Clayton Early Learning

Tools of the Trade: The Bracken School Readiness Assessment

Kristin Denlinger


Kristin Denlinger

Among the greatest benefits for children who attend high quality early care and education programs is access to tools and resources that will support the student’s readiness for kindergarten. Though the goal of school readiness for kindergarten bound students is clear, many families may wonder how readiness is determined and what tools are used to measure student growth and development.

Based on commonly identified academic criteria, one tool used to measure a preschool student’s development is the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. As children prepare to transition from preschool to kindergarten, the assessment is used to measure the child’s knowledge in areas including

  • Color identification
  • Letter and number recognitionresearch and evaluation
  • Counting and measurement concepts
  • Identification and comparison of shapes

Unlike traditional testing, The Bracken is considered a ‘receptive’ assessment, meaning that children only need to point to select answers and that the student is not expected to vocalize or articulate their response. The assessor must remain objective throughout the assessment, but is dually charged with supporting the child in maintaining focus or engagement and must also anticipate distractions, boredom and other factors unique to working with young children.

Early education professionals must complete a comprehensive training program before they are considered qualified and reliable to administer The Bracken Assessment. This training provides instruction in objectivity, strategies for observing young students and practice in accommodating unexpected factors that include behavioral and environmental challenges.

This fall, teachers and other ECE professionals throughout Colorado will participate in assessor training in order to effectively implement assessment, like The Bracken, into high quality early education programs.

Concurrently, many preschool children will be assessed by qualified educators who will use The Bracken School Readiness Assessment. Those same students will be assessed once more in the spring for the purpose of objective growth measurement over the course of the school year. Both rounds of assessment will produce data that is used to gauge the child’s comprehension so that schools and families can develop individualized instruction strategies for the student as they prepare to transition from preschool to kindergarten.

For more information about The Bracken School Readiness Assessment and other tools used to track early childhood development,

contact Kristie Denlinger of the Clayton Early Learning Research & Evaluation Team



Amazing DIY Toys for Young Children


Candice Leary-Humphrey
Add pictures to blocks that will draw your baby's interest, stimulate language development and inspire new ways to play with an old classic!

Add pictures to blocks that will draw your baby's interest, stimulate language development and inspire new ways to play with an old classic!


Looking for a great toy for infants and toddlers under the age of 3? Look no further than what you have at home!

With so many new products being introduced to families and children through TV, radio, internet and print, it’s no wonder why parents and caregivers struggle with selecting toys to give to their children.  It wasn’t until my second child was born (and I had a few years of teaching under my belt) before I discovered a ton of great toys that are not only educational and fun, but can be made from supplies that I (usually) have just laying around the house! 


Picture Blocks

What They Are

Take the blocks that you probably already have at home and give them a personal touch by adding pictures of friends, family or objects to the flat sides of the block.  Babies and toddlers will love seeing the familiar images as they manipulate, stack and sort the blocks!  Adults and older children can use the blocks to encourage language in younger infants (“What’s on this block? What do you see? It’s a dog! What does a dog say?”), while older toddlers can begin matching blocks that ‘belong’ together by pairing or sorting the blocks that have family members on them, or by finding all of the blocks that have pictures of animals, etc.

How to Make your Own

If you don’t want to use photos for your blocks, this is a great way to make use of your old magazines and newspapers.  After you’ve collected and cut out the images you want to place on the blocks, use clear packaging tape to cover the picture while securing it to the block.  Avoid using any kind of chemical gloss or sealant, as this will become dangerous when children put the blocks in their mouths.

Exploration Bottles

What They Are

Exploration, or sensory bottles, are sealed containers filled with different types of materials that allow infants and toddlers to experiment with movement and affects that appeal to our senses by providing a mess-free way for kids to experiment with different materials and textures. Early experiences with cause and effect, weight and movement are all provided by this hand-held bottle that most of us can make out of things we already have in our homes!  Kids love them because they’re often filled with various art supplies and object, such as glitter and marbles. Though commonly thought of by teachers as a science or self-regulation toy, sensory bottles are fun because children can use them in a variety of ways.  Try picking filler materials that will have a different effect when added to the bottle.  For instance, one bottle might have water and glitter in it, while another has corn syrup and marbles.  Babies will be amazed as they see the glitter flowing quickly through the water in one bottle, while the marbles move s-u-p-e-r s-l-o-w-l-y through the other! Adults and older children can use this as an opportunity to talk to babies and toddlers about things like color, shape as well as early concepts of opposites, texture and counting.

How to Make your Own

Empty plastic water bottles are probably the easiest thing to use when you’re just getting started with this fun project.  Once you’ve selected your clear containers to fill, you can begin choosing various materials to fill the bottle.  Be creative and try to make a bottle that will appeal to each of your baby’s senses! A bottle with dried beans will make a great noise when baby shakes it, while a bottle with water in it will be heavier and often cool to the touch.  Once you’ve filled the bottles, seal them by super-gluing the lid onto the container.  Be careful not to use too much glue so that babies can mouth the bottle without risk of oral contact with the adhesive.  Once the cap is secured on to the bottle and the glue has dried thoroughly, your baby will have a great new toy that’s as developmentally stimulating as it is fun!


 Baby’s First Wallet

What It Is

Have you ever noticed that babies and toddlers are intrigued by the everyday accessories that belong to adults and older children? Infants and toddlers love to pull picture cards and identification out of wallets almost as much as they delight in finding a few pennies in a coin purse! Parents can keep their things safe while giving baby an interesting and challenging way to develop their fine motor skills by putting together a wallet that is just for their little one! 

How to Make your Own

Find an old or unused wallet and begin filling it with things that are safe for and interesting to your infant or toddler.  Old gift cards or grocery store club cards are perfect for filling the small pockets of a wallet, while larger laminated pictures make a fun alternative for the bill-fold section of the wallet.  As the child gets older, the wallet may not be as challenging to manipulate as it once was, but kids will still enjoy using it for dramatic play and to mimic the ‘grown-up’ behaviors that they observe when watching you at the grocery store, library, etc.


As with selecting any toy for your young child, avoid small items that may become choking hazards as well as any materials that are considered toxic or harmful if ingested. 

Have you ever experimented with making your own toys for young children?  Please share your stories and ideas in the comments section!



We Believe—Beginning Our Work from Why

Social Media Team


Social Media Team

The Clayton Early Learning Blog Team has multiple goals—(1) To educate and inform our community about critical early childhood issues, (2) To generate new ideas and increase our knowledge through the process of writing, and (3) To build connections with each other and our community. In light of these goals, this team has recently begun using short video provocations to spark new ideas and connections during our monthly meetings.

During our August meeting, we viewed the TED Talk by Simon Sinek on How Great Leaders Inspire Action Simon Sinek argues the reason why some organizations are more successful as a leader in their industry (i.e. Apple Inc.) is because they follow a different formula for communication about their organization than the rest of us. They talk about what they believe first, then how they translate their belief into a product or service, and last about what it is they are offering at that moment. Sinek believes that we often begin our communications with what we are offering, and miss opportunities to inspire ourselves and others. When we start with why we are there in the first place, our passion for our work becomes evident and other people get excited and want to join our cause.

Through discussion, the team was inspired to think of our own “I believe” statements to communicate why each of us work at Clayton Early Learning and how our belief drives the type of work we do every day. Below are four “I believe” statements from members of the Blog Team:

Healthy familyKelsey Petersen-Hardie, Mentor Coach, Education & Early Childhood Services

I believe we can positively impact the ill effects that poverty and toxic stress have on children and families and that if we begin when a child is young, we see better results. Because I believe this, I work in the field of Early Childhood Education. When young children receive high quality and responsive care and families receive support that is needed, children and families can experience better outcomes.


Wendy Allen, Buell Leaders Alumni Network Coordinator

Leadership wordleI believe all people are born with the capacity to learn and that this capacity should be supported and utilized to the fullest across the lifespan. Because I believe this, I work to enhance the learning experiences of adults serving as leaders across our system of care and education for young children. The Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program and Alumni Network is an opportunity to transform how individuals, programs, and communities support and utilize their own learning capacities.


Nathan Pope, Research and Evaluation Program Associate

research and evaluationI believe that all children are capable of greatness and desire to be challenged. Because I believe this, I use research and evaluation to understand each child’s strengths and provide feedback to support the work teachers do in their classrooms. Research studies at Clayton Early Learning use data to connect the research, practice, and training loop so children reach their full potential.


Cheryl Comstock, Instructional Technology Manager


I believe that anyone willing deserves a chance at a good education, and that technology is one of the most important tools available to us within our educational spaces. Because I believe this, I am here to help Clayton Early Learning move forward into new and innovative spaces that embrace technology for education. Clayton Early Learning now has a thriving Blog, growing Facebook Page, and we are exploring how to incorporate online professional development opportunities for the communities in which we work and serve.

The Blog Team believes that social media, including blogging, is a new tool to support learning across communities. By embracing this new technology and form of connection, Clayton Early Learning is inviting our community to band together as we do the critical work of early care and education.


Would you like to join our Blog conversation? What is your “I Believe” Statement? If so, you can leave your statement in the Comment section at the bottom of this blog.


Images found online September 3, 2013, at

Seamless Pattern Of Flower Illustration Background Stock Image courtesy of Sicha Pongjivanich/


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.


Closing the Writing Achievement Gap

Lynn Andrews

Posted by Lynn Andrews


Lynn Andrews

Test: Most student writers still not proficient, Denver Post, 9/14/2012

Only 27% of 8th and 12th graders in the U.S. scored proficient last year on a computerized writing test, according to a recent article in the Denver Post. Students who had regular access to computers, and particularly those who were able to use built-in editing tools like spell check, did the best. This makes sense, but it’s also been found that when students have access to computers in the classroom, they write more. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising given how much of our written communication these days happens through text messages, tweets, and e-mail – even for pre-teens.

But has this technology really helped children learn how to write? A 27% proficiency rate is pretty dismal. Our desire to be efficient and trendy and for “instant messaging” doesn’t lend itself to high quality writing. I have to admit I have a bias as someone who would rather read an elegantly written novel than watch a You-Tube video, but when there are radio ads quoting business leaders who say they can’t find job candidates who can communicate effectively with customers in writing, we have a serious problem. There are wider implications. How much does our ability to write reflect our ability to think – to generate and organize ideas into a coherent and logical whole? If we can’t do that, we can’t invent new solutions to problems, or negotiate conflicts, or change attitudes, or teach.

I’m sure that if it doesn’t already exist, we will soon have technology that really can help students learn how to write well. Even then, for technology to be an effective teaching tool for writing, we would need to address the technology gap that still exists between affluent and poor schools and families. And, as Kathleen Yancey from Florida State University states in the Denver Post article, “Digital technology is a technology. Paper and pencil is a technology. If technology were the answer, it would be pretty simple.”

For those of us in early childhood education, there truly are very simple, low-tech strategies to help children learn how to think, and eventually, how to write. Rich conversations with children and interactive reading can greatly increase children’s oral language skills that are precursors to writing skills. Stringing words together to make full sentences using correct syntax and grammar, and assembling sentences together to make paragraphs that describe and explain and sequence ideas, provides children with models both to think and to communicate. Asking children questions that encourage them to reason things out and to talk about their ideas lays the foundation for organizing thoughts in writing. Seeing words organized in print helps them make the connection between the spoken and written word. And then, of course, encouraging young children to “write” their thoughts using pencil and paper further develops these skills and a comfort level with written expression. I am amazed at how capable children as young as three years old can be in using computers, but let’s not forget what they have to learn to communicate effectively with human beings.


Come and Play – Sesame Street Learning

Geri Mendoza

Posted by Geri Mendoza


Geri Mendoza

“Come and play. Everything's A-Ok……Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street…

Children using the SMARTBoard in DeShawn's classroom

When I was a kid, this tune signaled the start of a fun and silly experience for my siblings and me. It was amusing to watch Bert & Ernie, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and the other lovable cast of humans, monsters and puppets make learning fun. Well, have you seen the “Street” lately? Go online and check out the interactive website, a wealth of incredible resources for parents and educators. According to Sesame Workshop CEO, Gary E. Knell, “For over 40 years, Sesame Workshop has helped children reach their highest potential by creating media which have engaged and educated millions of children in America and around the world. Through careful research which guides our work, Sesame Workshop has been able to address critical needs using television, books and interactive media which appeal to our nation’s young children and their parents.” And let me tell you, there are exciting plans on the part of Sesame Workshop to develop content-rich segments that go deeper, and impact children’s learning beyond “B-b-b banana”, as Clayton Early Learning teacher DeShawn Burks discovered on a recent trip to Manhattan. His participation was round one of an intensive phase of research and development in which Sesame Street has engaged early learning professionals and other partner leaders to design, build, examine, and explore the Sesame Street Learning program.

Children using the SMARTTable in DeShawn's classroom

Following his trip, DeShawn came back to school and shared the Sesame Workshop information. He has big plans to develop innovative and engaging educational content using what he heard from the workshop. Taking advantage of digital media, Deshawn is on the same page or rather the same SMARTBoard page as Sesame Workshop.

DeShawn was chosen to attend the Sesame workshop based on his use of technology curriculum with preschool children. He is one of six Technology Fellows at Clayton Early Learning.   He started with a SMART Table in his classroom (see the pictures in this blog) and has graduated to the SMARTBoard, mounted on a wall in his classroom. Through inviting age-appropriate materials, young children in DeShawn’s classroom become active participants in solving problems using observation and investigation and are introduced to vocabulary and concepts that are the foundation for later school success. DeShawn has plans to incorporate a variety of developmentally appropriate learning activities for the current classroom study of fruit that will:

  • facilitate understanding of a concept- DeShawn uses "how" and "why" questions to talk with the children about where fruit comes from and they are able to "investigate" their hypothesis using the SMARTBoard.
  • encourage analysis and reasoning- DeShawn has created opportunities for children to create graphs to document the types of apples they have tasted and explored.
  • allow children to predict, experiment and think about their work-DeShawn is able to chart what the children want to learn about fruit using a web diagram, asking questions that focus the children on the topic (fruit), uncovering what they know about the topic and helping chart what they want to know.
  • apply concepts to the real world-DeShawn uses pictures of the children doing their work and pictures from recent field trips to anchor the children's understanding of their study of fruit.

Come and play because, everything is A-OK, DeShawn is giving children the power of learning at Clayton Early Learning.


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

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden


Rebecca Soden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask questions that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What About the Children?

Geri Mendoza

Posted by Geri Mendoza


Geri Mendoza

You can’t open a newspaper or visit a blog that doesn’t have something to do with educational reform in our country. President Obama has asked that schools show that they are improving outcomes for all students, closing achievement gaps, and boosting high school graduation and college enrollment rates. I am on board with all of that, who wouldn’t be? Where the debate may lie is how do we do this and what budget is there to support it. Right now there is a national wrangling contest to see who we can blame because the achievement gap is not closing. These discussions come to light because our national test scores don’t measure up to those of other countries and some of our schools are failing. Unfortunately, in my view the first person faulted is the classroom teacher. So here we are, heading into the second month of a new school year. This should be a time where the teacher is excited to be setting up optimal learning environments, developing relationships with the children and their families, and planning opportunities to impart new knowledge. Instead, my fear is that well intentioned task force committees designed to assess the education situation only end up creating more accountability systems for the classroom. Well, the pressure is on, Teacher.  There is a lot at stake and your job may be on the line, nothing new I know. If teachers are being asked to learn new skills and teach with new strategies (administering tests, using assessments, engaging with families, learning new technology), how will we help them keep the focus on the children?

According to Ellen Galinsky , commenting on Education Nation, a recent nationally broadcast, in-depth conversation about improving education in America, we should make it our business to put children as our first priority. Here are three recommendations from Galinsky:

1) Plan for child engagement. There will be a need for creative and innovative ideas to jumpstart learning for children and to keep them motivated to learn. Even in high performing schools, children have lost their love of learning. Galinsky points out that our classrooms models for education were based in the agricultural and industrial age. Our children are more connected to technology.  Perhaps we need to find systems of measurement and support for classroom teachers to motivate students using a variety of techniques that expose children to technology.

2) Start early. Include early childhood teachers and parents at the table when discussing what works. I would offer that we tap into the Head Start Centers of Excellence, where early education programs are implementing comprehensive, innovative and targeted approaches to learning, and producing positive, measurable outcomes for children. And then share the information with our local public school system.

3) Develop 21st century thinkers with a focus on literacy, science and math, but give thought to how we teach our children to self regulate and maintain focus, be critical thinkers and problem-solvers so they can apply their new knowledge to change the world. I believe we want children to be literate in higher level thinking, but we want to make sure that they have a strong sense of self in order to be successful.

In my opinion, our work as instructional leaders is to create environments that build individual capacity as a parallel process for teachers and children. Instead of the deficit lens in which we view what’s wrong with our classrooms, perhaps strengthening what is going right and telling that story might work. We could create learning environments where teachers share expertise, while questioning and engaging in critical reflection for the shared purpose of the best learning for children. What a great model for children who are engaged in the same questioning and critical reflection dialogue with their peers and teachers. Perhaps the panel of experts involved in the debate need to participate in the classroom, viewing learning through the eyes of the child. What do you think?


In the News: Long Term Negative Effects of Low Quality Care?

Mary Klute

Posted by Mary Klute


Mary Klute

A few weeks ago, several friends, colleagues, and family members sent me a link to a news story they thought I’d surely be interested in.  The title of the article, “Study finds that effects of low-quality child care last into adolescence,” piqued my interest as both a researcher in the field of early childhood education and as a parent who has used full-time childcare for two children.  I read the news article and saw that it described research published in Child Development, a journal to which I subscribe.  About halfway through reading it, I started to wonder if I had the right journal article, because while this research was about long-term effects of child care, the main story wasn’t really about lasting effects of low-quality child care.  I recognize that not everyone has the background knowledge to wade through 8 pages describing the complicated statistical techniques used to analyze the data.  But, since I do, I thought I’d share my sense of the take home messages of this research and why I concluded the story is not about low-quality child care, but actually about high-quality child care.

The researchers have been following 1364 children and families since children were 2 weeks old.  This report describes results from when children were 15, about a decade after they left child care.  As any parent of an adolescent can attest, a lot can change in 10 years.  You might expect that all the things that happen between preschool and high school—peer groups, quality of the schools, etc.—would change the playing field so much over time that whatever impact that child care had would just fade away.  But in fact, the researchers did find associations between early care experiences and adolescents’ cognitive and academic achievement as well as their behavior problems at age 15.  They looked at several features of child care including the quality of the child care (measured with a tool that was focused heavily on teacher-child interactions, similar to a tool called the CLASS, which we’ve discussed previously), and the number of hours children spent in care.  The pattern of findings was very similar to what they found when children were younger:

  • Having been in a higher quality early child care is associated with higher cognitive and academic achievement at age 15.
  • Having been in more hours of child care was associated with greater levels of behavior problems at age 15 (i.e., more risky behavior and being more impulsive).

These are not strong associations.  That is, this research does not suggest that child care has the power to turn children into geniuses or delinquents.  Previous research from this study clearly indicated that what parents do is a more powerful predictor of children’s outcomes than what happens at child care.  But, what is interesting is that these effects are enduring; the magnitudes of the associations at age 15 are similar in size to the same associations at age 4.5, when children were just leaving their child care arrangements and heading to kindergarten.  So the take home message here is that the effects of child care are small but enduring.

While many of the results of the analyses of child outcomes at age 15 were similar to what researchers found when children were younger, some results were different than at previous ages.  One of these is critical to my opinion that results of this study aren’t really about low-quality child care.  The researchers found what is called a non-linear association between quality of child care and children’s cognitive and academic achievement at age 15.  “Non-linear association” is just a fancy way of saying that this association isn’t a simple “lower quality=worse outcomes” scenario.  Instead, like many things in life, it is more complicated.  What the researchers found was that for low and very low quality programs, there really wasn’t much of an association at all between quality and child outcomes.  It was only when programs were of higher quality, that researchers started to see the relationship where more quality was associated with more positive cognitive and academic achievement.  So poor quality care didn’t do long-lasting harm to children, but it didn’t help them either, at least not systematically across the group of children studied.  In contrast, as long as child care was of moderately good quality, there was a benefit to children.   As a result, the real story here is about the long-term potential of high-quality child care, not about the long-lasting negative impacts of low-quality care.

So what is a well-meaning consumer of the news to do?  When you hear or read an interesting tidbit in the news, how can you get the “real” story or at least get enough information to form your own opinion?  Do you have to take years and years of advanced statistics classes before you can understand research articles?  I’d argue that in most cases, no.  The most intimidating part of a research article is indeed the results section where all those statistics are explained.  But even if you aren’t familiar with the statistics, you can get most of “the story” from the rest of the article.  If I’ve inspired you to start now, you can access the article directly or read a press release summarizing the article from the Society for Research in Child Development.  And if you see a story related to Early Childhood Education in the news that you’d like us to write about, definitely let us know!


From I-Phones and GPS to ABC’s: possibilities for technology and young learners.

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden


Rebecca Soden

The power of our everyday technologies was brought home for me as I sat in a café recently watching a father play with his young son. I watched the child’s eyes as they flitted between the father’s face and the screen of the I-Phone that he was cradling carefully in his sticky toddler hands. Both were smiling, laughing and completely engaged in the exchanges between the three participants (father, son and technology).

They were playing with an alphabet software program where the child can draw on the touch screen with his finger (tracing a letter) and click the letter to hear the letter sound and see pictures of common things that start with that sound. At any point the child can simply shake the screen (like the old etch-a-sketch) to wipe away his attempt and begin anew.

I thought of my own three-year old son’s insistence that he hold my GPS navigation system from his booster seat, shouting out “left mom” and “turn right” as he peers at our car traveling real-time along the map projected on the video screen. What possibilities for new and different learning do these increasingly common technologies create for young children and how are we capitalizing on the fact that children today are natives of a digital culture?

Robyn Zevenbergen (2007) argues that for digital natives entering early childhood classrooms, their exposure to technologies is often vast and has shaped them in ways that are different from other generations. She argues that children’s exposure to virtual tools can enhance understanding, but may also create new ways of thinking. Quality use of technology within early childhood classrooms can build digital “capital” which is particularly critical for students whose home environments have not exposed them to similar technologies.

As parents and early childhood teachers, how can we use technologies in ways that maximize learning and encourage curiosity? The planning and integration of technology into a quality learning environment is a critical question that needs to be addressed in our work with young children. I would ask teachers and parents to consider the following questions as they plan activities for the children in their care:

• How do I use technology to engage children’s interest?
• How do I use technology to help children stretch beyond their current developmental level?
• How do I use technology to support social interactions and play?
• How do I use technology to support children’s discovery and inquiry?
• How do I use technology to help reinforce children’s understanding of concepts (number and letter recognition, phonological and print awareness, vocabulary)?

Please share your ideas about how you've been using technology with young learners.