Clayton Early Learning

Play and Learn: A Unique Approach to School Readiness

Posted by Molly Yost


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!

Do you have or care for a child birth to three years old? Our Play and Learn groups have openings and could be right for you! Call Patty for more information and to find the group nearest you – 303-398-8566.

Do you have or care for a child birth to three years old? Our Play and Learn groups have openings and could be right for you! Call Patty for more information and to find the group nearest you – 303-398-8566.


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

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden


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.


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!


What Am I Teaching? What Are We Learning?

Brenda Hoge

Posted by Brenda Hoge


Brenda Hoge

Think back to when you were in school. Was there something teachers insisted that you learn that you never used and you wouldn't even know when or why you should use it? For me, it was logarithmic functions. When I was in high school, my math teacher insisted that I must learn how to do logarithmic functions and tried to assure me that I couldn't possibly have a career without knowing this. Well, as it turns out, other than the math modules I had to take in college, I have never had to do a logarithmic function and I’m pretty sure I wouldn't even know when to use one. I’m sure it’s useful, maybe even essential knowledge for some professions. But the one thing my teacher neglected to tell me was, “what is it that I need to know and why do I need to know this?” In other words, what was the objective behind logarithmic functions and how is it relevant to my life?

The lack of clarifying the learning objective also happens in preschool. Right now, we are observing classrooms across Denver using the CLASS™ Pre-K tool and one of the indicators that classrooms score low on is Clarity of Learning Objectives. Most teachers have a plan for what children are going to learn each and every day they are in school and most lesson plans have objectives stated. But do we take the time to verbally explain to the children “what is it they are learning and why they are learning this?” Often times we don’t. So what does clarifying the learning objective look like? Little Girl in Classroom

According to the CLASS™ Pre-K manual, clarifying the learning objective means that “children should be aware of the point of the lessons or how they should be focusing their attention during activities.” The teacher can do this in a variety of ways:

The first thing you can do is use what is called an Advanced Organizer. Basically what an advanced organizer means is that you state what the objective of the lesson is or what children should be focusing on prior to starting the activity. For example, if your classroom is doing a unit on sea animals and last week you talked about whales and this week you are introducing dolphins, you can use an advanced organizer by saying “We are going to read a story about whales and then a story about dolphins. Think about things that are the same between whales and dolphins and things that are different about them. And as we find the things that are similar and different, we will write them down on our chart.”

The second thing that you could use are Summaries. Summaries are stating what the objective was or what they just learned after the activity. For instance, using the same whales vs. dolphins example, you could use a summary statement by saying, “We just learned that whales and dolphins both live in the ocean and that they are both mammals. They also both have a blowhole at the top of their head. They are different in that whales are bigger, they swim slower than dolphins, and they swim by themselves while dolphins swim in groups.”

The third thing you can use is called a Reorientation statement. This is one of my favorites because there is always one child in your classroom that gets the conversation “off-track.” Now whether that child is really getting the conversation “off-track” or whether they are making some connection you aren't aware of is something that you don’t know. So you want to make sure that you acknowledge what they are saying but then you want to re-orient back to the planned objective. For example, if you are talking about whales vs. dolphins and you said that you could see whales and dolphins at aquariums, one child starts talking about their visit to zoo, and how they saw monkeys, and then another child talks about the elephants, and someone mentions the lions, and before you know it, you are talking about zoo and zoo animals. A reorientation statement is a statement you use to bring it all back around to the whales and dolphins while still acknowledging what the child said. For instance, you could say, “Sometimes the zoo has sea animals in it including dolphins. An aquarium is similar to a zoo except that you can see all types of sea animals there, including whales. So let’s think about what size tank you would need to hold a whale.”

Clarifying the learning objective can be used anytime-during group, free time, and even in routines, like meals and snack time. The important thing is to practice because it’s not something that comes naturally to most of us. Put up little reminder statements in your centers, write the objective on your board so you remember to tell the children what and why they are learning this, and practice with your co-teachers. You know that you have achieved success when your children can tell you what it was that they were learning.


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


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.


Assessment- A ‘Stickery’ Situation

Nathan Pope

Posted by Nathan Pope


Nathan Pope

As a recent addition to the Clayton Research and Evaluation department, I wanted to share my perspective on the challenges and benefits of assessing young children. I am a data collector for the Evaluation of Program Options at Clayton Early Learning research study. My responsibilities include assessing preschool-aged children in the center-based and home-based program options. To assess these children, we are using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-4) and the Preschool Language Scales (PLS-5). These standardized assessments provide valuable information to parents, teachers, and other stakeholders about children’s receptive vocabulary.

Sponge BobThe example below is a glimpse of what a day in the life of a data collector is like at Clayton Educare: To assess children one of the first things you need is to make sure you have all of your supplies. Supplies consist of: Testing kit- check. Test booklets in English and Spanish- check. Class rosters- check. Sharpened pencils with erasers- check. School Id- check. Stickers- (flowers, princesses, Sponge Bob, and Spiderman)- check. My hands were full with the bulky set of testing materials, and I felt like a traveling salesman selling an unpopular but necessary product as I walked the 100 yards across the parking lot from the Clayton House to the Educare School. The fall assessment season had begun, and I was ready to start assessing children!

At Educare, I was warmly welcomed by the people attending the Help Desk. At first the master schedule showed all the meeting rooms were occupied by other staff members and assessors, but after making a few calls they helped me find a quiet space where I could assess the children on my roster. After setting up my testing materials, I went to look for students to assess.

The first classroom I tried was empty since the class had gone for a nature walk to gather sticks and leaves for a project. In the second classroom, children were engaged in learning activities and naturalistic play and I felt bad interrupting them. I asked the teacher if ‘Maria’* was present and if this was a good time to work with her. The teacher told me that ‘Maria’ was no longer in that classroom, so I made a note to make sure that this information was updated in our records. Next I asked if ‘Markus’ was there, and unfortunately he was absent. Several other children asked if they could go with me, but since these kids didn’t have consent forms signed by their parents yet, I told them they would have to wait until they were on my list. Finally I asked if ‘Jamir’ was available and he was. What a relief to finally have a child to assess!

The teacher called ‘Jamir’ over and said, “Mr. Nathan wants to play games with you. When you’re done you will get a sticker!” I was relieved when ‘Jamir’ came over willingly and seemed excited to go ‘play games’ with me. I guess that kids play all kinds of games, and some are more exciting than others, so saying a word and identifying a picture that corresponds to it could loosely be considered a game too. As ‘Jamir’ and I walk down the hallway to the assessment space, I tried to build rapport by talking. We chatted about his striped green shirt and about his brothers and sister. When we arrived in the testing room, I gave the directions and we started the assessment. ‘Jamir’ was engaged in answering the questions, and didn’t seem to be too nervous about his efforts. During the middle of the assessment ‘Jamir’ sneezed and I helped him blow his nose, then we got back to work. Around twenty minutes after starting the test, he reached his ceiling score so we stopped testing and he chose a Sponge Bob sticker! I always want to help kids have a positive assessment experience, so I told him he knows how to answer lots of questions, and that he has the potential to do anything with his life. We returned to his classroom, and I started working with the next available child on my roster.

From my experience this fall, I have come to learn administering assessments to children requires lots of flexibility. At first, I assumed I would be able to show up at the school and do back-to-back testing, quickly finishing the kids on my roster. Now I know that testing takes much more time than anticipated due to logistics and human factors. There are many challenges such as verifying the student is in the correct classroom, finding students when they are attending class, arranging assessments to minimize interruptions to the classroom schedule, and encouraging kids to do their best work during the assessment.

Although there are many challenges to collecting data, the results are beneficial and worth the time and effort. The assessment results are used in ongoing data-driven discussions between teachers, mentor coaches, and assessors in order to ensure all of the goals and objectives of the program are met. The individual child results are also used to identify areas where teachers can provide additional instruction to the child during class time. The assessment results are also compiled and the evaluation report of the Educare Program is generated. Our annual evaluation report is used to inform private funders and other invested partners about the high quality of Clayton Educare and the resulting outcomes for our children.

As a member of the Research and Evaluation team, I want to thank all the people who are involved in the assessment process. Everyone has an important role, and together we tell the story of Clayton Educare. We value parents who allow us to assess their children to display the high quality work taking place in our classrooms. We value teachers who encourage kids to ‘go play games,’ and who utilize data to provide meaningful lesson plans. We value Child Family Educators who explain the goals of our research study to families to obtain consent to assess their children. Finally, we value the stakeholders who share our educational philosophy and fund our programs. Together, we generate information about children which can be used to identify areas of strength and areas of support. With this information we work together towards closing the achievement gap and providing the best opportunities for the children we serve. For all your hard work and support you deserve a sticker too!

*All names are fictitious to protect the identity of the individual.