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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The Challenge

At Child Care Associates in Texas, the central office team noticed that, after a period of gains, its CLASS evaluations of childcare and Head Start/Early Head Start providers had plateaued.

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Complete this form to read our case study about the Child Care Associates’ rollout of The Essential 0-5 Survey across 25 early childhood campuses.

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System leaders decided it was time to change how they approached outcomes improvement and they made three important decisions:

  • Shift ownership of CCA’s education vision from the central office to campus instructional leaders.
  • Recommit to using family experience as a critical performance measure.
  • Implement The Essential 0-5 Survey across 25 campuses to provide leaders with a unified framework to move program improvement forward.

Improving CLASS instructional support scores was important to CCA – but our goal in using The Essential Survey was to focus on how supporting leaders will drive improvement in the classroom.

Karin Scott, Chief Performance Officer, Child Care Associates
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The Impact: Energized Leaders Re-shaping Daily Practice to Improve Outcomes and Equity

Karin Scott, Chief Performance Officer, outlines four key outcomes the CCA team experiences with their annual Essential Survey implementation:

  • Outcome One – Our entire team now uses a common framework to talk about improvement.
    “We transformed campus director meetings to bring people together who are working on common problems of practice – to share out what’s working, lift up people getting better outcomes, and talk about pivots when something doesn’t work.”
  • Outcome Two – We are reducing leader & teacher overwhelm by focusing on where they CAN have impact.
    “It can get overwhelming when you’re dealing with deep root causes to early childhood issues, like a national labor shortage or systemic racism. The Essential Survey toolkit’s root cause analysis allows us to dig down to root causes and build strategies to affect the most change with limited resources.”
  • Outcome Three – Staff at all levels are making proactive, positive changes in daily practice.
    “The Essential Survey got teams into the practice of reviewing data. They’re taking it into their own hands to make easy, accessible processes for people. They’re rethinking how they use their time.”
  • Outcome Four – We have more data to help us drive equity for families of color.
    “There is a huge equity piece to the Essential Survey work. We serve majority families of color and we need to know how they’re feeling about the services they are receiving, as well as how we can improve. This is a great tool to do that.”

We want staff to feel like they are valued and cared for while they’re here – and make sure they keep doing this work because it’s important for our community.

Karin Scott, Chief Performance Officer, Child Care Associates
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Looking Ahead

The Child Care Associates team is committed to implementing The Essential 0-5 Survey annually to sustain a culture that values and supports leaders. “It was important before the pandemic, but now more than ever we need to know how people are feeling,” says Karin Scott. “Our long-term hope is that our staff are supported and feel motivated to do their best work, which in turns leads to better interactions with children and teachers and better outcomes for families.”

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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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The 2022 National Home Visiting Summit brought together over 1,200 systems leaders, researchers, practitioners, policy advocates, key partners and decision makers in a collaborative pursuit to advance the home visiting field and systems of care to increase service quality and improve child and family outcomes.

Attendees at this year’s virtual event participated in workshops, affinity groups, communities of practice and plenary sessions that discussed issues facing the home visiting field today, including innovations in home visiting practices and systems, addressing systematic and structural racism, and improving maternal and child health outcomes.

Communities across the country are experiencing a dearth of child care options for families with infants and toddlers. Frequently described as a crisis, the availability of high-quality child care for infants and toddlers has only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020.

The need for expanded access to quality care for infants and toddlers in Illinois is clear—what is less clear is how to overcome the many challenges to meet this urgent need. The Infant and Toddler Child Care Roadmap project, led by Start Early, explores various ways Illinois can better meet the needs of families with infants and toddlers through the lens of the State’s child care community. The purpose of the project is to examine the current supply, demand and impact of infant-toddler child care on family well-being and the economy. The project is part of Raising Illinois’ Prenatal-to-Three Policy Agenda.

The Infant and Toddler Child Care Roadmap includes a review of recent and relevant literature on infant and toddler child care, a scan of relevant policies and practices in Illinois and other states, and a summary of findings from our engagement with Illinois’s child care field through focus groups and surveys. To better contextualize and interpret the data collected through these activities and to identify subsequent policy recommendations, a series of community conversations were convened around the State to share findings from the literature, state policy scan and surveys and focus groups and to reflect with communities on their implications. Input received from community conversations was integrated into this report, which details the project’s findings and recommendations for increasing access to infant and toddler child care in Illinois.

The following recommendations are reflective of the need for an intentional focus on infants and toddlers and are centered on the professionals who deliver child care services, as our State’s ability to expand infant-toddler child care capacity largely hinges on their ability to do so.

Key Recommendations:

  1. Strengthen the perception and reputation of infant-toddler teachers and other professionals working with children under age 3.
  2. Strengthen the workforce.
  3. Increase engagement with local communities.
  4. Improve the Child Care Assistance Program.
  5. Increase supports for children with disabilities, and early childhood staff and families struggling with mental health and social emotional challenges.
  6. Increase business and operational supports to child care programs.
  7. Improve availability of data on infants and toddlers.

Research & Evaluation Team & Collaborators

Special thanks to: City of Chicago Mayor’s Office & Every Child Ready Chicago Working Group; Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map; SAL Family and Community Services; Children’s Home & Aid Child Care Resource and Referral; Child Care Resource and Referral at John A. Logan College; Southern Illinois Coalition for Children and Families; Christine Brambila; Madison Conkin; Ireta Gasner; Brenda Eastham; Jennifer Kemp Berchtold; Beth Knight; Ann Kremer; Lindsay Maldonado; Marcy Mendenhall; Gail Nourse; Emily Ropars.

Funders

This project was made possible by grant number 90TP0057. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official view of the United States Department of Health and Human Services,

Executive Summary

In spring 2020, Start Early engaged more than 150 participants from 12 states and the District of Columbia in the Build it Back Better Dialogues*. The dialogues afforded space for Start Early to hear directly from parents, systems leaders and early childhood practitioners. Actively listening to stakeholders’ concerns provided critical insight into the challenges facing early childhood professionals and the families they serve. By sparking courageous and often difficult conversations, Start Early gained a deeper understanding of the disparities that perpetuate the opportunity gap among our youngest learners.

This report outlines key findings from the Build it Back Better Dialogues, including actionable information to help lead long-term, systemic changes through research- and evidence-based policies. Listening to the lived experiences of families and early childhood professionals generated critical questions that can be used to guide further discussions about the future of early childhood education and care in a post-pandemic world. Paying attention to the voices of people on all sides of early childhood systems will allow the creation of more equitable, responsive policies moving forward.

*The Build it Back Better Dialogues are not associated with the Build Back Better Framework.

The following two modules provide a brief overview of [email protected] core concepts and what a NEAR home visit looks like in practice.

[email protected] is a resource for home visitors to respectfully and effectively address adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with families. In addition to our free and easily accessible [email protected] Toolkit, we have developed a Facilitated Learning process through which trained facilitators guide home visitors and supervisors through the process of implementing a NEAR home visit.

Learn more about the [email protected] Facilitated Learning program and how it can support you and your home visiting program by watching the two videos below (Module #1 and Module #2).

Interested in bringing the [email protected] Facilitated Learning program to your community and developing your own team of [email protected] facilitators? Please reach out to us at [email protected].

Executive Summary

In March 2021, Start Early received a short-term exploratory grant from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities to gather insights into how to better support the inclusion of young children with disabilities across school and community settings by engaging school district leaders and their management organizations. From March through August 2021, Start Early conducted key informant interviews and focus groups with school management associations and school district leaders, including principals, superintendents, school board members, and early childhood and early childhood special education coordinators to gain an understanding of what Local Education Agencies (LEAs) would need to be able to provide services to all preschool aged children with IEPs regardless of setting, with a focus on outside-of-school settings.

This report outlines key findings from these focus groups and potential next steps for policy makers and systems leaders to build LEA and state capacity to leverage new federal resources on inclusion. This work will inform early childhood systems efforts in Illinois including the Early Childhood Transformation’s implementation of the Funding Commission recommendations, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood’s needs assessment and strategic planning process funded through the federal Preschool Development Grant, and the work that is anticipated under the Build Back Better Act.

Policy Team & Collaborators

Acknowledgements

This report was prepared thanks to many individuals and organizations that generously provided time and expertise, research, consultation and other supports. Special thanks to: Debra Pacchiano, Isabel Farrar, Ann Kremer, Emily Ropars, focus group participants and key informants.

In partnership with the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. This project was supported, in part by grant number CFDA 93.630, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

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