Celebrating Juneteenth is not only about acknowledging the end of slavery but also about recognizing the enduring resilience, culture, and contributions of Black people in America. This celebration is a reminder of the ongoing fight for equality and justice, a fight that continues to shape our society and our organization’s mission. Juneteenth is a time of profound significance, a day to recognize the progress made, and to celebrate the extraordinary cultural heritage that has emerged from this history.

Celebrating Juneteenth with Your Child

Engaging children in the celebration of Juneteenth is a wonderful way to honor this significant day. Here are some meaningful ways to celebrate Juneteenth with your child:
  1. Learn Together: Read books and watch videos that introduce children to the history and significance of Juneteenth. This helps them understand the importance of the day and the legacy of resilience and strength in the Black community.
  2. Cultural Exploration: Explore African American culture through music, art, and food. This can be a fun and immersive way for children to appreciate the rich cultural heritage.
  3. Storytelling: Share stories of African American leaders and heroes who have shaped history. Highlight the achievements and contributions of Black individuals in various fields.
  4. Community Events: Participate in local Juneteenth events and celebrations. Community gatherings can provide a sense of unity and collective celebration.
  5. Reflect and Discuss: Encourage open conversations about history, equality, and justice. These discussions can help children develop a deeper understanding of the ongoing fight for civil rights.

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At Start Early, we believe that fostering an inclusive culture where all voices and experiences are valued is crucial for the healthy development of children. Celebrating Juneteenth is a powerful way to instill these values in the next generation, helping children take pride in their identity and appreciate the unique contributions they bring to the world.

By celebrating Juneteenth with your child, you are not only honoring a critical moment in history but also paving the way for a future rooted in understanding, acceptance, and equality.

Resources to Help Celebrate and Honor Juneteenth

Here are age-appropriate book recommendations and a celebratory Juneteenth song to share with your little one:

Read:

Listen:

  • Fyütch and the Alphabet Rockers created Juneteenth Song for Kids, a song about what Juneteenth is and why we celebrate Black freedom and liberation.

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June is Pride month, a time to celebrate LGBTQIA2S+ communities and reflect. Pride month exists to foster a sense of community, appreciate differences, and cultivate diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging for queer folx around the world.

Pride month is so important to us here at Start Early. We are committed to cultivating an environment built on the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Participating in Pride month is one way Start Early demonstrates a commitment to co-creating an organizational culture of inclusion where the presence, voices and ideas of staff and the communities we serve are represented, heard, valued, and acted upon.

Our work, focused on providing a bright and equitable future for all children, would not be possible without recognizing that LGBTQIA2S+ children, families and communities have been uniquely impacted and traumatized by hate and long-tolerated inequities.

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Caring parents want to protect their children from harm, which can make it difficult to know how to teach children about the history and create awareness about events like Pride. With many neighborhoods and communities showing their support for Pride in June, it’s only natural for children to get curious and start asking questions.

Child development experts agree parents should keep explanations simple and honest. It is also important to be positive and affirming. When adults listen to children without judgment, and meet children where they are at, it creates a foundation for open communication. When parents promote values of acceptance, children will grow proud of their identity and appreciate diversity.

Resources to Help Celebrate Pride Month with Your Children

Pride month is an important opportunity to teach children about what it means to be a member of LGBTQIA2S+ communities, share the history behind the month-long celebration, and to have some fun together as a family. Here are activities and resources that can be helpful when teaching your little one about Pride:

Watch:

Read:

Listen:

Additional Resources:

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Start Early Washington is fortunate to work with committed partners like Perigee Fund who believe in the power of healthy relationships with caregivers to give babies and toddlers the best start in life. Learn more about how Perigee Fund prioritizes investment in infant and maternal mental health in our recent conversation with Perigee team members Becca Graves and Kim Gilsdorf.

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Becca Graves, Executive Director Perigee Fund
Becca Graves, Executive Director Perigee Fund

Looking for Bright Spots

What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned in supporting infant and maternal mental health?

Becca: I have been really impressed by the leaders that we have encountered in Washington State and across the United States. We all know there are not enough resources in the ecosystem to support families. We also know there is not enough support for the work that infant and maternal mental health leaders are doing. Yet so many leaders are willing to step forward with partners and make things happen. For example, Perinatal Support Washington and Start Early partnered to provide home visitors with Maternal Mental Health training. That partnership has created new mental health resources for the workforce and for families.

Kimberly Gilsdorf, Program Officer Perigee Fund
Kimberly Gilsdorf, Program Officer Perigee Fund

Kim: Because early childhood and parent mental health is so under-resourced, there are opportunities for progress in many kinds of systems. That is helpful because as we seek to fund systems change, we can remember we don’t have the answers. We can’t foresee which groups of stakeholders, in which systems, are going to rise to the occasion because they care deeply about the bond between caregivers and a child, and they see how important that is to their work.

In Tennessee we see leadership from community behavioral health, in California we see innovation led by pediatricians and community health workers, and in New Jersey there are doulas growing access to maternal mental health care. These examples are the tip of the iceberg. The diversity of ways to make progress is both a lesson learned as well as an approach we can continue to support.

Creating a Movement

(Start Early) Are you finding new champions for infant and maternal mental health emerging since Perigee began in 2018?

Becca: We have learned that there are champions everywhere. I think our mission calls us to learn about opportunities to help everyone see the importance of child and family wellbeing and valuing the earliest relationships. Particularly where there are instances of trauma in a family’s experience, either now or intergenerationally.

Whether it’s guaranteed basic income or child welfare, there are people in tune with needs and opportunities, and there are people who are curious and want to learn more. By gathering people together, getting to know one another, and talking about the issues, you can see the places where the family economic security goals and the mental health goals can come together and be in alignment.

When parents experience adversity, such as poverty, trauma and racism, their children can feel lasting effects, even into adulthood. Early support for babies, families, and caregivers can lessen the impact, leading to better long-term health and well-being.

Perigee Fund
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Building for the Future

What would the biggest impact or change you would like to see over the next 10-15 years because of Perigee’s intentional investments?

Kim: I’d like to see policy makers have a greater understanding of the fundamental importance of early relationships. That mental model shift is part of creating policies that make mental health support more equitable and more accessible for families with very young children.

Becca: We need to value and embed support for families in the places where they are. Certainly, there are many ways that families support themselves and communities support families that don’t require additional resourcing, but they do require us to respect and value the importance of family relationships and community relationships and not get in the way. And there is a lot that we should be doing differently with our public policy and with the ways that we think about community-based models of care.

Supporting the Field

This is hard work and it’s not as easily measured as “can your child read by third grade.” Perigee has been such a champion in helping to advance our Neuroscience, Epigenetics, Adverse Childhood Experiences, Resilience (NEAR@Home) trauma-informed training to support home visitors in building a hope-focused approach when talking with families about trauma. It is also some of the most promising work we have for infant and maternal mental health. Can you tell us about why you chose to support NEAR?

Kim: NEAR does something with grace that is both important and difficult. It helps families and providers navigate difficult conversations about trauma, slowly and with compassion. Conversations about early childhood trauma can be very challenging for all involved, which is part of why many infant mental health professionals are invested in ongoing learning and reflective supervision. NEAR makes it possible to integrate some of that skill building and support into the job of being a home visitor. Regardless of their degree or education, all home visiting professionals trained in NEAR get the support they need to navigate hard topics with families and to do so with kindness and love. It is incredible!


Learn more about Perigee Fund’s priorities for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

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As a former preschool teacher, Adrienne Matthias, Start Early Washington Home Visiting Training Manager has always believed in the power of early connections with families. While teaching in Korea in her twenties, she recognized that the most powerful way to reach children was through the parents and caregivers who really had the strongest relationship with them. This awareness of the opportunities to create healthy relationships early on is what eventually led her to home visiting.

Planting the Seeds for Early Intervention

Back in the U.S. teaching preschool, the idea of connecting with families as early as possible became more important to Adrienne, strengthening her view that all parents need support during those first critical years of a child’s life. This led Adrienne to training as a home visitor, because as she sees it, home visiting provides an important resource, partnering with parents in ways that differ from a traditional classroom setting. Home visitors can support parents, building their confidence and providing tools and emotional support during the critical early days of parenting.

It’s not just about watching this child develop, it’s about watching the parent develop and step into their parenting with the knowledge to be able to advocate for their children and see themselves as good, worthy parents.

Adrienne Matthias, Start Early Washington Home Visiting Training Manager
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A Journey to Infant and Toddler Mental Health

As she became a program manager, Adrienne found new meaning in working with home visitors and parent educators through reflective supervision, making time for them to slow down and think more deeply about their practice. By shifting the focus to the home visitor and their needs, it could have significant impact on the delivery of services to families. Adrienne felt a growing desire to learn learning more about infant and toddler mental health, which led her to the Infant Toddler Mental Health certificate program and Portland State University’s Early Childhood Inclusive Education Master’s Degree. Drawn in by the school’s strengths-based and collaborative approach, and infant mental health classes’ exploration of the dynamic between parent-child or caregiver-child relationship in particular, the program reinforced her beliefs of how these interactions profoundly shape a child’s development while impacting the parent’s journey. One that Adrienne sees as a delicate dance that requires understanding, empathy, and advocacy.

The Dance of Parenting

As Adrienne shared, mothers, in particular, often struggle with self-doubt when it comes to parenting. “We tend to focus on our perceived shortcomings rather than celebrating our strengths. Home visiting that supports infant and maternal mental health can step in to bridge this gap. By supporting parents, we empower them to build strong attachment relationships. It’s not just about the child’s growth it’s about the parents’ growth too, and as home visitors, we can be a part of facilitating this transformation firsthand.”

Unseen Impact

Home visitors rarely know the full impact of their work. However, home visitors all have stories that demonstrate the power of the program to support families. Adrienne shares one story of a distressed mother who truly believed she couldn’t handle parenting. Her daughter’s tantrum at a bouncy house left her feeling inadequate and unequipped. By exploring the mother’s strengths, emphasizing and reminding her of the effort she put into creating enriching experiences for her child, despite the challenges of the moment, she was able to recognize that she had persevered through the challenge, and she was able to do it because she knew it was beneficial for her child. Leaning into the strengths-based aspects of the interaction and being able to normalize these emotional moments helps parents recognize their worth.

There are hard things all the time, and it doesn’t mean that you ignore them. The strengths-based approach is how you humanize them and how you hold people in your mind, how you treat people because you are holding them fully as people. That is the most important thing to remember.

Adrienne Matthias, Start Early Washington Home Visiting Training Manager
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The Luxury of Strengths-Based Approaches

In trauma-informed principles, like those at the center of the hope-filled, compassionate NEAR@Home practice for addressing childhood trauma, being strengths-based is essential. Imagine entering someone’s home and focusing on what they’re doing well instead of pointing out flaws. It’s a necessity to be able to see what is going right —one that reveals genuine strengths. When home visitors are able to help parents see the best in themselves, we empower them. It’s not about rigid rules; it’s about acknowledging their efforts. Even after tough experiences, it’s critical to be able to take a step back and appreciate the positives—a parallel process that enriches the practice.

Continuing to Emphasize the Positive

Maternal and infant mental health isn’t just about fixing problems; it’s about celebrating strengths. Home visitors hold a unique position—to witness growth, resilience, and love within families. As Adrienne continues in her role leading Washington’s training efforts and expansion of NEAR trauma-informed practice, she believes in the power and potential of these strengths-based approaches to empower families to build strong and healthy relationships that will last a lifetime.

The mental health of parents plays an important role in shaping the trajectory of their child’s social and emotional well-being.

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We asked Michael Gouterman, our mental health expert, why prioritizing parental mental health is essential for nurturing a healthy environment for children to thrive.

  • Understanding the Impact
    Parents are their children’s first teachers, and it is the quality of parent-child relationships and interactions that create the foundational skills that children need to be successful in school and in life. When parents experience mental health challenges, it can have ripple effects on their children’s development.
  • The Dysregulated World
    Imagine a child born into a world where their caregivers are grappling with their own dysregulation—an environment marked by stress, anxiety or depression. In such circumstances, the ability of caregivers to provide consistent emotional support and regulation may be compromised, impacting the child’s sense of safety and security. Read our tackling tough topics posts on: Racism and Violence
  • The Transmission of Stress
    Stress has a way of affecting parent-child relationships and impacting the way children may perceive the world. When parents struggle with their mental health, children may internalize this stress, leading to challenges in emotional regulation and social and emotional development.
  • Empowering Parents as Advocates
    Recognizing the importance of parental mental health is not about assigning blame, but rather acknowledging the complex interplay between individual well-being and environmental factors. Empowering parents to advocate for their own mental health is paramount, ensuring they have access to resources and support systems to address their needs.
  • Breaking the Cycle
    When we prioritize parental mental health, we can break the cycle of the intergenerational transmission of stress and help create an environment where children can thrive. When parents prioritize their own well-being, and are better equipped to provide the support and stability their children need to navigate life’s challenges.

 

Helpful Mental Health Resources for Parents

Mindfulness Tips:

  • Check your employee benefits for subscriptions to paid mindfulness and meditation services, such as Calm or Chill Anywhere.
  • Search your phone’s app store for apps that offer free services.
  • Youtube is a great resource for finding free mindfulness and/or meditation sessions of any length.

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Activities and experiences play a vital role in shaping a child’s mental health and well-being. Our mental health expert, Michael Gouterman, shares how to create a positive mindset in your child through everyday activities.

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Here are some simple yet powerful activities that can cultivate positive mental health experiences:

  • Establishing Rituals and Routines
    Rituals and routines provide a sense of predictability and stability for young children, helping them feel safe and secure in their environment. Consider incorporating the following rituals and routines into your daily life:

    • Morning and bedtime routines: Establish consistent rituals for waking up and going to bed, such as reading a bedtime story or sharing highlights from the day.
    • Mealtime rituals: Create special traditions around mealtime, such as setting the table together or sharing a favorite family recipe.
    • Transition rituals: Develop rituals for transitions, such as saying goodbye before leaving for school or welcoming your child home after a day apart. ​Don’t be afraid to be creative and make your own unique rituals as a family.

By consistently practicing these rituals and routines, you can instill a sense of familiarity and connection in your child’s daily life, promoting a feeling of safety and predictability.

  • Exploring New Experiences
    While routines provide a sense of security, it’s also important to expose children to new experiences and challenges to support their growth and development. Here are some ways to encourage exploration and curiosity:

By introducing new experiences in a supportive and encouraging environment, you can help your child develop confidence, resilience and a sense of curiosity about the world around them.

  • Cultivating Connection
    Building strong connections with caregivers, family members and peers is essential for promoting positive mental health in early childhood. Here are some ways to foster meaningful connections:

    • Quality time: Set aside dedicated time each day to spend one-on-one with your child, engaging in activities they enjoy and showing genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings. Even for the busiest of schedules, dedicating a small amount time together can have a tremendous impact.
    • Family traditions: Create special traditions and rituals that bring your family together, such as movie nights, game nights or weekend outings.
    • Social interactions: Encourage your child to interact with peers through playdates, preschool or community groups, providing opportunities for friendship and social development.

 

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Mental health is a vital aspect of our overall well-being and serves as a strong base to navigate the ebbs and flows of our day to day lives with resiliency. But what exactly is mental health, and why is it so important in early childhood development? Our mental health expert, Michael Gouterman, shares his expert insight on understanding mental health in early childhood.

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What is mental health?

At its core, mental health encompasses social, emotional, and psychological well-being. It’s about how we think, feel, and behave, and how we navigate the world around us.

Providing safe environments for children, where they can build relationships and connections with their caregivers and loved ones, has a positive impact on their mental health. These early interactions lay the groundwork for a child to learn and feel a sense of safety and security in the world.

In these safe and nurturing environments, children begin to develop what psychologists refer to as a secure attachment which Influences how children relate to others throughout their lives.

Why is mental health important in early childhood development?

At Start Early, we know that the foundation of a child’s social and emotional competence begins forming in the prenatal relationship and continues to be laid the very first days, months, and years of life, shaped by the interactions babies have with their parents and other caring adults. Babies thrive when they are securely attached to someone special—their mother, father or other primary caregiver—who knows and responds consistently and reliably to their needs.

Mental health is a lifelong journey that is shaped by our experiences, relationships and environments. We know from research that quality programs for infants, toddlers and their families can make a significant impact on their lives, a difference that can last a lifetime.

As we embark on this journey of exploration and understanding, let’s remember that mental health is not a destination but a continuum. By nurturing our own mental well-being and supporting those around us, we have the opportunity to build a stronger world for everyone to thrive as their best selves.

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Through just this one simple act you are bonding with your child, inspiring a love of reading—and are helping them develop strong early language and literacy skills that will become the foundation for their future learning and success. In fact, studies show that reading aloud is a primary driver of young children’s early language development.

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To help you and your child get the most out of your storytime while celebrating National Library Week at home, here are 12 early literacy tips from our early learning experts at Start Early and our Educare Chicago school:

  1. Start early. Reading to babies is important for healthy brain development and lays the foundation for language and writing skills.
  2. Make reading a part of your daily routine. Establishing a routine helps ensure that reading is part of your daily schedule, such as at naptime and bedtime. It also creates times during the day that both of you can look forward to.
  3. Try board and cloth books for babies. By age 1, babies can grab books.  Board and cloth books are great options for babies who like to touch things and put everything in their mouths.
  4. Take turns with your toddler. By age 2, toddlers can hold a book and point at the pictures. Let your toddler turn the pages of a board book and respond to her when she points or reacts to the story.
  5. Ask your child questions. As you read to your child, make the experience interactive by asking him questions, such as “What do you think will happen next?” “What was your favorite part of the story? Why?”
  6. Reread your child’s favorite books. By age 3, children can complete sentences in familiar stories. Read her favorite books over and over to help her learn through repetition.
  7. Point out similar words. By age 4, children begin to recognize letters. You can point out words in a book that begin with the same letter to your preschooler to help him become familiar with the letter and begin to associate certain words with that letter.
  8. Count objects on the page. As you read to your child, count objects on the page together to help her also strengthen her early math skills.
  9. Have your preschooler tell you the story. By age 5, children can sit still for longer books and can create their own stories based on the pictures. Ask your preschooler to tell you the basic plot of the book or to make up stories based on what he sees on each page.
  10. Read with passion! Using inflection and maintaining the same highs and lows in your voice at the same point in a story helps your child begin to remember the words.
  11. Set an example. Let your child see you reading your books to help her develop her own love of reading.
  12. Just keep reading. Reading to your child helps him develop a habit of listening to stories and loving books. One the most important pieces of advice is to make sure you are reading to him early and often.

No matter how old your child is — from babies to toddlers to preschoolers — these tips will help you capitalize on this valuable time with your child, making reading a fun, educational and memorable experience for both of you.

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“One… two… three…” you say as you count your baby’s toys for them. Even though your baby can’t solve equations, let alone speak, they are building early math and language skills with each number they hear.

And you don’t need to stop at numbers — there are many early math concepts that you can introduce to your young child, simply through language, play and reading books.

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Here are some fun activity ideas to help introduce early math concepts to your child:

  • Discover geometry: Shapes are a big part of geometry. Labeling different shapes — from squares to circles to stars — will help your child start to associate the words with the shapes, setting the early foundation of geometry. With toddlers and preschoolers, look at two- and three-dimensional shapes, so they can see how each object looks and functions. Blocks in different shapes are a great tool to use for this.
  • Play with volume: If you cook in the kitchen, you are already using volume. For babies and toddlers, start by using words like teaspoon, tablespoon, cup, pint and quart while you are cooking to get them familiar with the terms. Preschoolers can help you measure out ingredients using measuring cups and spoons. You can play fun games that teach incremental volume: how many tablespoons does it take to fill a quarter cup? How many cups go into your quart measuring cup?
  • Use comparisons: Many math lessons will involve word problems and comparisons as early as kindergarten. The more familiarity that your child has with comparison terms, the easier it will be for them to understand the word problems. You can create opportunities for your child to learn to compare by using toys of different sizes and words like more, less, lighter, heavier, bigger and smaller.
  • See how tall they are: By the time they are preschoolers, most children become interested in how tall and how heavy they are. One idea to help talk about height is to chart their growth on a wall, showing how tall they are each year. For preschoolers, you can also begin to introduce units of measurement like inches and feet by helping your child use a ruler to measure how much they have grown.
  • Reading books: Reading is an excellent way of introducing math language and concepts to your child. Books are a natural entry point that make learning math fun in the early years. Engaging your child in the math in storybooks build on their interest, discoveries and questions. Here are some great children’s book recommendations that are full of wonderful math concepts:

Through simple language and play, young children will start to learn essential early math and STEM skills. And remember, especially for babies and toddlers, just hearing these words early and often helps plant the seed for your future mathematician.

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While the idea of “history” may be outside the understanding of a very young child, we can still celebrate Women’s History Month with them by reading books together that celebrate the potential and achievements of girls and women.

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Young children are constantly learning about the world and what is possible for them. Themed history months offer a wonderful opportunity to take stock of your home or classroom library and ask yourself: am I presenting a rich view of the world? Am I offering children ideas and possibilities? Am I fostering a strong sense of self, and an openness towards difference? Books are windows and mirrors, they can reflect children’s own lives, and they can offer glimpses into the lives of others. Women’s History Month presents us with a wonderful opportunity to explore the infinite paths a child might choose to pursue, regardless of gender.

When you select a new book to read with your child, choose something you think you will also enjoy. Your enthusiasm will be catching! Look for books with features that appeal to young children’s imaginations—not too many words on each page, rhythmic or rhyming text and illustrations that invite wonder. The books below are chosen for their appealing texts, rich illustrations and simple—but not simplistic—concepts. While the titles are sorted by age, all the books for the youngest readers will work with preschool-aged children also, and some, (like I Am Enough,) are books you might want to read even without a small child at your side! A high-quality picture-book with beautiful illustrations works for every age, (including adults!) because images are texts that foster meaning-making.

Children’s Books to Read During Women’s History Month

Whether your child is a toddler, in pre-K or on their way to kindergarten, here are some great book recommendations from Anne-Marie Akin, our Educare Chicago librarian to read during this month and beyond:

Books recommended for infants:

Books recommended for toddlers:

Books recommended for children in pre-K or kindergarten:

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