This week, President Joe Biden is expected to approve Congress’ final budget reconciliation package, the Inflation Reduction Act, which does not include one cent for early learning and care programs. This outcome is yet another senseless decision in our nation’s history that leaves countless young children without access to critical programs that can help ensure a brighter future.

This spring, the House of Representatives passed budget reconciliation legislation that included nearly $400 billion for child care and pre-K, which was among the largest proposed investments in the package. However, earlier this month, the Senate unveiled the details of its final package, which included no funding at all for early learning and care.

For a nation’s child care system that is at the brink of collapse, this investment would have considerably lowered child care costs for families, allowed parents of young children to return to work and supported an underfunded and understaffed early learning and care workforce.

Long before today’s ongoing pandemic and societal uncertainty, child care providers, disproportionately women and women of color, have had to bear the burden of an under-resourced child care system to provide critical, quality programs and services to young children.

So, now more than ever, it seemed apparent to finally prioritize American families and child care providers with historic investments. Congress’ failure to do so will result in long-range consequences for our child care system.

Start Early and the Educare Network, however, are and will continue to be constant and persistent champions for our youngest learners. We will:

  • Work with Congress, federal agencies and the administration, as well as state and local leaders, to strengthen early learning and care programs and drive advancements that impact on-the-ground practices and communities
  • Advocate for increased investments in and positive changes to federal early learning programs, including the Child Care Development Block Grant, Head Start/Early Head Start, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Maternal, Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting program
  • Educate and inform the field of provisions within the Inflation Reduction Act that may benefit families with young children

In addition, as co-chair of the Early Years Climate Action Task Force, Start Early President Diana Rauner will play a role in drafting the first ever climate action plan for early childhood in America. This will include recommendations to explore how the country can support young children to flourish, despite facing the impacts of climate change.

In response to this disheartening news, Start Early and Educare Network leaders issued the following statements:

Start Early

“Quality early learning and care in the first five years of life allows every child the opportunity to develop and meet their full potential. This week, Congress ignored common sense and science, allowing the child care system to continue deteriorating and leaving future generations behind.

Start Early stands ready to continue its work with local, state and federal leaders to elevate the dire, diverse needs of American families and ultimately make transformational change in access, quality and outcomes for all young children.”

Diana Rauner, president of Start Early

Educare Network

“Every child, in every community, deserves a strong start in life. This final reconciliation package entirely disregards what matters most: creating supports and systems that work for families, our youngest learners and early care and education providers. With our 25 schools and partner organizations across the country, the Educare Network calls on local, state and federal leaders to take immediate action that rights this wrong and drives transformational change to ensure all families, children and communities can thrive.”

Cynthia Jackson, executive director of the Educare Network

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Portia Kennel at an Educare Speaking EngagementAfter a career in early childhood education spanning three decades, Portia Kennel – catalyst and one of the co-founders of the Educare Learning Network, a powerful network of birth-to-five schools that has improved access to high-quality early education across the country – is retiring from her position as Senior Advisor to the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

Prior to her time with the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Portia served as the Senior Vice President of Program Innovation at Start Early (formerly the Ounce of Prevention Fund). In 2000, she created the first-ever Educare school in Chicago to serve young children and their families on Chicago’s South Side. As the Executive Director of the Educare Learning Network, Portia led the expansion of the Educare model to a diverse range of communities across the country, from one school in Chicago to 25 schools nationwide.

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“Portia’s passion and commitment to serving children the last several decades have helped shape Start Early into the organization that we are today,” Diana Rauner, Start Early President and longtime colleague of Portia, shared. “Her drive, perspective and guidance continue to resonate through the halls of our offices and within the values that inform our work. I am so proud of what we created together through the Educare Learning Network, and I believe that the best is yet to come thanks to her foundational presence. The early learning community is grateful for Portia, and we wish her well in this next chapter of life.”

Portia's passion and commitment to serving children the last several decades have helped shape Start Early into the organization that we are today.

Diana Rauner, president, Start Early
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Portia is also a former Head Start Director and has significant experience in the design, implementation and management of effective, evidence-based early childhood education and family support program models. Her work is grounded in an understanding of family systems and clinical issues related to working with families in disinvested communities. She holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and is a ZERO TO THREE Fellow.

“We’re so grateful to Portia for her contribution to the early childhood field broadly, and to the Educare Learning Network specifically,” Cynthia Jackson, Executive Director of the Educare Learning Network and Senior Vice President at Start Early, said. “Twelve years ago, Portia invited me to serve as a leader of leaders in this Network. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve under an African American woman, mentor, teacher, visionary and colleague. Thank you, Portia – from the Network and from me personally. What an innovator you have been.”

Start Early and the Educare Learning Network congratulate Portia on a remarkable career and thank her for the groundbreaking legacy in early childhood education she started with our Network!


Portia Kennel’s Parting Remarks

What a journey this has been! Reflecting on the early days of Educare, my mentor Judy Bertacchi comes to mind. Judy was a pioneer leader in training early childhood staff how to implement and embed reflective supervision into early childhood programs. She always said how important it was to “get the birth story” of each child because it would inform the work you’d do with the family. So, today I am going to share the birth story of Educare, because I believe it will inform the future as the Network goes forward.

The idea for Educare grew out of The Beethoven Project, an initiative began by Start Early (then the Ounce of Prevention) in 1986 to bring early learning programs and other services to communities in Chicago’s Grand Boulevard neighborhood on the south side. At that time, this neighborhood was home to the Robert Taylor Homes, which was one of the largest public housing developments in the poorest census tract in the country.

When the Chicago Housing Authority began demolishing the Robert Taylor Homes in the late 1990s, many families began leaving the community as public services started to vanish. I have never seen so many thousands of families disappear what seems like overnight. But we decided we were in it for the long haul, and we stayed. It was very important to us, since so many institutions were abandoning these families, that they knew we would not abandon our commitment to them.

That’s why we started building our own early childhood education center: to serve families who were displaced by the loss of their homes and now rebuilding their community, and to create a school whose culture and environment said – and still to this day says – “You matter.” So, we partnered with the city of Chicago, the Office of Head Start, and other private funders to build our first school, Educare Chicago, which we opened in 2000.

And Educare Chicago was just the beginning! Fast forwarding two decades to now, that first school inspired the creation of the Educare Learning Network, 25 schools across the country that are models for high-quality care and education in their communities and nationwide.

I led the expansion of our Network from one school to many for three reasons: to learn from each other, to support each other and problem solve together, and because I hoped that by coming together, our collective power would have a better chance of addressing challenges in the field. What we had in common was a shared interest in showcasing quality in our communities through Educare schools, demonstrating what is possible with services for children and families, and increasing our impact as catalysts for positive change. In other words, I believed we could do more together than any of us could do alone. And in today’s world, our critical work is to continue to harness and leverage the collective power of the Educare Learning Network to transform the early childhood world.

As I now leave the Network, my first hope is that you will increase your collective impact and efforts. The Network has yet to realize its full potential. We all agree changes are needed to address the systemic issues that have plagued the early childhood system for so long: quality, access, workforce recruitment, retention, racism, compensation and more, many of which have been amplified by the pandemic.

My second hope for the future is that in addition to an ongoing focus on racial equity, the Network will prioritize efforts to ensure the systematic and sustained inclusion, participation and leadership of parents in the planning, development, decision-making, implementation and evaluation of early childhood work. That means centering and elevating the voices of parents to ensure their lived experiences inform and help address the challenges the early childhood system faces. As Glenn Martin of JustLeadershipUSA says, I believe those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Investing in parent leaders as early childhood advocates and change agents strengthens our chances for success.

We’re all in this together: parents and families, early childhood leaders, educators, family support practitioners, childcare providers, policymakers, advocates, public and private partners, and communities. We must work together to find solutions.

I thank all of you for what I have learned from you. I thank Jessie Rasmussen and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Diana Rauner and Start Early for all they have done to support the continued growth and development of the Educare Learning Network. The Network would not have been possible without the partnership and support of both organizations, and of course the participation of all of you early childhood champions.

Go forth, Educare Learning Network, and cause some good trouble!

Last month I had the pleasure of co-leading a session at the BUILD 2022 Virtual Conference: Building Systems, Improving Quality, Advancing Equity.

It was a joy to participate en una charla informal, a coffee talk, with my good friend, and colleague Miriam Calderon. We discussed and unpacked the strength and determination required to lift ourselves, our families, and our communities up in the unforgiving world of policy and politics.

BUILD has been a leader in providing spaces and opportunities for Latine professionals and leaders in the early childhood space to come together both informally and formally to talk and hear about what the Latine community wants and needs.

The Latine community is strong. We know that across this country it is Latinos and Latinas who pick, cook and serve our food, clean our houses and hotel rooms, care for our children, elderly and sick and are part of the backbone of the economy in countless ways.

As I joined with other Latine leaders throughout the week at BUILD and listened to their stories, I was stuck that today in 2022, many still talked about “imposter syndrome”, including me. I have had the privilege and opportunity to sit at many tables at the local, state, and national level but I am sure when I opened my mouth to share a recommendation or idea, there was some eye rolling in the room.

At Start Early, we share a commitment to racial equity and have been working diligently to provide individual staff with the support they need and want to grow and contribute to the early childhood field. For my part, I will be leading and providing a space for Latine individuals to participate in a mentoring circle where we will take time to understand our history as a community in the United States, our personal journeys and culture and how systems impact our progress as individuals and a community.

A common theme we explored was that we need mentorship – ongoing mentorship from people that look like us and understand our culture and values. As I have been reflecting on my own journey, it’s clear that each of has a responsibility to support and mentor the next generation of Latine leaders.

My hope is that through mentorship and in our daily work to change systems, Latine professionals and leaders will sit at any table and confidently speak their truth, represent the needs of their children and communities, despite the eye rolls.

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Home visiting supports have meaningful impacts on the lives of children and families. Start Early Washington supports new and existing home visiting programs with coaching, consultation, training and professional learning to ensure the highest quality home visiting services for families.

Our staff includes professionals whose expertise is enriched by lived experiences and practical knowledge. As one of our proudest achievements, Start Early Washington staff hold over 165 years of combined home visiting experience!

This blog post introduces our senior home visiting manager, Cassie Morley, who draws from nearly three decades of home visiting experience to oversee a talented team that supports 63 home visiting programs statewide.

Cassie swinging with her 5-month-old granddaughter, Loveday (2021)

Spark of Inspiration

Cassie discovered her passion for home visiting as a college student preparing for a theater production of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” As part of the pre-production process, the director organized a workshop with the renowned childbirth educator and author Penny Simkin to help students perform their roles authentically. The director’s Saturday workshop might otherwise have been a footnote in Cassie’s career, but instead, it sparked inspiration and changed her life’s course. Cassie was captivated to learn about the multifaceted roles doulas and midwives play and how meaningful it felt to support the birthing process during such a transformative time in people’s lives.

Cassie pursued a career in midwifery as soon as she graduated college.

Partnering with Families

After completing her training as a midwife and practicing as a doula, Cassie furthered her passion for working with families as a home visitor with Parents as Teachers, and spending many years as a family resources coordinator, supporting the parents of infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays.

Cassie’s career continued to flourish as a Parents as Teacher home visitor working with tribal families across the South Sound region. Her love for partnering with tribal families deepened her insight into the essential roles that language, culture and community norms play in early childhood development. Connecting with families in this capacity was a life-changing experience and led to many years of collaboration and support for tribal nations in Washington state.

Firsthand Experiences

Cassie noted how the support from a home visitor, trusting relationships, and access to resources are instrumental for new parents in making those first few years more manageable. “People with new babies are busy trying to survive and reinvent themselves; it can be hard to advocate for yourself. The demands of being a parent are constantly changing, personal growth is hard work and having someone there to support you along the way is critical.” As a single parent raising a child diagnosed with epilepsy and intellectual disabilities, Cassie experienced firsthand how incredibly challenging and complex it can be to care for a young child.

Cassie holding her 2-month-old daughter, Ash (2001)

While Cassie’s firsthand experiences as a parent and home visitor fueled her passion for removing barriers for parents, years of evidence of the impact of home visiting solidified her belief in its role in positively influencing lifelong outcomes for children and their families.

“Change is a constant in home visiting work. Infants and toddlers grow and change rapidly; parents have to stretch and grow to support their ever-changing children. Home visitors are continually learning new skills, making adjustments and fine-tuning their support of families. In turn, home visiting supervisors are continuously striving to change and improve the quality of support provided to the families they serve.”

Parallel Process and Positive Change

Cassie’s accomplished career supporting families includes doula, home visitor, home visiting program supervisor, Parents as Teachers state lead — and her current role at the systems-level, where she influences meaningful outcomes for children and their families across Washington state.

Because of these experiences, she has a unique ability to understand the implications and effects of program and policy change, allowing her to advocate for children and families alongside partners at multiple levels.

“Start Early Washington’s home visiting team supports programs across the state. We are always refining our work and making incremental changes. Meaningful change is possible because of the authentic relationships we foster. Our work is grounded in emotional support, role clarity, honesty, trust and safety.” — Cassie Morley

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Visit our main page to learn more about Washington’s home visiting team.

Advances in brain research show that children are born learning, and that their first three years of life in particular are important indicators for the success they can have later in school and in life. Early experiences that are language-rich and nurturing promote healthy brain development. So finding a high-quality early learning setting is essential for parents who work and seek child care.

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Once you’ve found a quality setting—from a center-based program to home child care to a relative’s house—here’s some advice from our expert Teresa Bennett a family support specialist at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early, on how you can prepare your child for their first day of day care.

  • Visit the Child Care Center
    To help your child get to know the new environment, visit the child care center with your child before the first day. You and your child can meet the caregiver. Take photos of the route to the center, the center entrance and the room where your child will spend the day. You can assemble the photos as a book, which you can use to talk to your child at home about what their day will be like and where they will go.
  • Talk to Your Child
    To help prepare your infant or toddler to go to out-of-home care, explain using language and concepts they will understand about where they’ll be going and what they’ll be doing. Talk about how they will meet new children and participate in fun activities. Always mention that you’ll be back at the end of the day to take them home.
  • Build a Relationship With the Caregiver
    Your young child may not be able to talk, but they can observe your actions. They’ll form their opinion of the caregiver based on your reactions. Make time each day to talk to the caregiver and begin building a strong relationship. Caregivers at quality early learning programs see parents as partners and will want to develop a strong relationship with you, your child’s first and most important teacher.
  • Share Information About Your Child
    Talk to the caregiver about your child’s cues, likes, dislikes and temperament. How do they like to be fed, soothed and put to sleep? Your tips will help the caregiver know how to best care for your child without having to guess which methods to try. You can also explain what developmental skills you’d like your child to learn. Ask for daily updates about your child’s progress from the caregiver.
  • Create a Morning Routine
    Routines help children feel in control of their surroundings, which eases anxiety. Create a morning routine so your infant or toddler knows what to expect before going to the child care center. Find out if the center provides breakfast so you know whether or not your child needs to eat at home.
  • Develop a Goodbye Ritual
    Create a goodbye ritual so that your infant or toddler starts to feel comfortable with their caregiver when you leave. Your ritual could be a hug, a high five or interacting together with a toy before you leave. Whatever activity you choose, make sure you take time to talk to your child about what’s happening and don’t rush the process. Once your child becomes used to the goodbye ritual, they’ll be better able to regulate their emotions so that they can calm themself more easily when you go. Learn more about separation anxiety.
  • Bring a Transitional Object
    Your child may feel more at ease in a new environment with an object that reminds them of home. This could be a photo of your family that’s laminated or a stuffed animal that your child enjoys. The child can hold the object during the day as a reminder that this new environment is temporary and that you will come back to take them home.
  • Ask What You Can Do at Home
    To extend your child’s learning, ask the caregiver what school readiness skills the children will be working on during the day and what related activities you can do at home. The reverse is also true: share information about what activities you are doing at home that your child is interested in and ask if the teacher can do something similar in class.
  • Complete Any Medical Requirements
    Find out from the school or center what doctor or dentist appointments must be completed or scheduled before the first day.
  • Bring a Change of Clothes
    It’s a good idea to bring a change of clothes for your infant or toddler in case they encounters any water, finger paint, etc. Also ask the center if you need to bring diapers or formula for your child.
  • Share Your Contact Information
    Let the caregiver know if it’s best to reach you by phone or email and share that contact information.

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As requested by the Legislature, Washington state’s Home Visiting Advisory Committee — consisting of home visiting providers, advocates, state agency partners and other allied professionals — recently outlined an ambitious path to strengthen the state’s home visiting system. Submitted to the Washington state Legislature and the Department of Children, Youth and Families, this plan makes essential recommendations to improve equity in the home visiting system, ensure a skilled and sustainable workforce and expand home visiting access to additional families.

Many of the recommendations identify strategies that are within the Department of Children, Youth and Families’ administrative power to implement while others will require additional investment from the Legislature.

Recommendation Highlights

A comprehensive overview of the recommendations is available on the Department of Children, Youth and Families website. In summary, the recommendations focus on the following areas of improvement:

Promote Equity: Washington must support a range of home visiting programs that meet the needs of diverse communities; ensure parent, community and provider voice is embedded in decision-making; and recruit and retain a workforce representative of families served.

Strengthen the Workforce: Home visitors have continued to provide essential supports to families, yet the workforce is under tremendous stress with higher than usual attrition in the past two years. The recommendations include investing in wages – including addressing racial and positional wage disparities; increasing access to professional development; and assessing home visitor caseloads and administrative burden.

Systems Improvements: To create a stable, sustainable and scalable home visiting system, the recommendations include completing a cost study to inform contracting to better reflect the true cost of the service; funding adjustments that promote equity; and streamlined data strategies.

Start Early Washington supports the recommendations submitted by the Home Visiting Advisory Committee. We are committed to working with our public and private sector partners to create comprehensive implementation plans with a strategic direction to build an equitable home visiting system that supports children and families in Washington state.

 

Excited to Learn More?

Check out our work in Washington state and stay connected; we’d love to grow our engagement with you.

We don’t know much about art, but we know what we like—and that’s seeing young children find ways to express themselves and spark creativity while they’re learning. Whether you have a little Picasso on your hands or you are actively looking for ways to introduce art to your child, we have tips for you!

We asked our Start Early experts for their advice for parents and caregivers on the best ways to use art to support your child’s learning and development. And the teachers of Room 114 at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early, delivered.

Check out what Annaliese Newmeyer, Charlene Macklin, Lisa LaRue have shared when it comes to why art is so important for our youngest learners and how you can make it part of your everyday routine:

What are the benefits of introducing art to young learners?

Art is an important part of child’s development in young learners. It not only provides children with a way to express themselves and spark their creativity, but it also provides teachers with a glimpse into how a child sees the world and what is important to them. Something as small as how a child focuses on a butterfly’s wing when drawing a butterfly, or the details of their hair in a self-portrait; whatever it is, art can be a window into a child’s mind.

Going to school can be traumatic for young children, they have to say goodbye to their favorite people and spend the day following rules and sharing, so art can be a way to relax and meet a child’s social and emotional needs as a form of self-regulation. And most of all, art is fun!

Are there any specific cognitive or physical developmental abilities that art projects help support in early learners?

By holding different types of drawing materials your child is actively working on their fine motor development. Art also works a different part of your brain than science or math since there is a no wrong answer.

Breaking down art projects into steps helps develop cognitive abilities. For example, when we introduce painting, we teach the children the steps: dip- paint- clean, dip- paint- clean. We can even make it into a little song and dance to help the kids remember to dip their paint brush in the paint, paint and then clean off the brush to get a new color.

Art is also very scientific and mathematical. You are asking big important questions when you want to know what happens when you mix colors or layer textures or create patterns.

What at-home projects you would recommend for infants and toddlers?

This is the best time to introduce different art materials to your child. The more experience they have with crayons, markers and paints the better they will be able to express themselves as they get older.

  • Focus on the sensory aspect and talk about texture.
  • Put words to your child’s actions, “you are touching the cold, smooth red paint. It’s red like an apple or a firetruck. The red is very vibrant on the white paper.”
  • Be playful and enjoy it. It won’t look like Pinterest, it will be messy.
  • Be prepared with wipes, paper towels and clothing that can get dirty.
  • Give your children a material and observe how they use it, what can you add to make the experience fuller or to extend their interest?
  • Use age-appropriate materials like chunky crayons, no markers, non-toxic paint, play dough, contact paper, tissue paper.

What at-home projects you would recommend for children ages 3-5?

  • Collaging
  • Cutting (an important fine motor skill)
  • Drawing pictures and describing the image
  • Telling a story about their art
  • Bookmaking
  • Junk art with material from the recycling bin

What is your favorite aspect of teaching art to early learners and why?

It’s fun because you can learn about the child through their art. You learn if they mind getting messy and how they see the world around them. One student we had was so amazing with watercolors, every time we brought out the watercolors, she would paint the most amazing pictures. She struggles in other areas in the classroom but working with the paint gave her a confidence that was then reflected throughout the classroom.

You get to watch them create; we might not understand what they are painting or drawing but they do. For example, we might see a red circle but to them it’s a volcano. They get so excited about their creations.

Art is a form of expression, so it helps us be able to see deeper into their minds and what they find important. For example, we might give children wings, a body, black and yellow stripes of paper and glue and ask them to make a bee and to see the variations in what a bee will look like is amazing! Some kids focus on the stripes or the wings or even where they will place the eyes is fascinating.

Any other tips for incorporating art into children’s learning?

  • It’s not about the product it’s about the process!
  • Give them a provocation (example: have them draw a picture of their fish).
  • Take paper and crayons everywhere you go and have your child record what they see around them.
  • Have your child tell you a story about what they create.
  • Annaliese Newmeyer, M.Ed, has been a Mentor Coach and Lead Teacher at Educare Chicago for the past 9 years. Annaliese enjoys reading children’s books and gardening with children. She feels like it is important to teach children to take care of others and heal each other through actions rather than words.
  • Charlene Macklin has been a teacher at Educare Chicago for 9 years and is currently working on her PEL license at the University of Illinois Chicago. She enjoys arts and crafts and hands-on experiences to build children’s understanding of the world around them.
  • Lisa LaRue has been a teacher for over 25 years, and at Educare Chicago for 15 years. Her motto is, “We are a Classroom Community,” and she works to establish a cooperative community through learning. She is an expert in preparing children for kindergarten.

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Can you believe it’s almost time for your child’s first day of kindergarten? This can be exciting and overwhelming for many parents and children. To help you prepare, we asked a Start Early expert for advice for parents. Lisa LaRue a teacher at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early, shared her tips to help you and your child have a successful school year.

The start of kindergarten can be exciting, stressful, intimidating and scary at the same time. As a parent, you can help ease some of your child’s worries and fears by having conversations around their feelings. By learning as much as you can about the kindergarten experience, you’ll be able to better explain the transition to your child and they’ll understand how fun kindergarten will be!

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Check out Lisa’s checklist to help you and your little one navigate the transition to kindergarten:

  1. Meet the Teacher Before the First Day of School
    If you can, schedule a time for you and your child to meet their kindergarten teacher before the first day of school. This will give your child the chance to become comfortable with the teacher. You can also let the teacher know about your child’s preferences, temperament, strengths and weaknesses. For example, if your child had trouble with transitions in preschool, explain how you and the preschool teacher helped them overcome that challenge. The kindergarten teacher will appreciate your tips! You can also talk about your aspirations for your child and what you hope your child will learn in the upcoming year. Ask how you can be involved in the classroom. Be sure to share your contact information and let the teacher know the best way to reach you.
  2. Set a Consistent Routine Before School Starts
    A consistent morning and evening routine will help your child feel prepared for the first day of kindergarten. Young children benefit from routines because when they know what will happen next they are less prone to find changes stressful. Set a bedtime to help your child get a good night’s rest. In the morning, leave enough time for getting dressed, eating breakfast and packing backpacks. Start your routine a few weeks before kindergarten so you know how long it will take to get ready. Be sure to have a goodbye ritual like a high five, blowing a kiss or giving a hug to help your little one understand that it is time for you to leave, this will help them feel less anxious knowing that you are going to return later.
  3. Do a Dry Run
    A few days before the first day of school, do a dry run of your morning routine, including going to school. You can walk or drive to school, or walk to the bus stop with your child. Show your child the door they will walk in on the first day of school. Ask the school what the pick-up and drop-off policies are. Some schools allow parents to come into the classroom to drop their children off, and others have a different meeting point. Not only will you find out exactly how long your morning routine takes, you’ll also give your child a better sense of what the day will look like to prevent first-day-of-school anxiety. While you are in the classroom, you can discuss with your child what is the same and what is different about this classroom and their old preschool classroom. Do they have the same areas? Are there desks? What is not there? You can also ask the teacher if your child can bring in a family picture or something special to add to their cubby to feel more comfortable. You can also watch YouTube videos of kindergarten classrooms together and even role play different school scenarios at home if your child has more questions or wants to see more examples.
  4. Find Out What Skills the Teacher Expects Children to Have on Day One
    Kindergarten teachers may expect children to be able to handle their emotions, articulate their needs, listen to directions, raise their hand before talking, write their name, and recognize shapes and colors on the first day of school. Find out what the expectations are in advance and ask for tips on how to prepare your child for any skills they are still working on. If your child has mastered those skills, ask the teacher what will be done to challenge your child in the classroom.
  5. Read to Your Child
    Check out our list of recommended books below for kindergarten students. Start reading books before school starts during storytime so that your child has a better idea of what going to school will be like.

    1. Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
    2. The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes
    3. Look out Kindergarten, Here I Come by Nancy Carlson
  6. Be an Advocate
    If your child needs any special services, talk to the administration and the classroom teachers in advance to find out who provides them. Ask if the services are provided inside or outside the kindergarten classroom. If your child has an individualized education plan from preschool, find out how that plan transfers over to kindergarten.
  7. Network With Other Parents
    Talking with other parents is a great way to build a support system to help you through all the challenges of parenthood. Ask the school what supports are available for parents and what opportunities are provided for parents to meet, such as parent groups, school councils, or other committees that you can join.
  8. Prepare for Breakfast and Lunch
    Find out if your school provides breakfast and/or lunch and plan accordingly. Your child may be used to eating at certain times at home or at an early childhood center, so explain how mealtimes may be changing. If your child will be buying lunch, get a menu from the school. Find out how food preferences are honored. For instance, some schools ask for a doctor’s note for food allergies.
  9. Decrease Naptime
    Some schools may offer a resting period, but many don’t. So it’s a good idea to wean children off naps before the first day of kindergarten.
  10. Make Afterschool Plans
    If your child will be in after school care, make those arrangements as soon as possible. Find out what afterschool care options your school offers and how much it costs. Make sure your child knows what the plans are and that you pick up your child on time or early so they don’t get anxious waiting for you. Create a backup plan with other parents, who you can rely on to pick up your child if you are running late.

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You and your child may feel excited—or apprehensive—about the first day of preschool. This is a big transition for children, especially those going to school for the first time. Children will learn many social and emotional and academic skills in preschool that will help them throughout their school careers, so it’s important to help children feel comfortable in the classroom.

To help your child get the most out of the preschool experience, we asked a Start Early expert for some advice for parents handling this transition. Annaliese Newmeyer a teacher at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early, shared her tips to help you and your child prepare for preschool.

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Check out Annaliese’s checklist to help you and your little one navigate this exciting time:

Before the First Day:

  • Drive or walk by your child’s new school. Seeing their school ahead of time will help familiarize them with their new space. You can show them where things are like the main door and the playlot. This will help your child feel more comfortable with the space and how things will look on their first day.
  • Meet with the teacher. Meeting your child’s teacher ahead of their first day is very helpful for both you and your little learner. At this meeting, you can help your child learn their new teacher’s name and give your child a chance to become comfortable with them. You can also take this time to ask the teacher what your child will be learning and what skills they expect children to have on day one. Then, you can set some realistic and developmentally appropriate goals for your child. For example, do you work on your child’s reading? Together you can set goals that can help your child develop early literacy skills, like being able to recognize their name and the letters in their name.
  • Celebrate this milestone. This can be the beginning of a tradition to say goodbye to Summer and hello to the school year! Maybe you and your child go get an ice cream sundae or go to a baseball game or stay up late and watch movies and eat snacks together.

On the First Day:

  • Be prepared: bring a bookbag with a change of clothes, a favorite blanket or stuffed animal for nap time, and even a picture of your family. Having something that reminds your child of home with help them feel more at ease in their new environment.
  • Make sure your child eats a good breakfast and gets some rest. Your child’s school might give them breakfast, but it might be later, and you don’t want them to be too hungry!
  • Expect the first day to be easy but it might get hard the second day or the second week when reality sets in that they must return to school every single weekday.
  • Explain to your child that this will be a hard transition for you too! You will miss them, and they will have to meet new people and have new experiences but each day will get easier.
  • Make sure you say goodbye, do not sneak away. Have the same goodbye every day; we call this a goodbye ritual. It can be a hug, a special handshake or a dance! This ritual will help your child learn what to expect when you come to class and will help ease their anxiety when you leave.

Ongoing:

  • Ask questions! Ask your child’s teacher how each day is going and what you can do to help make it better. And be sure to ask your child how their day was. At first, they might just say nothing, but as you ask them every day, their answers will become more and more descriptive.
  • Volunteer in the classroom if you can. Get to know the other kids and parents. This is your new community, your new village and you are there to support each other!

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Washington state capitol building in summer(Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)

A Reminder …

Start Early Washington publishes “Notes From Olympia” periodically throughout the legislative interim. During this time, we are replacing trivia with “deeper dives,” looking at innovations and issues that intersect with policy. This edition’s deep dive focuses on recommendations the Home Visiting Advisory Committee recently submitted to the Legislature and the Department of Children, Youth and Families to improve equity in the system, ensure a skilled and sustainable workforce and serve additional families.

A Look at the State’s Revenue Picture

Two important updates impacting our state’s budget outlook were released in June – the first being the caseload forecast (projecting the state’s spending commitments for entitlement programs) and the other is the revenue forecast (projecting how much money the state has available to spend).

Caseload Forecast

The June 15 Caseload Forecast provided updated projections from the last forecast in February related to a number of state programs. These include projections for K-12 enrollment, state prisons and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program – all major cost drivers in the state budget. Forecast reports are used by the Governor to build his proposed budget as well as by legislative budget writers in their adoption of budget numbers.

Interestingly, K-12 enrollment has not yet bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. For specific early learning programs, the following changes are forecasted:

  • ECEAP enrollment is projected to increase by 2.1% from the February forecast, growing by 309 children, bringing the caseload to 15,199 in state Fiscal Year 2023 (state Fiscal Year 2023 runs from July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023). The forecast notes ECEAP enrollment has been impacted by COVID-19 and labor market developments. (It is fair to say COVID-19 was noted as a risk in every program forecast).
  • Working Connections Child Care participation is expected to decline by 4.2% from the February forecast (a decline of 1,105 families) bringing the caseload to 24,999 in state Fiscal Year 2023. The forecast accounts for the increased eligibility provided by the Fair Start for Kids Act. Risks to this forecast include COVID-19 and changing patterns in work and child care usage.
  • Special Education Preschool is projected to increase by 2.3% from the February forecast. The percentage of eligible children in this age group participating in Special Education preschool is projected to recover to exceed pre-pandemic levels from 2022-23 to 2024-25, but the actual caseload will not reach pre-pandemic levels due to declining birth rates.

Currently, the caseload forecast does not include a specific projection for the Transitional Kindergarten caseload. As a reminder, the 2022 supplemental budget included funding and a directive for the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to complete an evaluation on a number of items related to Transitional Kindergarten (TK) by Dec. 1, 2023, including the number of school districts offering TK and the number of children participating in the program (to the extent data is available).

Revenue Forecast

If the remarks from State Economist Dr. Steve Lerch at the June 22 meeting of the Economic Revenue and Forecast Council were put into a “word cloud generator,” the words “caution” and “slowing” would likely come out the largest as they were the most frequently cited.

In short, while the state’s revenue continues to grow beyond previous projections, expected growth is accompanied by a number of asterisks. Washington state continues to experience stronger than projected revenue collections, but there is concern about where our economy is headed. The largest concerns are around inflation, rising gas prices, a drop in retail sales, a potential slowdown in residential construction and the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict. The potential for a recession in our state is a possibility.

In terms of the official revenue forecast, revenues for the 2021-23 biennium (our current biennium) are up $1.457 billion over previous projections, and revenues for the 2023-25 biennium are up $632 million over previous projections. The variance between the two biennia demonstrates the expected slower, more moderate growth for our state’s economy.

Dr. Lerch also produces “alternative forecasts” including optimistic and pessimistic projections. The odds of the pessimistic forecasts for 2021-23 and 2023-25 outweigh the optimistic ones, and notably, the pessimistic forecast for 2023-25 projects a potential $6.2 billion drop in revenue.

Back to the proverbial word cloud – caution and slowing.

Primary Election Coming Soon

The state’s Aug. 2 primary election is quickly approaching, with ballots in the mail by July 15. Washington state has a top two primary system, which means the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

Candidate filing week occurred from May 16-20 with hundreds of aspiring elected officials throwing their hats into the ring for offices ranging from Secretary of State to every seat in the House of Representatives as well as 24 of the 49 State Senate positions. The Secretary of State office is up for election in this “off year” because Secretary of State Steve Hobbs was appointed to replace Kim Wyman, who left her elected position post midterm to lead cybersecurity efforts for President Joe Biden.

Even before candidate filing week, we knew the makeup of the 2023 Washington state Legislature would be significantly different with more than 20 sitting lawmakers announcing they did not plan to run again for their current position. Many of these legislators are running for an open State Senate seat or the U.S. House of Representatives, but a significant number are retiring from elected service (at least for the 2022 election cycle). These retirements include a number of veterans such as the lead Capital Budget writer in the Senate David Frockt; House Majority Leader (and key budget negotiator) Pat Sullivan; and the long-time chair of the House Health Care Committee, Eileen Cody.

In addition to the retirement of veteran lawmakers, we saw an unusually high number of newer legislators, largely Members of Color, opt out of running for state legislative office in 2022. Newer lawmakers cited part-time employment reimbursement for what is really a full-time job, lack of support as well as frustration with the institution as impacting their decision to not return in 2023.

With some very crowded primary races, we will have a better picture of the November general election competitions after Aug. 2.

Ballot Initiatives

In the upcoming November general election, voters will also be asked to consider various initiatives. Initiative sponsors have until 5 p.m. on July 8 to submit signatures to the Secretary of State from at least 324,516 registered voters supporting the proposed initiative. The signature gathering process is time intensive, complex and costly.

One initiative that will not appear on voters’ ballots is the proposal to repeal the state’s recently enacted Capital Gains tax that was passed to support components of the Fair Start for Kids Act and other education related items. As reported in the June 10, 2022 Washington Wire, backers of the initiative decided not to pursue a ballot initiative, instead opting to place their bets on the legal challenge that is headed to the Washington State Supreme Court. The Wire piece cites the high costs of signature gathering as a reason for the decision.

Deep Dive: Home Visiting System Recommendations

The 2021 adopted state budget directed the Home Visiting Advisory Committee established in RCW 43.216.130 to submit recommendations to the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and the Legislature by June 1, 2022, containing strategies for improving equity in the home visiting system, ensuring a skilled and sustainable workforce and serving additional families.

The Home Visiting Advisory Committee (HVAC) includes home visiting experts, government and health department representatives, tribal community liaisons, service providers and research and evaluation experts. Its current membership is listed on Page 27 of the HVAC recommendations. (I represent the Home Visiting Advocacy Coalition on this committee).

The HVAC worked over the past year to develop recommendations that focus on three areas: 1) Workforce Development; 2) True Cost of Services; and 3) Data Enhancement. The recommendations build on work done to date, center community voices and prioritize strategies to better support under-resourced rural communities and organizations led by Black, Indigenous and People of Color. The HVAC is committed to a home visiting system that includes a range of home visiting models, programs and providers to ensure home visiting meets the needs of Washington state’s diverse communities and populations.

Implementing many of these recommendations is within DCYF’s purview; however, some will involve additional investment by the Legislature. While it will take time to implement the full array of recommendations, in its submission letter, the HVAC urged the Legislature and DCYF to take immediate action to address specific challenges facing the home visiting workforce, particularly related to compensation and the recruitment and retention of a workforce more representative of the children and families served.

Background on Home Visiting in Washington State

The recommendation document includes helpful background on the evolution of home visiting in our state, including the following “fast facts:”

  • The Home Visiting Services Account (HVSA) was created in statute in 2010, requiring all federal, state and private dollars the state receives for home visiting be deposited into this dedicated account.
  • Today, 44 local implementing agencies (also often referred to as “programs”) serve about 2,800 families statewide with funding through the HVSA.
  • An additional 6,000 families are served statewide with funding outside of the HVSA. The largest non-HVSA funding sources are Best Starts for Kids in King County and Early Head Start Home Based option.
  • Primary HVSA funding includes federal Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV); the State-General Fund; Fair Start for Kids Act funding; a portion of I-502 cannabis dollars; and funding from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to serve families participating in that program.
  • Washington has adopted a “portfolio” approach with the HVSA funding supporting nine different home visiting models to meet the varying needs of families. Additional home visiting models are funded by non-HVSA sources.

Summary of HVAC Recommendations

The recommendations contain a key detailing estimated budgetary impacts and a timeline for each recommendation (immediate, short-, medium- and long-term). The accompanying document includes further detail on the rationale for the specific recommendation, what authorizing authority is needed to implement, as well as further detail on budgetary impacts and timing. Most of the recommendations are within DCYF’s authority to implement, and many will need additional funding from the Legislature. The HVAC expressly stated their interest that implementation of several of the recommendations go beyond just HVSA-funded home visiting slots and support the larger home visiting system.

Overarching Recommendation: Community-Supported Portfolio Approach

  • This overarching recommendation encourages DCYF to continue supporting a portfolio of models to meet community needs. (Again, a portfolio approach supports multiple home visiting models to meet the varying needs of families and communities).
  • Specifically, the recommendation includes the development of a framework for the selection of models that prioritizes investing in under-resourced rural communities and organizations led by Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
  • DCYF should ensure selection of models and programs/decisions/design include deep community engagement that centers community, parent and provider voice.

Workforce Development Recommendations

Like other health and human service sectors, the home visiting workforce is under stress with higher than usual attrition in the past two years. Top concerns include:

  • Inability to recruit and retain staff due to low compensation.
  • Insufficient access to ongoing training and comprehensive professional development.
  • Balancing working directly with families and the lack of time to access professional development opportunities.

A study cited in the recommendations notes that 49% of the home visiting workforce in Washington earns less than $20/hour and the pay disparity is greater for home visitors identifying as Black, Indigenous or Person of Color.

Recommended strategies include:

  • Invest in home visiting workforce wages to specifically address racial and positional wage disparities.
  • Build in time for home visitors to access professional development that addresses the full needs of families (this could involve adjusting caseloads to account for time to engage in professional development opportunities).
  • Develop and implement strategies to recruit and retain a workforce more representative of families served.
  • Focus on workforce well-being with a focus on trauma-informed and healing-centered practices.

True Cost of Service Recommendations

Unlike many early learning programs, home visiting is not funded with a set rate structure. For example, newly contracted and recently expanded contracted local implementing agencies are often funded at higher levels compared to established local implementing agencies that are locked into years of static funding.

Recommended strategies include:

  • Complete the cost study that is underway within 12 months to inform the development of a customizable, community-driven cost model. It will be important to engage the Home Visiting Advisory Committee as well as HVSA-funded and non-HVSA funded programs in the cost study design and implementation.
  • Provide funding adjustments to local implementing agencies to bring equity and sustainability.

Data Enhancement Recommendation

Data is an area complicated by various funding streams and model-specific requirements. Many local implementing agencies cite the time intensive nature of the current data collection requirements as burdensome and have expressed concern that some data points are duplicative, or even unnecessary. Finally, there is interest in more transparency and disaggregation in the data collected.

Specific strategies include:

  • Alignment of data requirements, with particular attention to reducing duplicative or unnecessary requirements.
  • Increase capacity to manage and use data.
  • Develop a data infrastructure plan.

What’s Next?

Development of these recommendations was a collaborative effort between members of the HVAC as well as staff from DCYF and Department of Health (which manages the data function). A point of personal privilege – I would like to give a special shoutout to the DCYF and DOH teams and the HVAC members who stepped up to lead the recommendation development. A tremendous amount of work went into their development and identification of critically needed action steps.

So where do we go from here? With DCYF’s focus on prevention as a key component of its agency charge (amplified by the recent passage of landmark child welfare legislation), we expect DCYF to submit a prevention-oriented decision package this fall that includes home visiting for consideration in the Governor’s budget. We hope to see the more immediate recommendations that require state investment reflected in that decision package.

Home visiting advocates are digesting these recommendations and beginning the process of developing their 2023 legislative asks. What is clear is the urgent need to address the home visiting workforce and ensure the system is strengthened to better include the voices of communities, parents and providers alike so the system can expand to serve more families.

If you are interested in learning more about home visiting advocacy efforts, drop me an email; we would love to grow engagement with this important work.

Looking for more? Here’s a home visiting advocacy overview document sharing home visiting advocacy coalition membership, benefits of home visiting and the current state of services in Washington.

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