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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.

Authentically and meaningfully engaging families in systems design and improvement work requires careful attention to how we value the expertise and lived experiences of these critical partners. Oftentimes, there is a contrast in our espoused beliefs and actual behaviors (explicitly or implicitly). How conscious are we of the disconnect? What tools and frameworks exist to help us as systems leaders on our journeys to be more genuine in our beliefs and equitable and liberatory in our practice? Here are some key insights from Start Early Consulting’s work focused on centering family and provider voice.

Systems leaders aiming to engage families more equitably and effectively in systems design and improvement efforts need to assess their progress towards meeting these goals. Start Early has developed a self-assessment tool focused on cultivating family leadership in systems building work through the establishment of Family Councils. Framed as a continuum for developing capacities, the tool incorporates tenets of the Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership framework.

Download Our New Tool

Download our new self-assessment tool focused on cultivating family leadership in systems building work through the establishment of Family Councils.

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Centering family voice and fostering genuine co-creation spaces is complex work that will not happen overnight; it is evolutionary. And giving ourselves grace, knowing we are all in different places and that where we fall at any point in time will depend on various, ever-changing contexts (i.e., as often as we engage new families as partners in the work), is necessary. The promise of nurturing sustainable conditions for change is held within one key, foundational step — shifting mindsets to value families as experts, in words and action. A few relevant reflections from our team’s experiences providing support to advocate and public sector leaders seeking transformational change within and across their early childhood systems follow:

  1. Shifting mindsets to acknowledge and leverage the expertise families hold regarding what best meets their diverse and unique needs is critical.
    When we approach engaging families from a deficit perspective (e.g., families are unknowing of what quality is or dismissing cultural contexts that also shape these definitions; families are unaware of resources or “hard to reach”), we consequently message that families are the problem and WE hold the answers to solving these challenges.
  2. Families have valuable insight and perspective towards creating high-impact and sustainable solutions.
    Acknowledging that most systems, by design, limit access and opportunities for families to thrive, shifting our mindsets to prioritize families’ input better prepares us for the important and complex work of questioning dominant perceptions of quality and learning what the true barriers to access are. When we focus on addressing these root issues — WITH families — we get closer to achieving transformational change.
  3. Families are valued as experts and the key drivers of systems change when their voices are centered and they are empowered and supported to LEAD co-creation efforts.
    Embracing this mindset and enacting aligned practices requires positive and trusting relationships and restructuring power dynamics (e.g. shared governance). These conditions prime us for critical and generative dialogue.

Need extra support with equitably centering family voice in your systems change efforts? Contact our team to learn more.

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Focusing on the Needs of Early Childhood Professionals

The word “innovation” can be perceived as a buzz word. We see it everywhere – in job descriptions, in resumes, organizational websites, etc. and people almost instinctively pay attention to it. And rightfully so… it’s desirable to think of new ways of doing something, especially if it saves time, human effort, and money.

And yet, I often wonder if designing relevant and engaging professional learning for today’s early childhood educators is a matter of innovation, or rather a matter of focusing on the learner and what matters most to them.

The field of adult learning has provided some principles about how adults learn…and there have been research studies to confirm these. I like to think of these as conditions that we can create to center the needs of adult learners. Here’s a few of them:

  • Give learners choice
  • Respect learners and meet them where they are
  • Show, don’t tell them
  • Let learners practice
  • Make it relevant

These conditions that support adult learning help us shift our focus from what we want (learning designers, subject matter experts, etc.), to what learners need. In my work at Start Early, we’re focusing on learner needs through centering equity using inclusive facilitation and offering microlearning.

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Microlearning

Educators’ time seems to be shrinking by the year as the needs of children and families grow. Microlearning is a flexible strategy that supports ongoing, meaningful professional learning while lessening time requirements for learners.

This year, Start Early launched microlearning modules for its evidence-based framework – The Start Early Essentials. We designed six accessible, introductory microlearning modules to create a critical knowledge base for teams in under 15 minutes per module. It’s called The Essential Microlearnings.

  • Accessible: the language is straightforward, they feature interactive components, and the design follows best practices for adult learning.
  • Practical: first, learners acquire a basic understanding of each Essential, then they explore real-world examples of it in action, and by the end of the module they start building an action plan to improve their own practice.
  • Flexible: they provide a useful knowledge base on their own and they pair well with live trainer sessions, communities of practice, and coaching for comprehensive year-round professional learning.

Centering Equity

I’ve been part of many discussions this year about the poor state of black maternal health in the U.S. These discussions about interpersonal biases and differential treatment of people based on race, and how they contribute to poor maternal and infant health, underscore the importance and urgency of our collective work to design, develop, and deliver professional learning through the lens of equity.

One of the predominant ways we’re doing this is through inclusive facilitation. We’re shifting away from the expertise of the trainer and towards the lived experience of the learner/professional.

We’re also making a concerted effort to elevate parent and caregiver voice through stories that build learner empathy and are introducing counternarratives to interrupt learner implicit bias.

We know we can’t solve every problem in early childhood through professional learning, but I’m hopeful that we can create professional learning that early childhood educators find engaging, relevant, and inclusive, and challenges them to show up in meaningful ways to the communities they serve.

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. 

The 2024 National Home Visiting Summit brought together advocates, home visitors, program leaders, funders, and researchers, alongside federal, state, and local level public sector system leaders for three days of learning, reflection, and action, both in person in Washington, D.C. and virtually with attendees joining from across the globe.

This year’s gathering spotlighted the tremendous progress public sector early childhood system leaders, particularly at the state level, have made to advance home visiting as part of an equitable, comprehensive early childhood system.

In breakout session presentations, small group discussions, and networking opportunities throughout the Summit, the four points below emerged as the key themes from system leaders regarding progress toward equitable early childhood systems:

  1. Consolidation is not enough. There was energy and excitement about the lessons states are learning as they move towards consolidation of early childhood programs and funding streams into single, state agencies focused solely on early childhood. For example, state home visiting leaders shared promising practices around single statewide referral lines, and increasingly integrated funding streams. As more states consider consolidation, system leaders at the Summit asked attendees to consider how consolidation and integration are actually experienced by families and providers when they interact with public systems, and challenged leaders not to stop with integration at the top.
  2. Look for “catalyst” funding opportunities. In a session about the Preschool Development Grants for Birth-Five (PDGB5) , state leaders reflected on approaching the funding opportunity with the question of “what can PDGB5 do for us, versus ‘how do we meet the requirements?” The Summit offered numerous examples of system leaders looking at federal, state, and increasingly philanthropic funding sources as catalysts – not carrying the full weight of system infrastructure but inspiring progress.
  3. Communities are key. State system leaders are increasingly operationalizing infrastructure at a state level with reverence, respect, and leadership from the unique needs of individual communities. Home visiting programs, with their connection to community infrastructure, offer a unique opportunity for child care, preschool, and other early childhood programs and funding streams to leverage the existing relationships and networks of home visitors.
  4. The Home Visiting Work Force is a part of the Early Childhood Education Workforce. Chronic staffing shortages, low wages, high turnover rates, and a feeling of lack of respect for the child care workforce have been well publicized in the media, but these issues are also being felt across the home visiting workforce. While it might sound obvious to those in the field, system leaders are increasingly implementing cross sector approaches to recruit, support, and retain the early childhood workforce, inclusive of those in the home visiting sector. These comprehensive strategies to lift all the professionals who support young children and their families send a message of value to all those in the field, while also attacking the structural impediments to an effective workforce.

How can you bring these takeaways into your state’s system? Mark your calendars for February 12-14, 2025, for the 2025 National Home Visiting Summit! We hope you will join us in person at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. for more peer learning on these topics.

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Start Early’s Consulting Practice also invites system leaders to leverage our consultants as strategic advisors to support more equitable early childhood systems. We expand the bench wherever support is needed, bringing seasoned, practical experience to leaders, advocates, and their teams.  Please reach out to us at Consulting@StartEarly.org to learn more.

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The month of December is often referenced as the most wonderful time of year, and I have always taken advantage of this time to personally reflect and think about the successes and challenges over the past 12 months. 2023 has been a tumultuous year for me as I personally experienced the best and worst that our profession has to offer, getting caught in the crossfires of a book ban aimed at dismantling the foundation of the early learning profession. My experience has strengthened my resolve that we must invest in young children and the workforce that serves them by providing holistic, high quality early learning environments.

I am frequently asked how the so-called “culture wars” impact early childhood education. I begin these conversations praising our early childhood workforce for their resilience and commitment to early learning. We show up every day to serve children and families despite what’s happening around us. We hug babies and toddlers and offer support for families when our own world is crumbling due to the lack of infrastructure to fund our profession and support our work to create inclusive early childhood systems.

We cannot continue to ask more and more of our workforce while our country continues to devalue and disrespect our early educators.

  • Early childhood workforce turnover is as high as 40% 1
  • Average wages are $11-15/hour, with early educator poverty rates 8X that of K-12 educators. The federal poverty line for a family of 4 is $30,000. A typical early educator earning the average hourly wage would come in around $26,000 annually 2
  • Professionals are deeply stressed, with depression rates 13% higher than the national average 3

These statistics are compounded when we consider that our workforce is comprised primarily of women – particularly women of color.

Recently, we have seen yet another wave of oppressive legislation and public attacks, including doing away with loan forgiveness and affirmative action, striking the right to abortion, and demonizing and limiting the use of words and practices around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

All of these efforts silence, scare and limit our efforts to foster a diverse and effective workforce that provides high quality early learning experiences for children and families. How can we be okay with policies and practices that discriminate against children and families while disregarding their culture and diversity?

Attacking Early Childhood Quality

On a personal note, for 5 years I led in a state where we heralded pre-k as a bi-partisan policy effort and as a result we had a pre-k program that was number 1 in reaching NIEER (National Institute for Early Education Research) quality for 17 years in a row. For DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practice) to be under attack now is unconscionable as DAP was always the foundation for quality in our classrooms.

Terms including “culturally responsive,” “social-emotional learning,” “implicit bias,” and “diversity” are being censured. When states change competencies, dismantle standards and professional learning to remove these words, it prevents our workforce from receiving the support they need to employ best practices that are critical for children’s development. An urgent example is the crisis we are experiencing around harsh discipline practices that disproportionately affect black children. We must teach culturally responsive, anti-racist, and anti-bias pedagogy to address this.

Silencing and Restricting Workforce Rights

We have a staffing crisis and desperately need qualified, prepared teachers and staff. Striking down Affirmative Action and Loan Forgiveness programs shuts down essential educational support for staff.

When our professionals can’t access the healthcare they need for themselves and their families because of losing Reproductive Rights, it jeopardizes well-being.

“Color Blind” lawsuits threaten specific programs and interventions for Black, LatinX, and indigenous children and families who make up both our workforce and classroom populations. We see gaps in rights, quality of life, and wealth growing even bigger from this discrimination and racism. The workforce, and the children and families we serve, are from diverse backgrounds and we cannot serve them effectively when we employ strategies that force us to ignore the complexities of race, culture and ethnicity.

A question I keep hearing is, “How can we remain hopeful and enable a brighter future for our professionals, families and children?” My response is that there is no living and no better tomorrow without hope. Hope allows us to return each day knowing that we are making a difference and putting the needs of others first.

At Start Early our mission is to eliminate the opportunity gap so that all children can thrive and learn. We are focused on four areas of action:

  1. Career Pathways. We must create accessible and affordable pathways to support our workforce in getting the credentials and knowledge they need to earn higher wages.
  2. Professional Learning. We need powerful, rich onboarding to support new staff. We must improve workplace culture and climate to be inclusive and supportive. And we need to foster ongoing learning to increase educator effectiveness and confidence – and improve retention.
  3. Engage Congress & Lawmakers. We must raise awareness about the science behind early childhood and demand support for early learning as the economic plan for improving our country and preparing tomorrow’s leaders.
  4. Support Each Other. And equally important, we can create space to slow down and be intentional about supportive environments in our programs and classrooms. We can embrace rest, joy, relationships, and connections. This is what will help us cultivate resiliency and hope as we face these historic challenges to our workforce.

“Culture Wars” are a call to action for us all. As we prepare to end one year and start a new one, we must ensure that the early learning workforce has the support necessary to build strong relationships with children and families that last a lifetime. Our educators must not be forced to work in fear of retaliation for using strategies that optimize early learning spaces. It is up to each of us to do our part to tackle these issues with those in power. We must arm ourselves with knowledge and engage our communities and local coalitions to spread the word about why the work we are doing for our youngest citizens matters. We must demand for every child what we expect for our own young children.


Sources
1Turnover: Ed Surge; OPRE; Yale Medicine 
2 Hourly Wage Average & Rate of Poverty: 2020 Early Educator Workforce Index; Alabama 
3Depression: Children’s Equity Project, Mental Health Report

Occasionally, Start Early Washington team members are honored with opportunities for thought leadership on a global scale. In this blog, ParentChild+ Washington State Program Director, Pamela Williams shares a few thought-provoking insights from her recent presentation at the 18th World Congress for the World Association for Infant Mental Health in Dublin, Ireland.

A Global Stage for Equity & Social Justice

In July 2023, Pamela Williams joined a global panel discussion 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. Joining co-presenters from Canada, Australia and the U.S., Pamela led a session exploring the Residual Effects of Colorism and the Impacts of Implicit Bias in Our Decision Making. This presentation provided a unique opportunity for practitioners to reflect on how unconscious bias affects decision making in their field.

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Unpacking the Impact of Colorism

Colorism is favoring individuals with lighter skin over those with darker skin. It has deep-rooted consequences, resulting in disproportionate access to resources and preferential treatment, perpetuating societal ideals of beauty, success and alignment with a specific image.

Challenging Unconscious Bias

Pamela emphasized, “While we know that racism is systemic, it is important to understand how colorism shows up without us knowing.” She highlighted how colorism reinforces white supremacy and operates as an unconscious bias that influences decisions related to policy, programs, curriculum, resources, materials we select, who we hire and overall decision making.

Colorism sits right there – and while you may not see the varied hues of who represents a community, the decisions we make do.

Pamela Williams, ParentChild+ Washington State Program Director
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Exploring Colorism in Media & Society

Pamela led her audience through a series of thought-provoking questions and exercises, shedding light on the presence of colorism in communities, society and media. She showcased compelling historical and contemporary print ads, billboards and advertisements from the U.S., France and Asia, demonstrating how media supports a harmful, racist narrative that white is best, “the lighter your skin, the better you are.” She encouraged her audience to reflect on the messages the media portrays to Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC), and the messages it portrays to white people.

Broadening the Scope of Race Equity Work

Pamela stressed the importance of broadening the scope of race equity work beyond an American-centric perspective to better serve diverse staff with varying life experiences. Recognizing the disparities in the representation experienced by BIPOC American-born staff and those born outside the U.S., she pointed out that discussions about race need to adapt to the backgrounds of the communities we partner with. “Many of our BIPOC American-born staff struggle to remember the age when they saw people like themselves on TV, and many of my team members born outside of the U.S. said they saw representation all their lives.”

The result is that the conversations around race we may have in the U.S. do not mean the same thing to individuals raised in other countries. However, when we ask what it means to have dark skin, many individuals around the globe can relate to biases around skin tone. –Where the U.S. may embrace terms such as “Black” and “Brown,” individuals born outside the U.S. may cringe at the thought of their child or themselves being labeled with terms such as brown or black because they are viewed negatively in their home country.

Embracing Uncomfortable Conversations for Positive Change

Delving into these deeply ingrained biases, Pamela acknowledged the weight of these discussions. She was particularly mindful of encouraging her audience to stay present and engaged, as addressing these “sneaky little buggers that sit with us” is crucial for positive change and needs to be talked about. As a result, there can be powerful outcomes from doing this hard work; by challenging ourselves to uncover deeply held biases, we can improve our decision making, allowing us to do better in the communities we serve.

Resources For Deeper Understanding

To gain a deeper understanding of colorism, Pamela referenced the book Colorism: Investigating a Global Phenomenon by Dr. Kamilah Woodson. She also shared movie suggestions that explore this subject, including Imitation of Life and Passing. These resources provide valuable insights into the complex worldwide issue of colorism and its societal impacts.

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.

Children have many big emotions! Preschoolers are learning to name and manage them. They are also learning friendship and other social skills. And sometimes, their behaviors are challenging. Many behaviors are appropriate for a child’s stage of development yet are found challenging by adults. This may be one of the biggest pain points for educators in early childhood. We’re taking a new approach to support educators who want to build positive social skills and decrease challenging behaviors in their classroom – Reflectable SEL.

In early childhood, we have always focused on social and emotional learning. We know that high quality social and emotional skills are linked to all other areas of children’s learning and critical to their success; skills like empathy, regulating behaviors and emotions, and problem solving. It can be challenging to supply the support preschoolers need to develop these important skills.

Every Pre-K teacher that I have met is deeply invested in the growth of their students. They want to send children to kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life.

How Early Childhood Teachers are Feeling Today

At this moment, teachers are worried about the state of children’s social and emotional growth. There is an increasing number of challenging behaviors in the classroom that they must deal with, like emotional dysregulation, difficulty building relationships, or coping with change in routine. These challenges affect the mental health of both teachers and children in ways we haven’t seen before.

The recent pandemic highlighted the vital role early childhood teachers play in families’ success and how under supported they are. We know educators experience high levels of stress—and when they are stressed, children show more challenging behaviors. And the cycle of worry, frustration, anger, and dysregulation repeats.

In a recent visit to a child development center, I asked teachers, “What do you need to help children grow and learn skills like empathy, sharing, friendship skills and regulating their emotions?” Their answers:

  1. We need support that is focused and specific to the work we are doing.
  2. We need support that helps us respond to challenging behaviors in the moment during our daily work.

There are many valuable frameworks, curricula, and learning models for promoting growth and preventing challenging behaviors. Their use creates lasting and positive effects on children. But it is hard to apply frameworks, curricula, and special resources to guide a teacher’s practice day to day in real time.

Applying a Human-Centered Approach to Problems of Practice

At the Early Learning Lab – where we combine human-centered design and early childhood expertise with data and technology – we asked: How might we help practitioners quickly recall the strategies they learn in training to make it easier to use them with children? How might we provide easy mindfulness supports?

To answer these questions, we used a discovery process to create a new tool and bring it to teachers to get their ideas and input. These pilot teachers helped us make the experience one that would be helpful to them. With guidance from these educators, we built the first Reflectable tool to supply focused and specific bite sized actions in simple and easy to apply language. This put the power in the teachers’ hands. They were able to reflect on the topics that mattered most to them. This made it easier for teachers to practice the skills they learned during training in a way that made sense for their unique needs. In turn, this helped educators make quick choices for how to best care for children when challenging behaviors appear.

“I didn’t realize I had the power to really change things!” – Pilot Pre-k Teacher

After using this simple, new tool to reflect on practice and set weekly goals, teachers said they:

  • felt valued as experts for the work they were doing
  • could thoughtfully make choices that help children’s growth
  • made meaningful mindset shifts for themselves
  • experienced less stress themselves and saw fewer challenging behaviors among children

A New Tool to Support Reflective Practice

The result of testing and refining this tool is Reflectable® and its Social Emotional Learning content module. Reflectable’s online, guided 10-minute weekly reflection, helps educators see the power of taking small, intentional steps. These steps improve their social emotional learning practice in the areas they decide matter most and positively impact children.

Reflectable is a helpful pause for educators to take time for themselves and give children the attention and support they deserve. In turn, this boosts outcomes, morale, self-efficacy, and job satisfaction.

It’s time to rethink support tools for the early learning workforce. They are a precious resource, and their job is tough. The early learning workforce deserve to be heard and valued so they can listen to and value the children in their care.

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Reach out to us for a behind the scenes look at how Reflectable can support your SEL implementation.

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Whether it is preparing an older sibling for the arrival of a new baby or potty training a toddler, Camille Carlson recognizes that everyone – whether they are aware of it or not – uses Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) to improve everyday life. CQI is an invaluable reminder of the strength found in taking small, intentional steps. Therefore, it is important to break up the process into achievable goals – and celebrate the milestones along the way!

As Start Early Washington’s Quality Improvement and Innovation Manager, Camille Carlson’s approach to Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) is instrumental in supporting home visiting services statewide. Through individual and group coaching, Camille guides professionals in the field toward providing the best possible services for children and families using tools to identify and test changes on a small scale. Together with CQI teams and Washington home visiting programs, Camille works to identify changes that result in significant improvements for the home visiting field, families and children, all part of Start Early Washington’s mission to create strong foundations necessary for more fulfilling work that continuously improves supports and resources available to families statewide.

A Beautiful Reminder

Camille uses her expertise to help home visiting programs deliver services relevant to the unique needs of the children and families they support. Her firsthand experience as a parent fuels her desire to improve systems of support for children, their families, and the teams of staff that serve them. Camille’s motivation for this work grew when she was pregnant with her second child. “During my pregnancy, I had the support of home visitors and supervisors at my fingertips. As I listened to home visiting professionals across the state discuss parent coaching and family observations, I started applying their valuable insight to navigate the changing dynamics of my life with two children. This process helped me gain confidence in my parenting skills, and it was a beautiful reminder that family is central to our work. I was overwhelmed by the support that was given to me and the confidence that it brought, which emphasized the importance of sharing such a positive experience with others.”

It's easy to get lost in big goals. If you focus on small steps, you feel like you are progressing toward your goal and more likely to sustain your gains while addressing other things.

— Camille
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Connecting Data to Practice

Quality improvement is essential to providing successful home visiting services where staff collaboratively establish goals, reflect and create actionable steps for improvement. By adhering to a CQI process, home visiting programs can build strong relationships with families, make well-planned decisions and increase positive outcomes to achieve better support for children and families.

The ongoing, collaborative process draws on the expertise and experience of home visitors, supervisors, community partners and families. Although data points are a big part of CQI, Start Early Washington works toward cultivating a culture of continuous quality improvement rather than another set of requirements to check off for reports. “Since I’ve been in my role, we have seen an investment in a CQI culture. Teams have grown significantly, and we are beginning to see a sense of buy-in and excitement around the process.”

Camille shared her immense gratitude for the opportunity to work with and coach organizations that provide home visiting services to families across Washington state with the shared goal of creating positive change for the organizations and families that they serve, utilizing a CQI lens.

CQI tools support home visiting programs through activities and benefits such as:

  • Individual coaching and consultation for home visiting programs that guides problem-level improvement projects and supports data analysis or reporting
  • Group learning offers programs the opportunity to share and reflect on future improvement strategies
  • Facilitation and liaising with national CQI resources and initiatives

Over time, our goal is to develop meaningful partnerships with programs and families to improve systems of support and lifelong outcomes. Meaningful relationships can be fostered throughout the stages of quality engagement, all while building confidence and trust between providers and families as they work toward a common goal.

Explore more about Washington’s home visiting work and strategic tools.