There’s been a national discussion about increasing our aptitude in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)/science technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). America is underperforming other industrial nations, and these areas are increasingly playing a critical role in career success.

Much of the conversation focuses on improvements in the middle and high school years. But we can begin building STEM/STEAM skills much earlier than that—as soon as a child starts speaking.

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Some young children are innately interested in: learning how things work, building things and taking things apart. But all children can be enticed into STEM/STEAM learning through whatever they’re already interested in. Both STEM and STEAM support play, wonder and curiosity; but STEAM includes an art component that allows children to create and design with intention. STEM and STEAM encourage children to solve problems by using inquiry and investigation.

Since young children tend to ask lots of questions, you can introduce STEM/STEAM basics by following these simple “CHIA” steps:

  • Curiosity: “So glad you asked!”
  • Hypothesis: “Why don’t you make a guess?”
  • Investigation: “Let’s look into it!”
  • Analysis: “Why do you think that happened?”

Before beginning any activity with your toddler, ask them what they think is going to happen. Then ask why they think that. They’ve just created a hypothesis and given their logic for that hypothesis—the foundation of all scientific exploration. By then creating experiments with your toddler and talking about what you observe, you’re setting them up to plan, brainstorm, build, and solve problems exactly like scientists and engineers do.

Ideas for You and Your Child:

  1. Build a ramp for toy cars to roll down. Have your toddler race two cars down the ramp. Ask them to predict which one will get to the bottom first. Then have them play with how to make the cars faster or slower. For example, if you put a small stone on the car, does it make it go faster? Buildable toys provide great opportunities for experimentation. What happens to the speed when your toddler makes the car bigger, heavier, or longer? This is experimentation, and it’s fun!
  2. When you go for a walk, you can guide the conversation, or let your child come up with their own experiments. If you see an animal, play with how softly you can talk before the animal notices you. Or ask your child why the squirrels race around the tree. Right answers are not the goal—this is about asking questions and predicting the answer.

Remember that it’s okay for both you and your child to answer “I don’t know” to any question. It’s asking the question that’s important because that is where all science begins.

STEAM At-Home Activity: Building Structures

While at home, parents can introduce building structures with their children. The materials for this activity consist of wide popsicle sticks, clear plastic drinking cups and small cube blocks. Parents can encourage their child to build a structure while engaging in conversation about how many cups will it take to build the structure. What will happen if you use fewer cups and more popsicle sticks? How high can you build? The children can learn about balance, height, measurement and a host of wonderful things. This at-home activity needs little to no planning, but a readiness to think outside of the box.

Don’t underestimate the incredible thinking skills that young children have. With just a playful shift in word choice, we can allow for a dramatic shift in getting our babies ready for a STEM/STEAM education!

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Playing pretend with your child might seem silly at times, but it’s actually pretty serious business when it comes to learning. Whether you’re new to playing dress up or having a pretend concert in your kitchen, or you are looking for more ways to spark your child’s imagination, we have tips for you!

We asked our Start Early experts for advice for parents and caregivers on the best ways to support your child’s learning and development through imaginative play, and they delivered.

Check out what Melissa Spivey, Teacher Assistant at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early shared when it comes to making imaginative play a fun part of your everyday routine.

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Check out Melissa’s tips: 

What is Imaginative Play?

Imaginative play is playing pretend. Imaginative play is important for young children, as it not only builds character, but also helps adults understand children’s perspective and how they view and take in the world around them. When caregivers understand a child’s perspective, caregivers can be a better resources for them.

Why is Imaginative Play Important?

Many times, adults thinks that imaginative play is just for the children, when in fact it is for everyone. During imaginative play, you get to be anyone, anything, be any place and experience life outside of reality. During imaginative play you get to be free.
Through imaginative play children learn critical thinking skills, how to follow simple directions, build expressive and receptive language, increase social skills and learn how manage their emotions.

While children can handle exploring imaginative play alone with their thoughts and experiences, caregivers can play a key role in helping scaffold a child’s development. For example, imaginative play might begin with you and your child and just a baby doll. The caregiver plays the role in adding words or actions to the play such as do you think your baby is hungry? That will prompt the child to feed the baby. Now we have a baby and food. Next, the caregiver might say, the baby made a mess with the food, what do you think we should do? This question prompts the child to think whether to clean the baby by washing the baby or just changing the baby’s clothes. Another example, the caregiver can say, “I think I smell something, could it be your baby?” This will prompt the child to smell the baby and change. Now we, have a baby, food and a diaper.

How to Incorporate Imaginative Play at Home?

Incorporating imaginative play into your routine at home helps promote the parent-child relationship. Since bath time is already a routine for children, caregivers can add imaginative play to bath time. Adding imaginative play to bath time can be done by simply adding items such as a baby doll, small cars or cups from the kitchen. Washing the baby can help children identify different body parts and understand the difference between clean and dirty, while adding vocabulary words such as wash, soap, towel, water, clean, dirty. The same as washing the cars, children get a sense of how cars are changing from dirty to clean. For the cups, children can experience filling and dumping the water in and out of the cup. Adding vocabulary words such as filling, dumping, full, and empty. Remember imaginative play can be planned or spontaneous.

Easy activities for home

  • Singing Concert
    • Materials needed: any safe objects like wooden spoons or pots and pans to use while you and your child sing and dance to their favorite song.
  • Baby doll playtime
    • Materials needed: a baby doll or soft stuffed item.
  • Bus stop
    • Materials needed: a chair, the couch and paper to use as money.

Tips for Halloween

When it comes to celebrating Halloween, children have the opportunity to live out their imaginative play fantasy by dressing up and becoming their favorite tv character. When picking costumes this holiday season, caregivers should become knowledge of the character that their children pick so that they can ask questions to keep the playing and learning going.

If you are going treat or treat, remember before leaving the house to give your child rules that they must follow while out in the public so that they can play safely. Giving your child the rules before leaving shows you are trusting them to be responsible. For example, caregivers can use character as the example on how following rules is important. For example, “I am expecting you to be a responsible superhero.” Or when the child is doing something outside of the rules, caregivers could say, “I wonder what will Spiderman do if his mother saw him doing that?

If the weather is too hot/cold/rainy for Trick or Treating this Halloween, you can still incorporate dressing up and imaginative play in other ways to still enjoy Halloween:

  • District Park Halloween party
  • Neighborhood Truck trick or treat
  • Family Bowling night with character
  • Family party at home (dress up)
  • Movie night with the family watching Halloween movie
  • Cooking with family

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Next week, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is holding the first 2 of 3 fall budget hearings, the first step in determining next year’s proposed education budget for the state. These hearings provide the early childhood advocacy community an opportunity to help shape the state’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal. Please consider participating *virtually or in-person* in requesting a 20% increase in state funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG).

Here’s how you can participate in the ISBE budget hearing process:

  1. Visit ISBE.net/BudgetRequestForm, and enter your name and contact information.
  2. Choose the hearing you’ll attend or select the option for submitting a written testimony. Written requests must be received by ISBE no later than Oct. 26.
  3. Under the “Add Program Request” drop-down menu select “Early Childhood Education”
  4. Enter $119,627,620.00 under the “Additional Requested Funding” section.
  5. Under the field that begins with “Please provide the Board with a description of your funding request,” you will need to put further detail on the 20% ask.

Upcoming Budget Hearings:

  • Oct. 4, 4-7 p.m. CT (Virtual)
    Registration deadline is Sept. 29
  • Oct. 6, 4-7 p.m. CT (In-Person, Springfield)
    Written funding request must be turned in by Oct. 4
  • Oct. 24, 4-7 p.m. CT (Virtual)
    Registration deadline is Oct. 20

Register Now

Contact us if you plan to testify or have questions. Thank you for speaking up for children and families across the state!

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Equitable inclusion for young children with disabilities and developmental delays in early childhood opportunities is supported by both a human rights framework and evidence-based research. Being meaningfully included as a member of society is a human right that all children deserve and should be able to access. Additionally, there is clear research on the benefits of inclusion for both young children with disabilities and their typically developing peers in early childhood programs and services. Despite this, it is well documented that nationally, young children with disabilities and delays and their families continue to face challenges with accessing inclusive early childhood services individualized to their needs in all settings, particularly young children of color.

To address this, the Alliance for IDEA Policy Initiative and other national partners developed these federal policy recommendations to advance equity and inclusion for young children with disabilities and developmental delays across the early childhood system.

Key Recommendations

We identified key recommendations across five areas:

  1. Adequate and Robust Funding
  2. Stable and Diverse Workforce
  3. Governance that Enhances Coordination and Collaboration
  4. Family- and Child-Centered Screening, Eligibility, and Evaluation
  5. Equitable and Inclusive Services

Policy Team & Collaborators

Special thanks to: Thank you to the families, providers, and organizations who gave their time to host and participate in a feedback session to inform the federal policy recommendations as well as completed the survey; our fellow national partners who provided their critical input and time to this effort: Child Care Aware® of America, Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) and POWER-PAC IL, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc., Division for Early Childhood, Education Commission of the States, Education Trust, First Five Years Fund, Infant and Toddler Coordinators Association, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Association of Family Child Care, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, National Head Start Association, and Zero to Three; the Alliance for IDEA Policy Initiative national and state partners

The Challenge

Without an established Quality Rating & Improvement System, Mississippi leaders sought a common framework for quality to better ensure positive child outcomes among their diverse early childhood education providers. While researching options, the successful outcomes of Educare Schools caught their eye.

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With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, four Mississippi trainers with diverse early childhood experience completed The Essential Practices of Educare’s Train-the-Trainer program and launched a unique, state-wide professional learning model. They hoped to:

  • Introduce common quality standards across the state
  • Encourage educators from Head Start, public pre-K, and childcare to learn from each other
  • Increase positive outcomes for the majority of Mississippi’s youngest learners

“We like that The Essential Practices of Educare is detailed, practical, and easily understood… It makes people more curious about the context in which learning is happening.” – Holly Spivey, Head Start Collaboration Director & Education Policy Advisor in the Office of Governor Tate Reeves

The Impact: Engaged Educators Increase Quality and Equity by Cross-pollinating Ideas

The Mississippi training team chose Start Early’s Essential Practices of Educare because it creates space for educators to respond to and get curious about quality. They attribute the early success of their efforts to five guiding principles:

Principle One: Meeting people where they are at is critical to training success.

“What’s unique about The Essential Practices of Educare is that it’s a foundation that a lot of people need. It’s a very relatable PD that gives them opportunities to really talk about what they’re doing and how they can change, or how they can redirect what they’re doing to make it better.” – Amye Hoskins, Mississippi Training Team, Professional Development Specialist, Mississippi Dept of Education, Office of Early Childhood

Principle Two: Equal access to training creates equity among educators.

“Typically childcare doesn’t receive as much PD as the normal public school teacher. So we want to make sure The Essential Practices of Educare is accessible across the state and allows everyone to have the same opportunity.” – Amye Hoskins

“We didn’t originally think about The Essential Practices of Educare as a workforce development equity move, but that’s naturally what’s happening.” – Holly Spivey

Principle Three: Training educators from diverse programs at the same time increases engagement and creates a cross-pollination of best practices across the state.

“We have people from all parts of the state learning from each other as a group. We’ll say, ‘Tell us what’s happening and how do you overcome that challenge,’ so they can listen to people across the state– and then they can take it back to their classroom.” – Tamara Smith, Mississippi Training Team, Professional Development Specialist at Midtown Partners & Childcare Director at Little Samaritan Montessori

Principle Four: A flexible professional development design is essential for localized, authentic conversations about quality.

“I’ve often been surprised with where people take this foundational learning and what they notice. The Essential Practices of Educare has made them more curious about the context in which learning is happening.” – Holly Spivey

Principle Five: When a diverse training team facilitates The Essential Practices of Educare, it increases value and insight for participants.

“As trainers, we are unique – by representing childcare, the Department of Education, and Early Head Start, we relate better with the people on the ground. I understand where you all are coming from and your stress In the classroom …but here are things you can implement that will work.” – Tamara Smith

“Our Start Early practice consultant has been a godsend for us. She’s always willing to assist and give advice; that helped us really understand each other and our vision of what we wanted to accomplish as a training team.” – Amye Hoskins

Looking Ahead

The Mississippi Training Team wants to expand access to The Essential Practices of Educare, reaching as many educators across the state as possible. And they have their sights set on taking their training support to the next level. Soon they hope to create a model that allows them to follow trainings with customized technical assistance to ensure participants feel supported as they apply their learning to daily practice.

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Complete this form to read our case study detailing how the training team used The Essential Practices of Educare to create a common understanding of what high-quality education looks like across Mississippi’s early childhood systems.

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As the largest federal investment in evidence-based home visiting services, the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) is a key pillar in the continuum of services and systems that strengthen the parent-child relationship and connect families to vital community resources to support long-term healthy development and well-being. The MIECHV authorizing statute – the law that describes and authorizes the distribution of federal funds to states, territories, and Tribal grantees by the federal government – expires on September 30, 2022. Now more than ever, advocates need to reach out to their Representatives to elevate the importance of the program in Illinois and urge Congress to reauthorize MIECHV before it expires.

In Illinois, MIECHV funds are critical to the state’s robust home visiting system, enhancing decades of local and state investments in home visiting services. MIECHV funds direct services for nearly 3,000 parents and children in Illinois annually. These high-quality home visiting services help families achieve stronger outcomes in maternal and child health, family economic self-sufficiency, and school-readiness domains.

MIECHV also strengthens the broader Illinois home visiting system by supporting high-quality training and professional development opportunities for home visitors and doulas, promoting coordination across the various funding streams that support home visiting, and supports innovative approaches to improve the ability of home visiting services to support families with child welfare involvement, families experiencing homelessness, pregnant and parenting youth in the care of the child welfare system, and other priority communities.

MIECHV has benefited from robust, bi-partisan support in Congress, including the leadership of Illinois’ Congressman Danny Davis (7th Congressional District) who has been a staunch advocate for MIECHV since the program’s inception in 2013 in his role as Chairman of the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has legislative authority over the program.

Over the past decade, the federal home visiting program has made a real, measurable difference in the lives of children and families in my community in Chicago and across the country, making sure that work continues and that we make the investment to bring these life-transforming programs to more families is a critical priority for me and my colleagues at the Ways and Means Committee this Congress.

- Illinois Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th Congressional District)
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Still, additional advocacy is needed to ensure every Member of Congress is ready to support MIECHV reauthorization. Key priorities for reauthorization are:

  • Pass an on-time, five-year reauthorization for the program
  • Increase funding by $200 million each year over five years, to reach more families and better support the workforce
  • Double the Tribal set-aside
  • Continue to allow virtual home visiting with model fidelity as an option
Keep the Pressure on Congress for a Timely Reauthorization

Your Advocacy is Needed

Here’s how you can get started:

Tell Your Lawmakers: Families Cannot Lose Critical Home Visiting Services

Make Your Voice Heard and contact legislators to help make a greater impact on families with young children across the country at risk of losing critical home visiting services.

Take Action Now

Amplify the Message on Social Media

Share posts from our MIECHV Reauthorization social media toolkit with your networks and follow Start Early’s Illinois Policy Team on Twitter @EarlyEdIL for the latest updates for advocates in the state.

View Social Toolkit

Schedule a Visit (Virtual or In-Person) with your Representative

Use the resources below to help you describe the impact of MIECHV in Illinois and why an on-time reauthorization is critical to families and children.

Resources to Support Your Advocacy

EMAIL OUR TEAM 

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*MIECHV data provided by the Health Resources & Services Administration. HRSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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.

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.

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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.”

Read Full Case Study

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.

By providing your state, we are able to share resources and learning opportunities relevant to your location.

By completing this form you will be opted-in to receive email updates from Start Early Professional Development, including news, events and more. You can unsubscribe from these updates at any time.

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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.

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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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