home-based programming. One of these options is the Head Start Home Based* program, which employs the HIPPY model and curriculum. The Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) is, according to their website, “an evidenced-based program that works with families in the home to support parents in their critical role as their child's first and most important teacher”The program follows a specific 30 week curriculum designed for children ages three to five. This curriculum focuses on cognitive skill development, such as math and literacy, as well as social emotional development.
HIPPY at Clayton
The HIPPY program is no stranger to Clayton Early Learning’s campus. Beginning in 1994, the model has been serving parents and children at Clayton for over 20 years. At the time of publishing, 68 children currently benefit from this innovative home-based early learning program here at Clayton. Nearly 90% of these children are identified as primary Spanish speakers. According to Michelle Mackin Brown, Team Lead of Family & Community Services at Clayton, participating families always express appreciation about the fact that the HIPPY curriculum is available bilingually in Spanish and English. Coupled with our bilingual home-based HIPPY staff, this allows the program to work seamlessly across varying demographics.
The model is adaptable not only across languages, but locations and settings as well. According to Michelle Makin Brown the activities included in the curriculum “can be done in the home, at the park, at the store and in the community throughout the week to support school readiness”. This flexible approach allows parents to work with their children wherever they may be, bringing important early learning opportunities out of the classroom and into the community.
As previously mentioned, this curriculum is broken out across 30 weeks though at Clayton our home-based HIPPY program lasts 32 weeks. Each home visitor, or Child Family Educator (CFE), working with home-based HIPPY has a limited number of families on their caseload. Such small caseloads allow the CFEs to develop meaningful relationships with both the parent and child throughout their time in the program. During the 32 weeks, families participate in weekly 90 minute home-visits with their CFE to work on new aspects of the curriculum and check in on previous weeks’ goals and activities. In addition to these weekly visits, families come together twice a month for a socialization session. These group sessions are held on Clayton’s campus and offer a classroom experience for the children as well as the parents. During this classroom routine, children are able to socialize with each other and both the parents and children are exposed to social encounters and group learning activities. Transportation is provided to and from the group socializations. Although not required, some CFEs incorporate field trips into the program, bringing certain activities to new and exciting settings like the Denver Zoo.
How is it working?
In order to measure success and progress of the HIPPY program, it undergoes an evaluation process similar to that of Clayton’s center-based options. A combination of data from child assessments and parent interviews are analyzed every year in an effort to track the program’s findings. According to the 2014-2015 Clayton Annual Evaluation Report, “Spanish-speaking HIPPY children† tended to demonstrate strong receptive language skills and made statistically significant gain over time. By the end of the year, the majority of children scored in the average range or above.” Specifically, kindergarten-bound HIPPY children assessed in Spanish left the program with above average receptive language skills.
On a more anecdotal level, when asked how the home-based HIPPY program benefits families and children, had this to say:
“Parents become familiar with educational terms, important milestones for development, how to encourage language development and how to individualize for their child. Families become more aware of their child’s interests, behaviors and learning. Families have expressed that they have received positive feedback from elementary school staff about their child’s academic and social-emotional progress.”
A truly unique combination for both parent and child, Clayton home-based HIPPY continues to reach a wide audience across the Denver community. Here’s to 20 more years of bringing important early learning opportunities to families’ doorsteps!
For more information on the HIPPY program nationwide visit: www.hippyusa.org
For more information on the HIPPY program and other home-based services at Clayton Early Learning contact Tonya Young at email@example.com.
For more information on the HIPPY evaluation efforts contact Diana Mangels at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Note: Clayton’s Head Start (HS) Home Based program follows the HIPPY curriculum with a few additional HS programming requirements. Based on HS requirements, these include an increased number of socializations (16 in total) and two additional weeks than the HIPPY curriculum (32, instead of 30).
†The sample of English speaking children in the home-based HIPPY program was too small to permit valid statistical analysis. Therefore, data are reflective of Spanish speaking children only.
By Peter Blank
Debbie Baker, Child Family Educator and member of the I Love to Read committee, shares with our blog readers the in's and the out's of "I Love to Read" month, which starts February 1st.
By: Debbie Baker
February is “I Love to Read” month at Clayton Early Learning. Early Literacy includes such activities as reading, singing, and talking with your infant, toddler or preschool-aged child. At Clayton Early Learning, we celebrate Early Literacy in February by tracking how many books parents read to their children, inviting guest readers and Clayton staff to read aloud to children, and promoting book sharing with dialogic reading classes for parents.
Ample research demonstrates that reading aloud to young children promotes the development of language and other emergent literacy skills which in turn help children prepare for school. Reading aloud to your child from birth gives your child a true head start in school readiness. Every time you read to your child you are improving their learning advantage.
In addition to improving your child’s language and literacy development, reading aloud also impacts social and emotional development, cognitive development, and fine motor development. Babies and toddlers learn about trust and secure attachment as they share a book snuggled in a lap. They practice attending to the book and can learn about situations that are outside of their regular sphere of influence by reading about them. Fine motor development is enhanced by the child’s desire to help turn the pages as an infant or toddler.
Reading aloud to young children, particularly in an engaging manner, promotes emergent literacy and language development and supports the relationship between child and parent. In addition it can promote a love for reading which is even more important than improving specific literacy skills.
Look for our “I Love to Read to You” poster in the piazza at Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning, and add your child’s name to the heart every time you read aloud this month. There is even a cozy reading area for you to share a book with your child as you drop off or pick up.
Join us for the kick off on February 1. There will be lots of books to share and popcorn to munch as we celebrate “I Love to Read” month at Clayton Early Learning.
If you have more questions regarding February's literacy celebration or how reading impacts child development, feel free to contact Debbie for more information at email@example.com.
By Peter Blank
December 18th, 2015 was a special day for all members of the Clayton Early Learning family, it marked the 10th celebration of Culture Night at our schools and wrapped up another great Culture Week celebration! This year, between 75-100 families participated in the event, which focused on stories and storytelling.
To get a better sense of Culture Night’s importance at Clayton, and the equally as exciting Culture Week, I asked Kelsey Petersen-Hardie, with some help from Charmaine Lewis, both of the Cultural Competency Work-group to share with us how it all began.
Peter: I know the big celebration has come and gone for this year, but I wanted to help clarify Culture Night at Clayton Early Learning for our readers. What is it exactly?
Kelsey: Culture Night is a night we invite children and their families, staff and our families, and community members to our schools to come together and learn about cultures and build our school community in a celebratory environment. We have three objectives with Culture Night:
- To create an interactive and visual experience for children, families, staff, and community members to explore the many cultures of Clayton Early Learning through the shared experience of a cultural aspect.
- To prompt deeper thinking by delving more deeply into an element of culture that is shared by all families and staff, but experienced differently.
- To provide developmentally appropriate experiences to build children’s foundational knowledge of culture.
P: And this year’s theme was Story Telling, correct? How was this theme chosen?
K: The theme this year was Stories and Storytelling. Each year families and staff have the opportunity to vote on a cultural theme in September. There are 10-12 cultural themes to choose from, all representing elements that all cultures share, yet experience differently.
P: That’s great. When did it begin? And why?
K: Because our community is so diverse, Culture Night was created to honor the diversity that each family, child, and staff member brings to our school family. It has been a celebration that promotes curiosity and respect for differences, as well as similarities.
[According to Charmaine, culture night began back in 2005].
P: Wow! This tradition has been around for quite some time. Has Culture Week always been part of the celebration as well?
K: No, Culture Week was implemented 3 or 4 years ago to extend the learning opportunities that are available through preparations for Culture Night. As Culture Night has evolved to provide meaningful and developmentally appropriate experiences in an early childhood setting, we learned that one night was scratching the surface (one week still is scratching the surface, but allows a little more time to get our community engaged in the content). Currently, teachers begin planning for intentional experiences in their daily lessons in October and November.
P: I know firsthand that all this planning and hard work paid off -- I was able to catch the Storybook Parade at Educare during Culture Week and had a smile the entire time. It was so fun to watch each classroom parade down the hallway, dressed in their favorite storybook theme. What other activities were part of this year’s celebration?
K: This year we had some of our own Storytelling heroes share their own storytelling methods with our children and families during the week, like preschool lead teacher/puppet show master Paul Mezzacapo, and Community Mentor Coach/children’s book author Lorrel Esterbrook. During Culture Night, guests were invited to experience a variety of activities to encourage reflection on their own cultural practices and beliefs about stories and storytelling, including making a recording of themselves telling a story for their children to listen to, going on a bear hunt, and exploring family stories through cuisine.
P: Sounds like there were plenty of activities for everyone, thanks for sharing!
All in all, Culture Night and Week was another huge success for all the children, families, and staff at Clayton Early Learning. As Kelsey mentioned, it is always important for our diverse Clayton family to come together and celebrate what makes us simultaneously unique and similar. This togetherness helps make Clayton Early Learning such a special place for all. A big thank you to all of the hard work from staff and families that made this year’s Culture Night/Week celebrations a success!
Interested in other Culture Night stories?! Check out these blog posts from the archives, recapping previous years’ events.
Are you interested in supporting young children's language and literacy development, but you're not quite sure where to start? We're kicking off 'I Love to Read Month' by sharing four easy ways to transform everyday experiences and routines into opportunities for young children to enhance their vocabularies, strengthen children's early phonemic awareness and a develop a life-long love of reading.
1. Conversations with Kids
Learning how to have a conversation is a lot of work for young children. Even after little ones have developed a larger vocabulary to help them communicate their needs or ideas, children may struggle with grasping the ‘conversational rules’ that adults take for granted; like turn-taking and maintaining eye contact with the person that you’re talking to.
When parents are talking to babies, try modeling conversational rules by pausing after posing a question to the infant. Even though the baby may not respond at first, infants will begin participating in conversation with caregivers by cooing back when the adult pauses between questions or comments to the baby.
If an older toddler or preschool-aged child isn’t engaging with adult attempts to converse, environmental factors may be the issue. Try asking questions or making comments and observations when there are fewer distractions, like toys, TV or music. Not sure where to start? When the radio is turned down or turned off, car rides are a great time to capture a child’s attention, model rules of conversation and promote vocabulary development all at once!
2. Point Out Print
Whether at home, in transit, at the grocery store or the playground, there are written words everywhere that adults can point out for young children. By reading aloud the messages on street signs, store windows and billboards, adults are supporting children’s familiarity with commonly reoccurring words and early grasp of phonics.
When pointing out the words and reading them aloud, adults can emphasize letter sounds, which will encourage infants and toddlers to try making that sound while also supporting preschoolers in developing letter-sound recognition.
3. Story Time
Most adults are aware that reading to preschool-aged children is a great way to support a child’s journey to becoming an independent reader. What isn’t as widely known is that infants and toddlers stand to benefit just as much from this activity! Infants and toddlers develop vocabulary more easily when they are frequently read to, even if the youngster isn’t developmentally ready to follow the storyline. In fact, rather than reading text to infants and young toddlers, adults can use comments and questions about the pictures on each page to promote vocabulary and early phonemic development. Technically referred to as ‘Dialogic Reading,’ this strategy not only enhances the child and caregiver relationship, but produces research-proven outcomes for early learners. To read more about dialogic reading for young children, use this link to one of our previous blog posts about Dialogic Reading: http://www.claytonearlylearning.org/blog/?p=943
4. Set the Example
Think that only a professionally trained teacher can support early literacy and language development for young children? Think again! Parents and primary caregivers are the most important and influential teacher that a child will ever have. As early as infancy, children are keen observers of adult behaviors and will try to imitate the behaviors that are modeled for them by the important adults in their lives. Later, as children continue to develop cognitively and emotionally, even their personal beliefs and priorities are influenced by adult family members.
The good news is that the easiest way to help a child become an avid reader is for adults to simply show children how to enjoy reading! A child will more easily develop an interest in reading and an appreciation for books when the child observes their primary caregiver engaging in reading activities and hears the adult discussing books. Further, when adults prioritize daily reading with children, the youngster develops a value for literacy and learning, in general; a value that follows the youngest students as they become life-long learners.
Do these tips sound easy to implement or do you have additional strategies to share with parents and caregivers? We want to hear your ideas for promoting early language and literacy development as well as any challenges that you’ve encountered as a parent or teacher who is supporting language and literacy with young children. Please share your experiences below!
By Molly Yost
Peter Blank, of the Clayton Early Learning Social Media Team, sat down with Clayton Institute Play and Learn facilitators, Anitra Cortez, Josefina Gutierrez, and Patty Hernandez, to learn more about this exciting project and how it works to promote early childhood development with parents and children birth to three.
Social Media Team (SM): To start, can you give us a brief overview of Play and Learn?
Play and Learn facilitators (PL): Play and Learn is a free program for families with children birth to three that consists of adult-child activity sessions, which meet twice a week to focus on themes in early childhood development.
SM: How many different program groups exist? And where are they found?
PL: There are six groups overall. Clayton Early Learning facilitates four different Play and Learn groups and our collaborating partner, Mile High Montessori, helps to facilitate two more. The groups meet at our main campus in the Institute (3993 Martin Luther King Blvd.), our school at Far Northeast (4800 Telluride St), City of God Church in Southwest Denver (5255 W. Warren Ave), Quigg Newton Homes (4558 Navajo St) and the Mile High Montessori centers in Lowry (957 Ulster Way) and Northeast (3503 Marion St).
SM: Wow, you guys sure are busy. What does a typical activity session look like?
PL: Each session is two hours long and has a set schedule. The schedule for the sessions includes free play, group time with music and movement, parent/child reading, outdoor play, snack and more. Although these schedules are the same for each group, every activity and session can vary based on the interest and needs of the children. Also, information from the sessions is expanded during monthly parent meetings focusing on specific child development and parenting topics.
SM: You cover a lot of material in just two hours! What are some of the goals during these sessions and for Play and Learn overall?
PL: The primary goal of Play and Learn is to prepare children and families for school success. We do this by increasing access to early childhood development information and linking our participants to the school community and other community resources. We’ve also seen that a high percentage of participating families enroll their children in high quality preschool programs in the year before Kindergarten.
SM: Sounds like a great way to address school readiness. When did this program start?
PL: Clayton first received funding for three initial groups to begin during the 2010-2011 school year, so we are entering our 5th year. Over the years we have been able to add three more Play and Learn groups with the help of collaborating partners and more funding.
SM: Happy 5 year anniversary!Josefina, you started as a Play and Learn participant and now facilitate the group at Quigg Newton. Can you share with us how you got there?
JG: I started bringing my daughter to the new Play and Learn group at Quigg Newton and after a few months a position opened up for facilitator of that group. I have over 15 years of experience working in early childhood education with groups like AmeriCorps and Catholic Charities and have both my group leader and director certifications. When the position opened up, I decided to apply.
SM: I’m glad you can continue using your professional experience in Early Childhood Education to help facilitate this great program. I have a few more questions before we finish. First,can anyone join a Play and Learn group? And second, how can you get more information about openings and joining a group?
PL: Our target population is low-income families of children 0-3 who either can’t access or choose not to enroll their children in formal early childhood education programs. If you want more information on how to enroll or if you are eligible you can call Patty Hernandez at 303-398-8566.
SM: That’s all the questions we have for now. Thank you all for your hard work and taking the time to share more about Play and Learn!
It is that time of year again for Culture Night, a special night that gives the schools of Clayton Early Learning a chance to celebrate culture in a meaningful way with staff, families, young children, and community members. Each year we strive to offer an experience that is not only fun, but one that provides opportunities for young children and their caring adults to learn about and reflect on their own culture, as well as a chance to come together to celebrate as a community. This year the planning committee got excited about delving deeper into an aspect of culture that all groups share. Families and staff voted for their favorite cultural element from a long list of topics and music was nominated as the focus this year.
In reflecting on what music means from my cultural lens, I had visions of my family gathered together listening to old country western records as my grandpa took turns dancing the grandchildren all around the living room of my family’s cabin, a crackling fire in the background. Images of practicing my violin and choreographing dance moves to Paula Abdul flooded my mind. Music played a part in all special events I can recollect, like weddings, parties, and funerals.
When we talk about culture from a theoretical perspective, we lose children and adults alike. Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t have a culture” or “I don’t know what my culture is”? Culture is experienced every moment of every day, but we don’t necessarily recognize that we are living it because we are IN it.
I wanted to understand culture from my six year old daughter’s perspective so I asked her what she thinks about when she thinks of music. She then gave me a laundry list of what music means from her cultural lens: music as a school special, old country western records like Johnny Cash (that’s my girl!), music that people dance to, music from the Nutcracker, the rhythm and beats of jazz (she then proceeded to demonstrate the different tempos of jazz, illustrating the different lengths of notes with her stuffed animal collection). There you have it, from the eyes of a young child. Culture is lived. Culture comes from experiences. Culture is shared among people. The special people in our lives touch us with these experiences, forever shaping our cultural lens.
What musical memories made the biggest impact on your life? What do you think about when you think of music’s impact in your family?
We hope you will join us at Clayton Early Learning’s Culture Night as we share the musical cultures of our staff, families and community, as well as engage in experiences that create new cultural memories among our children and our learning community.
Culture Night 2013:
Join us for an evening of celebrating culture through music as you mingle throughout the rooms, experiencing the movement, sights, and sounds of our School Family!
Tuesday, 12/17 from 5:30-7:00 P.M. at the Far Northeast Campus
Thursday, 12/19 from 5:30-7:00 P.M. at the Near Northeast Campus
Would you like to join our Blog conversation? How do you celebrate culture in your community? If so, you can leave your statement in the Comment section at the bottom of this blog.
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
There 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 et.al, “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
- 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, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb1439/is_2_15/ai_n28877649/
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.
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.
Each 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.”
Shauna 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.”
As 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.
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!