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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When a young student began drawing pictures using only black crayons, it caught the attention of veteran early childhood educator Alyia Dixon.

“Kids always gravitate to the brighter colors,” Alyia says. “But when she was scribbling, she scribbled her pictures all in black… Sometimes all black, all the way to the edge of the pages.”

Alyia, who has been teaching at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early, for 23 years, shared her observations and concerns with the school’s family support specialists, and together, they arranged a visit to the student’s home. These sorts of discussions are critical for providing families with a multi-perspective and multi-expertise support system. This holistic approach is a core component of high-quality early childhood programs. It provides valuable support for students and can help connect their families to important resources.

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“We did a home visit and found out that her lights were out… That’s why she was drawing all in black,” Alyia explains. “After we realized that, we talked about things you could do in the dark, you know, to try to lessen the negativity behind having the lights out.”

The Educare Chicago team realized during the home visit that the family was living with relatives, and that they would be best suited for success if they had their own apartment.

The school’s family support specialists worked with the student’s mother to help her obtain her own housing and connected her with utility payment assistance programs.

At Start Early, we believe that parents are a child’s first educators, which is why we prioritize family engagement in our early learning programs. Family engagement in early education is particularly important for children and families in communities that are under-resourced, in that it helps create consistency between the home and school environments. The positive outcomes of engaged parents are powerful: increased support for children’s learning at home, empowered parents and improved family well-being.

When Alyia reconnected with the family several years later, she discovered that they were still successfully living on their own.

“We were talking and she brought up how embarrassed she had been during that home visit,” Alyia says. “But, she said, ‘We only had candles and you acted like it was nothing. That took away the sting of it… I knew then that it was going to be all right.’”

Teacher and student posting for photo in school library

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For 40 years, Start Early has provided doula, home visiting and Head Start programs while advocating for policies and adequate funding to make high-quality early education programs, like Educare Chicago, available in communities across the country. Supporting our vital work ensures that teachers like Alyia have the resources needed to support young children and their families in powerful and life-changing ways.

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The supports available through our high-quality early childhood programs don’t just provide for the needs of students while they’re in the classroom; they also address challenges at home that could keep a student from thriving in pre-kindergarten and beyond.

“A lot of the circumstances we witness go way above and beyond the norms for what a teacher is supposed to encounter,” Alyia says.

That’s why high-quality early childhood programs often rely on experts that can help families connect with mental health resources, find safe housing and obtain food assistance. At Educare Chicago, family support specialists and mental health consultants work diligently with parents to ensure the needs of their entire family are being met.

Additionally, our programs connect parents of young children with their peers, creating supportive communities that benefit both adults and their kids.

“Our parents build relationships with other adults that they maintain outside of Educare Chicago. We’ve had a few parents that built relationships where they would take their kids on outings with each other,” Alyia says. “They’re building relationships and making connections that will outlast their child’s time in our program.”

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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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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Last week, we hosted our 20th Annual Luncheon—our first-ever hybrid event—where we welcomed hundreds of individuals in-person here in Chicago and hundreds of others virtually across the country. Presented by LaSalle Network, the powerful program demonstrated how quality early learning and care programs can promote resilience and hope for families with young children—now more than ever.

If you were unable to join us or want to tune in again, you can watch a recording of the full program below.

Through this powerful program of diverse voices and experiences, we hope you can see the role we each have as parents, family members, friends or colleagues to support our children, families and those who care for them. From spreading the word about early learning’s impact in our communities, to contacting your legislator in support of proposed policies or sharing the gift of financial support, your investment of time or resources will make a difference.

As Luncheon Co-Chair Curt Bailey shared, “adversity brings opportunity, and we have an incredible opportunity to create a new normal that ensures equitable access to quality early learning and programs that promote resilience for every child and family.”

I am overwhelmed with appreciation for the parents, educators and early learning champions, including out Luncheon Co-Chairs Curt Bailey and Mary Hasten, who highlighted the critical need for quality early learning and care programs and services in our communities.

We are grateful for the incredible support and generosity of our donors and event sponsors who helped us exceed our fundraising goal of $1.3 million. Every dollar will help change the course for our youngest learners. You can still show your support by making a gift today. When we come together and invest in early childhood education, we can transform the lives of our future generation.

Luncheon Co-Chair Mary Hasten said it perfectly. “There is certainly more work to be done, but we know that our collective work IS making a difference today, and TOGETHER, we know that we can impact every tomorrow for young children and their families.”

Thank you for being part of our 2022 Annual Luncheon, and we hope to see you again soon.

“Tomorrow’s Hope,” recently featured at SXSW EDU, is the story of passionate educators and tenacious students – from the first-ever class at Educare Chicago – determined to succeed.

The Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation is deeply committed to creating standards of fairness and a level playing field for those living in poverty and adversity by supporting equal treatment through high quality early childhood learning and improving K-12 and college graduation rates. Founded in 1997, the Foundation is focused on opportunities that support educational advancement.

For the past six years, the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation has partnered with Start Early to increase access to equitable, high-quality early education and care for all children and families. Foundation investments in the Early Childhood Connector, First Five Years Fund and the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisors Network, have enhanced our ability to bring coherence to a fragmented field and drive public awareness and systems change. We’ve also worked closely to amplify the films Tomorrow’s Hope and Starting at Zero, both provide compelling rationale for why transformational change is required to ensure future generations of children and families can reach their full potential. Each film has been hailed for its inspiring stories and powerful calls to action.

Tomorrow’s Hope brings us into the lives of passionate educators and tenacious kids and their families on the South Side of Chicago, determined to carve out the future – despite a sea of incredible challenges. The film reunites three graduates from the first class of Start Early’s birth-to-5 school, Educare Chicago, and explores the continued impacts of their early childhood education as they prepare for high school graduation. Starting at Zero explores the power of investing in high-quality early childhood education. The film centers the voices of policymakers, educators, academics, business leaders, pediatricians, parents, and children to demonstrate how essential the earliest years of learning are to maximize human potential.

Earlier this year, Tomorrow’s Hope was accepted into the acclaimed SXSW EDU Film Festival, an unparalleled experience at the forefront of discovery, creativity, and innovation. In March, the film was screened to a live audience, followed by a Q&A panel with co-producers, Tamra Raven and Aaron Steinberg, as well as Portia Kennel, Senior Advisor, Buffett Early Childhood Fund, who was featured in the film.

Producers Tamra Raven and Aaron Steinberg listening to Portia Kennel giving some wisdom. (Photo by Wildman)

Educare was a place of hope, peace, joy, learning, trust and respect – a stark contrast to what was happening in the south side Chicago neighborhood where we were located.

Portia Kennel, senior advisor, Buffett Early Childhood Fund
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Learn more about how you can join the group of donors, policymakers, educators, and community leaders who have hosted virtual screenings of these films to ignite conversations about the importance of early education. During the month of April, both documentaries are available for individuals to view at no charge. Please click below for sign-up information.

Start Early remains grateful to the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation for their ongoing support as we champion together early learning and care for all children and families.


Founded in 1997 and in carrying out its mission, the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation makes charitable contributions that are primarily focused on opportunities for educational advancement.

The Foundation supports programs that assist the homeless, advance early childhood education, improve K-12 graduation rates, provide college scholarships, medical care, shelter and nutrition to the needy, as well as supporting programs to provide assistance for entry into employment opportunities.

The Foundation is deeply committed to creating standards of fairness and a level playing field for those living in poverty and adversity by supporting equal treatment through high quality early childhood learning and improving K-12 and college graduation rates. In this regard, the Foundation supports innovations in scientific teaching methods and best practices.

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In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re commemorating women’s vital impact and accomplishments on society.

Our Start Early staff members: Keneischia Jones, health coordinator, Early Head Start Network; Rio Romero-Jurado, policy manager, National Policy and Kayla Goldfarb, policy specialist, Illinois Policy shared how their womanhood has influenced their career journey, the crucial importance of pay equity in early childhood and the need for inclusion and continued progress for all women.

How has being a woman influenced your identity?

Keneischia Jones: Being a woman of color is my daily makeup. I get to wake up and change my hair and wear my afro today because that’s what I’m feeling. I’ve become the young Black woman that I wanted to be when I was younger and I wasn’t able to present like this. Now as a woman I have my bearings and I can show the world who I am at all times.

Rio Romero-Jurado: My identity in being a woman and a woman of color in particular has really shaped my values, social conscience and the kind of person I want to be and what I want to contribute to the world. I came to social work, policy and advocacy because I was naturally drawn to eliminating inequities in our society and empowering other women through social change and action.

That’s part of why I love what I do. Even in elementary school I really loved social studies. I recognized pretty early on that there was an underrepresentation, we all know, of women and people of color at our highest levels of government. I think that’s really further motivated me to embrace my identity as a woman and to be part of an organization to help ensure that women and the issues that matter to them and their families are prioritized in our society and in policy.

Kayla Goldfarb: There are so many things that have been shared that really resonated with me and are really energizing. Being a woman has influenced my identity in that I don’t feel limited in any way. But I also recognize how much of a privilege that is when you look at women globally and locally because that is not always the case. I’ve begun to understand the breadth of how people experience being a woman from a race, class, location and lived experience perspective. It’s been mind opening.

Are there any misconceptions about women that you want to address?

Keneischia Jones: We are not too emotional to make important decisions. We are not led with emotions we have the capacity to be emotionally aware and emotionally intelligent and logical at the same time. I also want to stress as a Black woman that we are not angry. We can clearly speak our problems but we are not a threat and we’re not angry all the time. We’re just passionate and loving people.

Rio Romero-Jurado: There is a balance between recognizing that there have been strides made in gender equality and at the same time acknowledging the continued work that is needed to achieve true equitable progress. We now have a woman of color as our Vice President which is fantastic. But we’re still so behind in many ways and that is a misconception of thinking that we’ve reached a certain milestone, which we have, but we’ve got to keep making more progress. There’s so much more to be done.

Kayla Goldfarb: I really agree with Rio I think there’s certainly a danger in complacency and being like yeah we won. There’s so many domains in which women don’t have equal footing and I think it’s important to take time during Women’s History Month to look at spaces where women’s accomplishments have been relegated to the back and not acknowledged or fully covered up and taken as someone else’s.

I can think of science domains where women’s discoveries were rebranded as men’s. Hedy Lamarr for example was a movie star in the 1930s and 40s but was also the inventor of frequency hopping and her inventions were taken and the credit was given to men. I think in very present ways that still happens a lot and translates to things like pay and career advancement and the fact that women don’t get the automatic recognition that maybe men do.

In terms of misconceptions, I think one is that caring about women’s rights is in any way exclusionary to people who weren’t born women but identify as women. Trans exclusionary embodiments of feminism are not good for women. The misconception that there is in any way a threat to women’s progress by upholding and defending the rights of those who identify as women but who might not have been born identifying that way. So there’s clearly a long way to go.

But it’s nice to take time during Women’s History Month to think about how these things show up historically and in our day-to-day lives.

Be sure to follow our blog to stay up-to-date on the latest announcements and learn about our ongoing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) work.

More Like This

The Partnership for Pre-K Improvement (PPI) was launched in 2016 with a vision to develop and sustain high-quality, equitable state pre-K systems. Throughout the 5-year project, we partnered with 3 states – Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington – to learn alongside state education leaders, advocates and researchers about how to systematically improve pre-K quality. Along the way, we focused in on infrastructure and the policies, data, and implementation supports pre-K programs need to succeed.

As a culmination of this project, we created a report to capture lessons learned and recommendations for state early learning agency leaders, researchers and advocates, along with a free toolkit to support pre-K systems improvement.

What We Learned

  • Systems change is complex and occurs over a long period of time. Although we saw important improvements during the life of the project, substantial systems change is ongoing and occurs in cycles as states navigate governmental, political, leadership, and funding changes and challenges.
  • Practice frameworks can both advance and impede systems change work. While focusing on core elements of teaching and learning seemed that it would yield the greatest impact on quality, states were most successful when focusing on just one or two elements at a time.
  • Implementation science is useful at the systems level but does not sufficiently advance equity. While an implementation science framework was very helpful in driving improvements, equity does not automatically follow quality changes. Equity must instead be intentionally centered.
  • At the systems level, coordination, alignment, and resource-sharing across programs are necessary when striving to improve pre-K statewide. Quality and equity can only improve when pre-K is seen as a legitimate part of the broader education system.
  • Strong, trusting, and stable partnerships between advocates and researchers are key to success of improvement efforts. Specifically, relationships that are pre-existing, intentional in terms of allocating staff and resources, and provide opportunities to learn from each other, are all critical factors in building stable and successful partnerships.

Recommendations

For state systems leaders, advocates and research partners:

  • Build meaningful partnerships among systems leaders, advocates, and researchers.
  • Think beyond pre-K.
  • Recognize that implementation and infrastructure are critical missing pieces of systems change.
  • Use intentional strategies for increasing equity and elevating parent and teacher voices.
  • Prioritize data infrastructure and your state’s ability to use data for improvement.

For national and local consultants and technical assistance providers:

  • Center equity from the beginning of any project.
  • Ensure that state and local voices drive systems improvement consultation and technical assistance.
  • Throughout this work, keep in mind both long-term vision, and more pressing, daily challenges.
  • Provide flexible resources and funding.

 

Partnership for Pre-K Improvement Resources

For more on how our experiences in the Partnership for Pre-K Improvement provide critical lessons and actionable recommendations for those engaged in the complex work of improving state pre-K systems, download our new report & access the free Partnership for Pre-K Toolkit.

Looking for Additional Resources and Support for Your Quality Improvement Efforts?

Drawing from our experience on PPI and our work in states and communities across the country, the Start Early Consulting team supports partners to ensure that prenatal to five systems have the right policies, programs, and funding in place to prepare young children and their families for lifelong success. Email us for additional information.

Thank you to our partners: Cultivate Learning, Alliance for Early Success, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.