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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Below are summaries of blogs that we issued in 2023 that highlight some of the things that we’re focusing on.

Unconscious Bias & Colorism

This blog shares insights on how unconscious bias influences policy, programs, and overall decision-making processes.

ParentChild+ Washington State Program Director, Pamela Williams, reflects on her experience at the 18th World Congress for the World Association for Infant Mental Health in Dublin, Ireland. Focused on Equity and Social Justice in Infant Mental Health, Pamela led a session exploring the Residual Effects of Colorism and the Impacts of Implicit Bias in Decision Making.

Nurturing Cultural Identity

Alex’s story echoes through the broader mission of home visitors, who actively support families in embracing and preserving their unique cultural identities.

In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, Alex Patricelli, Start Early Washington’s Training and Technical Assistance Specialist, reflects on the cultural journey she shared with her sons during the 2023 Paddle to Muckleshoot. 

Strengthening Family Engagement

Camille’s blog emphasizes the significance of taking small, intentional steps to achieve large goals.

Camille Carlson, Start Early Washington’s Quality Improvement and Innovation Manager is at the forefront of fostering Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) in home visiting services statewide. Guiding professionals through individual and group coaching, she draws on her personal experience as a parent supported by home visitors, and views family as central to her work. 

Successes & Lessons Learned

Explore our transformative work in Washington state.

In our ongoing efforts to strengthen family engagement and retention in home visiting programs, this blog uncovers valuable insights from our work with home visiting professionals. Such as prioritizing the quality of relationships and tailoring strategies to families’ preferences, home visiting programs can effectively nurture engagement and retention, ultimately contributing to positive lifelong outcomes for children and families.

Reaching Beyond Numbers

Anna’s blog shares how she navigates data to highlight subtle differences in home visiting experiences, ultimately strengthening programs and fostering inclusive co-creative learning opportunities.

Anna Contreras, Program Analyst for Start Early Washington, leverages her Latinx background and personal experiences as a second-generation immigrant to enhance home visiting programs. Her commitment to inclusivity is rooted in her mother’s positive experience with home visiting during Anna’s childhood. 

Start Early Washington is grateful to be building strong partnerships with organizations that share our values and goals.

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Heidi (left), and Brianna (right).

Start Early Washington had the opportunity recently to sit down with founder Heidi Stolte, and senior education program officer Brianna Jackson, and hear their thoughts on how efforts in the early learning education field are contributing to closing critical early learning and opportunity gaps.

Inspirational Beginnings

Thinking back to the beginning, what influenced your focus for the Foundation’s education goals on closing opportunity gaps by engaging families and communities in our region?

Heidi: When my husband Chris and I were deciding on the focus for the foundation and the inspiration for education, we had young children at the time, and I reflected on my experiences as a teacher and volunteer and the gaps that kids come to kindergarten with as far as being prepared to learn. Often unfortunately when they start out unprepared, they don’t catch up and they remain behind. Those early years and brain development between ages 0 to 5 are critical, so we recognized how critical the impacts of supporting early childhood learning are.

As I began to work with Social Venture Partners (SVP) on their early learning grant committee in 2011, we saw how much is either gained or lost in those earliest years and that starting early with healthy development is important. Seattle Foundation introduced us to local organizations doing early learning work, and specifically to ParentChild+ (PC+).

Having worked in education I just soaked up all of the little things I observed in PC+, like how early learning specialists provide coaching and role modeling, meeting the parents where they are at, supporting parents with learning how to enhance both the cognitive and social-emotional skills of their child, and also providing critical resources and supports.  There are so many components of PC+ that spoke to me.

Evolution of Focus

Going back to where things started in 2015, as you began the evolution of investing in early childhood and PC+, what’s changed the most for both of you?

Heidi: We focused on two areas: early learning and summer learning loss. The time when learning can be gained or lost, and we thought we could have some positive impact on that. In 2018 when we hired our first Education Program Officer, we realized that we needed to dive into this a little more and dedicate time to strategy and planning. We looked into a lot of areas and considered what spoke to us, what was needed, what gaps existed in funding, assessed education data both locally and nationally, and identified what geographic areas needed more resources and support. From there we decided to focus on parent-family engagement. Parents are such an important connection for children as their first teacher throughout their whole lives, and this is a critical time when they are with them before school begins.

Brianna: As you learn more, you become more intentional about your work. We have been able to be more on the ground and build the relationships with amazing community organizations, and be a bridge to increase visibility of those organizations with larger funders. We have been able to fund both systems-level as well as direct-service organizations, a great evolution for our investments.

Embracing Optimism

As a funder, and more important as someone entrenched in the work and watching the work change, what are you most optimistic about in the early childhood space going forward?

Brianna: There have been great wins in Washington state around early childhood and public funding, for example more of a focus on provider wages and ensuring that providers can make a livable wage. It’s exciting to see the direction things are moving with the Fair Start for Kids Act with the increase of access to child care benefits and consideration for the economic health of Washington’s families. In the 20+ years that I have been in this work, I am encouraged to see that we are finally understanding as a society that you can’t NOT invest in early childhood. And when we don’t invest in this critical period of development and growth for children and families there are real economic and social repercussions.

"So many of our goals are aligned with Start Early Washington around what it takes to build a comprehensive P-5 [prenatal to age 5] system in WA. Start Early Washington feels like our jam!" - Brianna

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Brianna: When we look at our partnership, and what attracted us to the work of Start Early Washington, it really comes down to being excited about PC+ and what home visiting could look like in Washington state.

We love that Start Early Washington is thinking about how to strengthen a system by prioritizing those who are doing work within that system. Providing strong professional development, technical assistance support, and a framework for what core competencies look like across high-quality home visiting is key to their approach. We know that this is contributing to the overall strengthening of PC+ and therefore the home visiting system overall. We are also excited about the policy and advocacy work Start Early Washington is involved in; that they are not only focused on what it looks like on the ground but what it looks like at the systems level to build better policies for children and families. If we are not doing both then we are doing the field a disservice.


Learn more about the Stolte Family Foundation’s thoughtful commitment to improving the futures of Washington’s children and families.

At Start Early, we are committed to cultivating an environment built on the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. The opening remarks were provided by Chandra Ewell, DEIB team lead.

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements, culture and legacy of Black Americans who have made contributions and played a critical role in shaping our country. We take the month of February to center Black voices and honor Black stories as we lift up the past, recognize the present and share hopes for the future.

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It’s never too early to start sharing positive reflections by sharing diverse stories with your children. It is important for children not only to see themselves, but others represented in the books we read to them. Reading books with your little one is a fun and easy way to help introduce them to new cultures, experiences and events in history.

Literature transforms the human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation.

"Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors" by Rudine Sims Bishop
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Children's Books To Read During Black 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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The earlier that we can start to help our children understand their emotions, the better the outcome in raising kind, empathetic children. Brain scientists, educators, economists and public health experts all agree that building a good foundation for healthy relationships begins at birth. The earlier that your child can adapt and develop key social-emotional skills—like attentiveness, persistence and impulse control—the sooner they can begin engaging in healthy social interactions with peers.

Young children aren’t necessarily born with the skills to engage in healthy relationships; they are born with the potential to develop them. With young children, it’s important that parents teach empathy by being the example. Show empathy daily to your children, family, and others in your community during your day. When empathy is shown by the parent, talk that through with your child by being attentive to their feelings. Use language like “I know that was hard for you, you seemed sad but you’re safe and loved.” This language will help children to be aware of their own emotions and feelings, in turn helping them be empathic to others.

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Tips for Parents:

  1. Explore your child’s emotions together and engage them in imaginative play to learn how to express those feelings so that they can better manage their emotions before starting preschool.
  2. Teach your child that it’s okay to have whatever feeling they are having: anger, frustration, embarrassment, fear, even rage, but that it is not acceptable for their actions to cross over and affect someone else negatively.
  3. Teach your child that it’s good to try to understand why someone else is having negative feelings. There may be a very good reason for their friend or acquaintance to be feeling angry or afraid.
  4. Teach your child that it’s never okay for them or anyone else to use their feelings as an excuse to verbally attack someone. And that when someone does this, it is time to get an adult into the situation.

You as a parent play an important role along with your child’s teachers in laying a strong foundation for social-emotional skills that will help your child to form healthy relationships. It is important for the adults in your child’s life to model positive behaviors and set clear rules.


Here are 2 activities that you can do at home with your little one to help teach them about empathy:

Conscious Discipline Kindness Tree

Make a Kindness Tree

The Kindness Tree is a symbolic way to record kind and helpful actions. Family members place leaves or notes on the tree to represent kind and helpful acts. Parents can notice these acts by saying, “You __(describe the action)__ so __(describe how it impacted others)__. That was helpful/kind!” For example, “Shubert helped Sophie get dressed so we would be on time for our library playdate. That was helpful!”

The Kindness Tree can also grow with families who have children of mixed ages. Initially, young children simply put a leaf on the tree to represent kind and helpful acts. As children grow and learn to write, the ritual evolves to include writing the kind acts down on leaves or sticky notes. Start your own Kindness Tree with this template.

Families with older children can simply use a Kindness Notebook to record kind acts and read them aloud daily or weekly.

Make a We Care Center

Two girls playing togetherThe We Care Center provides a way for family members to express caring and empathy for others. Fill your We Care Center with supplies like minor first aid items (Band-Aids, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, scented lotion), card-making supplies (preprinted cards, paper, crayons, sentence starters), and a tiny stuffed animal for cuddling.

When a friend or family member is ill, hurt, or having a hard time, your family can go to the We Care Basket to find a way to show that person they care. At first, parents might need to suggest how and when to use the We Care Center, but your children will quickly understand the intent. In this way, the We Care Center encourages the development of empathy by providing a means for children to offer caring and thoughtfulness to others every day.

This content was cross-promoted on our partner’s website, Big Heart World. Check out Big Heart World for additional social-emotional resources for parents and educators.

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As we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the National Day of Racial Healing, we asked our early learning experts for advice on how talk to your little ones about racial healing, equity and justice.

As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to talk to your children about serious issues like racism, but it is so very important. Sparking conversation with your little ones on this topic can help them to address bias and to be mindful as they navigate this big and sometimes scary world we live in.

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Children's Books on Racial Healing

One of the best ways to help your child learn is through reading. By choosing books that affirm the identities and backgrounds of all children you and your child can have an open dialogue about recognizing and celebrating differences. Here are book recommendations from our early learning experts to read aloud with your little one to learn about racial healing:

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As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, we not only honor the contributions of Indigenous communities but also pave the way for a more inclusive and compassionate society.

By exploring the arts, stories and traditions that define Native American cultures, we encourage our children to see the world through a diverse and respectful lens. We commemorate Native American Heritage Month to remember and learn from history and hope to use this month to continue growing as individuals and families.

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American Indians have been using legends (stories) as a way of teaching ever since time began. There are many lessons in storytelling. Most legends stress that one should not be greedy, boastful, or make fun of others. The legends also encourage older children to watch out for and help younger children. In this way legends taught the right way to do things. The tradition of storytelling tells us that we have a strong heritage for being good listeners and for talking to our children. Positive parenting is based on this concept. To have strong children we need to have good relationships. Good relationships depend on being able to talk AND listen.

Positive Indian Parenting Curriculum, Lesson II: Lessons of the Storyteller
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Children’s Books to Celebrate & Honor Native American Heritage Month

Storytelling is integral in Indigenous cultures—they can be told from books or through utilizing oral storytelling as a way for entertainment, education/teaching, and the sharing of culture and traditions.

As parents, we know that learning is most impactful when it’s shared with our children. Native American Heritage Month encourages us to engage in activities that promote understanding, respect and appreciation for Indigenous cultures. Here are a few age-appropriate books and resource recommendations you can share with your little one to celebrate this special month:

Books recommended for infants and toddlers:

Books recommended for children in pre-K or kindergarten:

Additional resources:

Advancing Racial Equity

For over 40 years, Start Early has been singularly focused on the healthy development of young children, from before birth until kindergarten, helping close the opportunity gap and ensure children are ready to learn.

We are uncompromising in our pursuit of excellence and remain steadfast in our commitment to dismantling the unjust practices and policies that are harmful to children and families of color. Our work would not be possible without recognizing that each child and family has been uniquely impacted and traumatized by racism and generations of long-tolerated inequities.

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Echoing Resilience: Intertribal Canoe Journeys

Mateo (6) and Kulani (4) patiently wait for canoes to arrive*

October celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day, honoring Indigenous People’s legacy, traditions and invaluable contributions.

In the rich tapestry of Indigenous coastal communities of the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska, the timeless art of canoeing embodies more than just transportation — it represents profound journeys that symbolize unity, resilience, and a deep connection to the land and the water.

Start Early Washington’s Training and Technical Assistance Specialist Alex Patricelli shared how she reclaimed her Native culture and traditions with her young boys Mateo (6) and Kulani (4) through the celebration of intertribal canoe journeys at the 2023 Paddle to Muckleshoot.

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Why is culture important?

In an increasingly interconnected world, embracing one's cultural identity is more important than ever, particularly for children and families. Culture is foundational to shaping our values, beliefs and actions while offering a sense of belonging, understanding and pride.
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Canoes waiting for tribal permission to come ashore, Seattle in the background*

For generations, coastal tribal communities relied on canoes for daily life. However, cultural ties were severed when canoeing was banned in the U.S. and Canada in the 20th century. More than 100 years passed before this restriction was lifted. In 1989, coastal communities reclaimed the canoe with an intertribal canoe journey to symbolize the resilience and survival of traditional practices against colonization and Western assimilation challenges.

In preparation for the 2023 epic canoe journey, Alex wanted to make her boys custom drums. The drum is regarded as the heartbeat of Indigenous culture in ceremonies, celebrations and spiritual gatherings.

Custom drums for Mateo and Kulani*

Alex’s vision for the drums was clear: to harmoniously blend her son’s multifaceted cultural identities, uniting them as brothers while also preserving their individuality. She soaked the deer hide, skillfully assembled the drum kits and hand-painted each drum. The drums serve as a canvas for symbolism, where a turtle and manta ray take center stage through distinct imagery.

Canoe journeys symbolize ancestral unity, resilience, and a deep connection to the world for our family.

Alex Patricelli, Start Early Washington's Training and Technical Assistance Specialist
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Alex elaborated on the origins of her art designs, “The outer ring symbolizes the boys’ Native heritage, inspired by the ‘formline’ design of Coastal Native artwork. Within the lines, both drums bear the symbols of a turtle and manta ray, which hold cultural significance to our Chamorro and Filipino heritage and represent qualities of persistence, wisdom, patience, good fortune, power and protection.”

Alex further emphasized, “drums are regarded as living entities and not just musical instruments; before a drum can be used, we awaken their spirit by burning sage and infusing them with good thoughts, energy and blessings. Mateo and Kulani are learning to respect and understand the hand drum’s cultural significance, a vital part of our families’ cultural teachings and identity that we’ve worked hard to reclaim for our family.”

*all photos credited to Alex Patricelli

Weaving Culture into Life’s Fabric: Home Visiting Support

In the grand tapestry of existence, culture isn’t just a thread; it’s the essence shaping our being, infusing a profound sense of belonging, pride and identity. Home visitors uniquely foster cultural identity by inviting families to share traditions and beliefs, where cultural exchange can flourish. Just as each family is unique, so is their cultural expedition. “Tailoring support to align with each family’s cultural values and goals is essential. Home visitors have the opportunity to intentionally prioritize cultural integration through community events, group connections and home visits.”

Here are a few examples of how home visitors nurture cultural identity:

  • Active Listening: Home visitors can identify significant cultural practices by listening to families’ stories and experiences. This helps build trust and rapport.
  • Intergenerational Bonding: Encouraging families to interweave the wisdom of grandparents and elders fosters intergenerational bonds and embraces the passage of cultural heritage.
  • Resource Sharing: Providing families with resources, books and materials that celebrate their culture encourages them to incorporate cultural elements into their daily lives. Additionally, helping families celebrate cultural milestones, such as festivals and holidays, by suggesting activities or connecting them with local cultural events is invaluable.

Home visitors partner with families by honoring and preserving cultural identity to foster a profound sense of belonging and pride for generations to come.

Learn more about how Start Early Washington supports home visiting programs.