Raising a child is one of life’s most pivotal roles. Parents often turn to each other for support during the critical stages of their child’s development, but not all parents have access to the resources they need.

Alex and Mateo (2018)

For Alex, home visiting helped bridge the missing pieces of her Native heritage and supported her in reclaiming family traditions stripped from her through her great-grandfather’s U.S. Native boarding school experience.

Alex received home visiting services for the first time when she was pregnant with her oldest son, Mateo. But growing up, home visiting was already a part of her life as her mother was a tribal home visitor and a passionate advocate for early learning. Inspired by her mother, Alex felt she was destined to work in early learning, yet it wasn’t until motherhood that she intimately understood the precious rewards of home visiting support.

Mateo embraces his mom, Alex, and new baby brother Kulani (2019)

“Learning about the growth and development of my baby from my home visitor was fascinating! And that feeling like I’m succeeding as a first-time parent took me a long way.” Alex experienced a substantial shift in knowledge and confidence through her relationship with a home visitor; she was determined to support families in a similar way.

Bridging the Missing Pieces

The concept of home visiting is not new to Native families; Alex shared that home visiting is one of the most traditional things a Native family can do. Its critical process passes down knowledge and skills to preserve generational culture and heritage. In addition, home visiting creates a strong sense of community where the intrinsic needs of a child – during a foundational time in life – are addressed through trusted partnerships and shared goals.

Through home visiting, Alex established a special connection with local tribes as well as her own. Alex is an enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska but lives and works in Washington state. Connecting with other members of the Haida Tribe and creating a sense of community was not easy so far away from Alaska. However, her home visitor was able to help connect her to local resources and inspire her to the place where she is now — celebrating her cultural heritage and reclaiming family traditions lost through her great-grandfather’s boarding school experience.

Native children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in government operated boarding schools between 1869 and the 1960s. The schools used “systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies,” to force white assimilation. They changed children’s names, cut long hair, and prohibited any use of Native languages and cultural practices — or else they faced brutal punishment. “All the hurt and the rage: Elders recall trauma of Native boarding schools.”

Alex’s great-grandfather had 17 siblings. He was displaced from his family when he was taken to a boarding school – never to be reunited. As a result, her family lost a great deal of their cultural heritage and traditions; Alex knows very little about her native language, songs, dances, or traditional medicines because her great-grandfather was deprived of his cultural identity.

Instead of a rich sense of cultural identity, the historical trauma of Alex’s great-grandfather’s experiences were passed down through her aunts, uncles and mother. For Alex, home visiting support provided a way to heal from this generational pain by offering resources to traditional activities and connection to a shared community. Home visiting helped Alex find a new sense of hope and resiliency. In realizing that she was experiencing the collective intergenerational trauma of losing language, culture and identity, Alex now has a path forward for her family and tools to support other families experiencing generational trauma.

Alex’s great-grandfather, George Nix, was Alaska’s first professional football player (1926)

Near@Home is a great resource to help home visitors have difficult conversations, particularly when reflecting on times of trauma. When home visitors are equipped with tools to tackle difficult conversations, they can safely, respectfully and effectively discuss ACES (adverse childhood experiences), trauma, and other hard topics with parents by focusing on hope, respect and resilience.

Communities of Practice for Home Visitors

Communities of practice are another support Start Early Washington facilitates for home visiting professionals. Our community of practice, “Supporting Native Families,” aims to provide opportunities for professionals to understand tribal communities better and walk away with strategies and ideas to better serve Native families in Washington.

Washington state is home to 29 federally recognized tribes. Each tribal nation is uniquely different, including the size of the reservation, number of citizens and financial resources. Similarly, they each have unique cultural identifiers and shared experiences.

With this in mind, there’s a lot for home visitors to learn when engaging with Native families. Families feel more connected and appreciate when home visitors make the time to understand family culture and dynamics.

“I think all home visitors want to achieve that goal — to understand each member of the family. But when families know that someone wants to learn about their culture and identity, when someone takes an interest in what’s important to the family and genuinely supports the caregiver and child — that’s empowering.” – Alex


Visit our page to learn more about home visiting work in Washington and supports provided by Start Early Washington’s home visiting team.

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

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

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

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

Spark of Inspiration

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

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

Partnering with Families

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

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

Firsthand Experiences

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

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

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

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

Parallel Process and Positive Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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“My personal experience with ParentChild+ will last a lifetime!” Marcella shares her memories as one of many families who benefited from working with an early learning specialist through the ParentChild+ program.

Marcella and her daughter Taylor-Corrine participated in the ParentChild+ (PC+) program more than 16 years ago. Marcella admired the program’s ability to support the whole family in shaping a bright path for her daughter’s future. As a result, she was inspired to become an early learning specialist for PC+, supporting other families to build strong foundations and thriving futures. Currently, she is the PC+ program manager at Start Early Washington, where she supports 16 PC+ programs with technical assistance, professional development, coaching and consultation.

How Positive Reinforcement Builds Confidence

Positive reinforcement amplifies what is already working well and PC+ early learning specialists do that in numerous ways. They remind families that they are already doing a fantastic job with their child. Conversations are always positive, confidence building and reassuring to families that they know their child best. Marcella noted this as an element she appreciated most as a participant. “I knew that someone wasn’t coming into my home to judge me or my parenting style.”

As a new mother, Marcella learned to use high quality parent-child interactions in everyday moments that are often overlooked as learning opportunities, such as parent self-talk and narrating routine activities. For example, Marcella experienced how easy this could be while talking aloud in the grocery isles about ingredients on her shopping list to her daughter Taylor-Corrine.

She quickly realized the value of her simple teachable moments when a stranger at the grocery store commented, “I love how you interact with your daughter.” That acknowledgment further reinforced that she was doing a fantastic job as a parent. “It elevated my confidence to a new level.” This positive feedback loop continued throughout the program and Taylor-Corrine’s life.

Shared Language and Culture Fosters Meaningful Relationships

As a unique component of the PC+ program, early learning specialists are matched with families who share their culture and language. A shared culture often plays an intricate role in fostering meaningful relationships. Notably, early learning specialists are hired from within the communities where they work and 25 percent of early learning specials are former parents who participated in the program.

“An authentic relationship and cultural match with our specialist was really important to our family when we participated,” Marcella noted fostering a trusting, authentic relationship with families is vital for successful engagement. “Families are more comfortable discussing difficult topics and asking for support,” she added.

Families develop a close bond with their early learning specialists over the course of 2 years. During that time, they receive 96 home visits and acquire several high quality books and educational materials selected specifically for their child’s age group, ranging from 2 months to 5 years of age. In addition, they receive various guide sheets to help facilitate learning through play.

Strong Foundations Lead to Future Success

The PC+ program aims to improve parent-child engagement and connect families with culturally appropriate information and materials to support school readiness, early literacy and lifelong success.

Access to culturally appropriate books and toys provided by the program opened an entirely new world for Marcella and her family. Books such as “Please, Baby, Please,” by Spike Lee and his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, allowed Taylor-Corrine to be surrounded by characters who looked and felt like she did. “It was the first book Taylor-Corrine saw herself in,” Marcella explained.

Marcella noted that key representation through her child’s learning helped Taylor-Corrine feel inspired and confident to try new things. “It was life-changing for her, in so many ways, PC+ helped us provide the tools our daughter needed to be successful throughout life.”

Marcella’s testimony of her family’s experience offered a few tangible examples of strong foundations leading to future success. Marcella leveraged the many tools provided by the program to make learning fun and effective for her daughter. As a result, by the time Taylor-Corrine entered kindergarten, she loved learning and Marcella was confident in communicating Taylor-Corrine’s academic needs with her teachers.

 

I know the approach works and changes lives because it did for me.

— Marcella Taylor
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Today, Taylor-Corrine is thriving as a sophomore at the University of Southern California studying African American Studies, Philosophy, Politics and Law. She plans to practice law as a civil rights attorney someday.

Picture of Taylor-Corrine, 2022 Taylor-Corrine
(2022)

Taylor-Corrine continues to inspire her mother every day: “I am so proud of the woman she has become — I look at her and say, I want to be her when I grow up! She is independent and comfortable owning her space as a Black woman; she is confident and never questions if she belongs. Her success moves me forward to do better every day!”

Although the credit goes to Taylor-Corrine and her family, it is evident from speaking with Marcella that strong foundations were likely set in action through teachable moments discovered and supported through their participation in the PC+ program over 16 years ago.

Marcella and Taylor-Corrine explored Alki Beach after receiving an ocean-themed puzzle from their early learning specialist.
(2005)

Today’s early childhood organizations are vocal about their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). As leaders, we vary in the degree to which we responsively identify and change processes that make those commitments visible. Regardless of how long we have been or where we stand in the field of home visiting, we need not look far to find ways to move from intention to impact.

Consider this quick questionnaire:

  • Think about the values and cultural backgrounds of families in your program. Is there cultural alignment between the practitioners and the enrolled families?
  • Who is responsible for decisions of policy, job qualifications, and practice protocols for home visitors and supervisors in your program? How many of those who are making system and protocol decisions are actively engaged with families on a day-to-day basis?

COVID has prolonged widespread staff vacancies in early childhood settings. Today’s leaders are faced with the simultaneous challenges of hiring new staff and retaining their current workforce. During this season of workforce upheaval, we need to look for ways to cultivate and elevate the voice, experience, and expertise of those currently engaged in direct work with families to increase DEIB in our programs.

Home visitors, by the very nature of their jobs, are uniquely positioned to support caregivers’ goals for themselves and their child. Parents and home visitors co-develop action plans in the context of the family’s composition of members, culture, community, and economic resources. Home visitors partner with parents and caregivers directly to navigate culturally dismissive, disconnected community systems that are not responsive to the family’s identified needs. Practitioners hold expertise in their local resources, provide in-person and virtual support, are on top of trends and interests of families, and have the experience and perspectives of cultural brokers in the community. They honor a caregiver’s unspoken words, “…nothing about me without me…”.

As we prepare for the upcoming virtual National Home Visiting Summit in late March, let’s keep talking with each other and listening to the perspectives and expertise of home visitors. Let’s challenge ourselves to identify strategies that seek to invite, reach, engage, and cultivate the invaluable input of practitioners. When we return to the routines of our work, let’s commit to create and improve platforms for home visitors’ involvement in decisions related to policy, research and practice that directly impact them.

Interested in learning more about Start Early’s resources and learning opportunities for home visitors and supervisors? Check out our Essentials of Home Visiting online professional development experiences or reach out to us directly at professionaldevelopment@startearly.org.

As the world shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, countless families were left in crisis. Suddenly, parents were full-time caregivers, employees and teachers; they needed support more than ever. When Gaby Rosario began working as the new Parents as Teachers state leader for Start Early Washington last year, she admired how home visiting programs quickly and effectively adapted to virtual visits to continue meeting the needs of families.

Gaby sledding with her nieces (Jan. 2022)
Gaby sledding with her nieces (Jan. 2022)

Flexibility is Key

Home visitors strive to build strong relationships with parents and encourage positive parent-child engagement to support healthy child development and future outcomes. One of the most powerful tools they have is connecting with families face to face, but when all in-person services shut down due to the pandemic, physical contact was no longer an option.

“Challenges brought on by the pandemic allowed us to stretch our minds and creatively support home visiting services,” Gaby highlighted. Home visiting programs pivoted to individualized services meeting the unique needs of families from a safe distance. “We shortened check-in periods and checked in more often, utilizing various methods of engagement such as email, text messages and phone calls to support families as they worked through learning and reflection.”

Conducting home visits on a virtual level meant staff had to think outside the box to ensure all the required components for a visit were still in place. Parental engagement unexpectedly increased for many families. “It was deeply meaningful when parents shared videos and pictures of their children thriving with the individualized activities created specifically for them. Gaby shared, “Our relationships with families deepened and it was rewarding to witness the positive parent-child interactions.”

3 year old shucking corn
Activity: Utilize family environment to support sensory and fine motor development.

With social distancing precautions in place, home visitors’ roles during visits shifted dramatically. They relied on families to lead parent-child interactions, which brought unexpected benefits as families took on leadership in the learning process. Home visitors leaned into coaching, supporting, answering questions and facilitating rather than leading home visits.

Gaby described, “We saw a new level of enjoyment with families that chose to participate virtually; parents’ confidence in leading individualized activities grew and we saw deeper connections between parents and their children. Parents’ messages of excitement, ‘Look what my child did today!’ were so inspiring.”

Reaching Rural Families

“One of the key things the pandemic taught us was that we could reach families further away through virtual systems.” As an expert in serving families in rural communities, Gaby was determined to partner with her team to harness technology-based services. By offering virtual home visiting services, they managed to overcome the challenges of long-distance travel and access to remote areas in bad weather.

Staff repurposed travel time to spend more time intentionally individualizing services for families. “Without the need to be physically present, home visitors provided more flexibility, accommodating family scheduling constraints or last-minute changes, if necessary,” explained Gaby.

Some families did not have access to technology at all. To meet this challenge, programs developed innovative solutions, including purchasing tablets and providing families with internet and cellphone assistance. Other strategies included scheduling virtual meetings at community agencies or public libraries, where families accessed broadband and technology-based services.

A few families lived in extremely isolated areas. Consequently, home visitors preplanned connections with families when they traveled into town and had access to virtual services. Gaby added, “One family lived deep in the mountains on the outskirts of the small city of Tonasket. When it wasn’t possible to connect in town, staff journeyed into the mountains to drop off activities and make a personal connection, even if that meant they had to share stories from 6 feet apart. We made every effort to ensure families had what they needed during this difficult period of isolation.”

Letting Families Know They’re Heard

Although bilingual resources were available for families, not all programs had home visitors that spoke languages other than English. Fluent in English and Spanish herself, Gaby understood the importance of connecting with families in a language they felt most comfortable. Before the pandemic, programs arranged in-person translation and interpretation or utilized call-in services for interpretation during in-person home visits. However, with social distancing precautions in place, it became necessary to adapt this practice. As a result, programs pivoted to virtual translation and interpretation tools, which took extra planning but were well worth the effort. Staff coordinated within agencies to share translation and interpretation services, and translators provided services over three-way calls or virtual platforms.

Gaby shared, “There was a learning curve as teams and families navigated multiple platforms and new methods of technology. Families tried new things they never thought they would try, and we continued to provide the one-on-one support they needed to feel comfortable.”

The technical support provided by staff did more than help with home visiting services; it offered families a window to the outside world again. Gaby explained, “The assistance we provided for a Spanish-speaking mother living in Brewster gave her confidence to support her three school-age children with their virtual classes. At the time, families did not know what virtual engagement looked like or how to navigate tools like Zoom. Together, we made sure her tablet settings were in Spanish, downloaded useful apps and walked through navigating virtual engagement.”

“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.”

- Oprah Winfrey
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The world has had to find new ways of navigating everyday life since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and Start Early is no exception.

“One of the most significant things we learned during this new period of virtual-based engagement is that a willingness to be flexible is essential to both the home visiting support teams and families,” Gaby reflected.

Washington’s home visitors continue to work on adaptations needed to meet program requirements. In support, Start Early Washington curated a list of resources for home visitors to guide technology-based engagement.


Gaby Rosario supports professional development, training, technical assistance and coaching for 27 Parents as Teachers home visiting programs statewide.