Friday, April 22, 2016

Community Cafe

Have you heard about something called, Community Café, and wondered what the heck “it” is?  Here’s your primer. 

At its core, Community Café is a prescribed format for hosting large group discussions.  Based on the World Café Method, the Community Café is a smaller scale forum for group discussions that maintain the seven design principles of the World Café Method.  These seven principles lay out the “rules” for these constructed conversations:

1.       Set the context: for successful conversations, you must have a clear purpose and parameters to enable constructive discussions.
2.       Create hospitable space: you need to create a safe, comfortable and inviting space for open and honest conversations.
3.       Explore questions that matter: construct questions that are relevant and that will explore the objectives you wanted to achieve.
4.       Encourage everyone’s contribution: café conversations need full participation even if someone only feels comfortable listening to the conversation.  
5.       Connect diverse perspectives: mix up small group discussions with other groups to share differing perspectives and common themes.
6.       Listen together for patterns and insights: just as important to sharing your ideas it is equally as important to actively listen.  Make connections between ideas.
7.       Share collective discoveries: sometimes called “harvest” share small group conversations with the larger group to capture similar themes, patterns and insight.

Community Cafés are planned, led and monitored by individuals and community members who go through an orientation to learn the components of this approach.  They learn the World Café principles for hosting can relate to the participants and build on the assets of their neighborhood, group-building traditions, customs, visuals, foods and music from the cultures represented in each café to help to ensure cultural relevance.  Meaningful relationships develop as individuals and community partners participate as equals in a café series that sustains a value of reciprocity. 

The Community Café model has been used by Strengthening Families organizations to empower participants; many of which are parents.  Families are strengthened when communities support the building of social capital.  Reciprocity, or opportunities for families to contribute to their community, is essential to a supportive and healthy community; residents have the opportunity to contribute and a culture of reciprocity develops.  (www.cssp.org)

Strengthening Families organizations using the Community Café model construct conversations as they relate to the Strengthening Families Protective factor framework, published by the Center for the Study of Social Policy.  The five protective factors at the foundation of Strengthening Families are characteristics that have been shown to make positive outcomes more likely for young children and their families, and to reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.   


The Community Café works well for Strengthening Families organizations because it builds on the foundation that parents and communities want to do right by their children.  The framework builds on individuals’ strengths and empowers participants to support each other and build stronger communities in the process. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Suquamish Museum Features Children's Art

In recent years, school curricula in the United States have shifted heavily toward common core subjects of reading and math, but where does that leave the arts? 

The Suquamish Museum in Suquamish, Washington has found a way to make a lasting impression in its community and to a group of children learning the importance of artistic expression. 

Joanna Sharphead, a visitor services representative, worked with children and staff at the Marion Forsman-Boushie Early Learning Center to showcase artwork for the featured artist series at Suquamish Museum. 
Suquamish family celebrates their child's art
at the Suquamish Museum.
"While I was trying to decide which direction to go with our next artist for the Suquamish Museum's Featured Artist Series, Larry McGrady who is a child care teacher at the ELC pitched the idea of showcasing the ELC kids," said Sharphead. "He spoke passionately of their talent and what having their artwork displayed at the museum could do for their self-esteem. I was sold! We contacted Jeffrey Veregge who was the very first artist featured in this series and he offered to do an art workshop with the kids, which went great. Our main goal in having their artwork showcased is to let every child know how much their community, families, and guests of the museum appreciate their talent and creativity."
Children were invited to work with Veregge to create art for a special display. This exhibit will run through the end of June. For more information, check out the Suquamish Museum online or contact them here: (360) 394-8499.

All of our state's little learners can benefit from art in the classroom! The subject lends itself to cultural awareness and more. According to PBS, here is how:

Developmental Benefits of Art
  • Motor Skills: Many of the motions involved in making art, such as holding a paintbrush or scribbling with a crayon, are essential to the growth of fine motor skills in young children. 
  • Language Development: For very young children, making art—or just talking about it—provides opportunities to learn words for colors, shapes and actions. 
  • Decision Making: According to a report by Americans for the Arts, art education strengthens problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. 
    Children's art featured at the Suquamish Museum.
  • Visual Learning: Drawing, sculpting with clay and threading beads on a string all develop visual-spatial skills, which are more important than ever. 
  • Inventiveness: When kids are encouraged to express themselves and take risks in creating art, they develop a sense of innovation that will be important in their adult lives. 
  • Cultural Awareness: As we live in an increasingly diverse society, the images of different groups in the media may also present mixed messages. Teaching children to recognize the choices an artist or designer makes in portraying a subject helps kids understand the concept that what they see may be someone’s interpretation of reality.
  • Improved Academic Performance: Studies show that there is a correlation between art and other achievement. A report by Americans for the Arts states that young people who participate regularly in the arts (three hours a day on three days each week through one full year) are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math and science fair or to win an award for writing an essay or poem than children who do not participate. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Director Visits Children's Therapy Center

Last week, DEL Director Ross Hunter took a tour of Children’s Therapy Center in Burien. He got an opportunity to see first-hand some of the therapies for children with disabilities, and hear about the extensive home-based early intervention services they provide. CTC serves about 3,400 children each year, providing everything from speech-language, physical, and occupational therapies to parent education and community playgroups. Many of these services are provided through DEL’s Early Support for Infants and Toddlers program (ESIT).

At a glance: Washington families served by CTC.

We know that children with disabilities or developmental delays can have a wildly improved quality of life with early intervention services. About 85 percent of a person’s brain development happens in the first three years of life – children in this stage are forming more than 700 new neural connections every second. The services delivered through ESIT are designed to enable young children to be active, independent and successful participants in a variety of settings—in their homes, in preschool programs, and in their communities.

DEL Director Ross Hunter with CTC CEO Jon Botten (left) and staff in front of a river-themed mural at CTC’s Burien center.
While the evidence is clear on what works for children who need early interventions, the system in Washington State needs to become more sophisticated and be more coordinated with the other birth to age three services available. Luckily, the Legislature passed a law this year, Senate Bill 5879, which will help DEL do just that. It gives DEL the opportunity to take a critical look at the current service delivery process and to create a more efficient and expanded system. In the end, we want to get more money going directly to services that support our state’s children.

Look out for more information on this system plan design process throughout 2016 from our ESIT team. We continue to be inspired by the work of incredible partners like Children’s Therapy Center, and we look forward to a day when every child in our state gets the high-quality care they need to live full, rich lives.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Week of the Young Child Emphasizes Play, Health


The second week of April is an exciting time for early learning communities in Washington State, as April 10-16 is honored nation-wide as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) “Week of the Young Child™.”
“Today, we know more than ever about the importance of a child’s first years. For this reason, we are excited to celebrate the significant impact that early learning has on our state’s youth,” said DEL Director, Ross Hunter. “The recognition week also gives us the opportunity to highlight the critical need for state agencies to work together so that all children are ready for Kindergarten, regardless of their zip code.”
The purpose of the Week of the Young Child is to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. In Washington State, the Department of Early Learning (DEL), the Department of Health (Health) and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) partner to encourage healthy development from birth and beyond.

Partners have recently set out to achieve the goals that:
·         All children are Kindergarten-ready by 2020
·         Race is no longer a predictor of Kindergarten readiness and academic success

These ambitious objectives come after data was released in DEL’s Early Start Act Report which determined that in the 2013-2014 school year, only 41 percent of children were Kindergarten-ready.

Another partner initiative is the Healthiest Next Generation—a Governor-launched program that helps children maintain a healthy weight, enjoy active lives and eat and drink healthfully by making changes in early learning settings, schools and communities.
“We are most effective in serving children when we work together,” said Hunter. “There is not one solution to improving child outcomes, but many solutions, by many people, in the places where children spend their time--in early learning settings, schools, and communities. Our partnerships are key in achieving progress for all these kids.”
The Week of the Young Child is celebrated by partner programs throughout the state. State agencies will be promoting the recognition week on social media, blogs and agency heads from Health and DEL are set to tour a Washington child care program dedicated to child health and development.



Thursday, April 7, 2016

Report Highlights Early Years as Foundation for Education

The Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation (OPRE) (part of the Office of the Administration for Children & Families) recently released a report on Development Foundations of School Readiness for Infants and Toddlers.  The focus of this report is on the first three years of a child’s life and highlights the foundational development that is needed for school readiness and future success.  Some of the foundational principles that this report was based on include:

·         Children are active participants in shaping their own development.
·         Children learn primarily through doing a task and interaction with people in their life.
·         Each child affects their environment and the environment affects the child in on-going and cyclical ways.
·         Development and learning occur in multiple systems  and settings including immediate family, extended family, early care and learning programs, and their community.
·         All areas of development are interrelated. 
·         Each child develops at their own rate.  Hence, development charts consist of “normal” ranges rather specific standards.
·         Research has identified the period between birth and age three to be a distinct phase of development; vital to all future development.

This report reviewed research that studied the impact of development in five school readiness areas, including:

·         Physical development, motor and perceptual
·         Social and emotional development
·         Approaches to learning
·         Language and communication
·         Cognition

The research reviewed for this report, identifies the following conclusions:

·         Birth to the age of three is a unique time in a child’s life when foundational skills and development, vital to school readiness and future success, occur.  The adults in every child’s life need to understand that the environment and interactions either positively or negatively impact the child.
·         All areas of development need attention to fully prepare a child for school.  This also includes age-appropriate and developmentally-appropriate strategies.
·         Family, community and cultural influences are embedded in a child’s development.  These influences need to be supported and respected in any early care or learning program in which the child participates.
·         Early care and learning programs need to be built on solid research and theory in early childhood development.  Hence, all people working with children need to have a foundational understanding of early childhood development supplemented with on-going continuing education and professional training and courses. 
·         Collaboration between child care & learning programs and families is vital to help each child reach their full potential. 
·         The general public, families and policy makers need to understand the importance of early childhood development.  The research clearly supports a strong argument for early developmental programs, initiatives and early developmental support and intervention funding.

The current body of research supports the conclusion that school readiness begins at birth and is supported through a range of high-quality programs and services to children from birth to age three and their families.  However, further research is needed to identify what components of programs and intervention services make the biggest impact.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Outdoor Play and Early Learning

Outdoor play is an important part of development for young children for a variety of reasons. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), it is associated with greater amounts of physical activity in children, and whole body exercise has a long-lasting influence throughout childhood. Outdoor inspired parks can aid in the exploration of environments, and an amazing one is opening in the coming weeks in Washington!

Northwest Trek: Kids' Trek

Beginning April 2, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park will open a new play-space dedicated to outdoor play and learning. 

Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek.
According to a Northwest Trek press release, the new park is a nature-inspired playground that will provide plenty of exercise along with integrated lessons about how children connect to the natural world through play and awareness of the plants and animals with which we share the Earth.

Kids will slide, scramble, stomp, clamber and crawl at this unique play space. They’ll also imagine, explore, learn and connect with nature in a unique setting that integrates an appreciation of animals and plants into a variety of activities. Children of all abilities can enjoy Kids’ Trek, which is ADA-accessible.

Work has been underway for more than a year on the $1.9 million project, paid for with donations from the Northwest Trek Foundation, companies, individuals, grants and a voter-approved Metro Parks Tacoma bond issue.
Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek.
“Kids’ Trek is a link between our younger audience and the natural world, encouraging them to explore more,” Varsik said. “We think engaging children more closely in nature-themed play activities will help them develop a greater appreciation for the world around them.”
All the features have a purpose, Education Curator Jessica Moore explained, from the animal tracks ripe for identification to the collection of tumbled branches ready for creative tinkering. The idea, she said, is to provide opportunities for children to learn and explore. That includes periodic visits from the discovery cart—a mobile science station with magnifying glasses and activities.

Northwest Trek is currently open from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Beginning March 18, Northwest Trek will extend its hours to be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission to Kids’ Trek is free with membership or a paid ticket to Northwest Trek. For more information, go to www.nwtrek.org/kidstrek.

Outdoor Play Tools at Home

If you live far away from Northwest Trek, you can still promote outdoor exploration in your early learning curricula or at home. According to NAEYC, the best tools for outdoor play and learning involve:
  • Anchored play equipment - such as swings, slides or climbing structures.
  • Natural elements - such as trees, shrubs, flowering plants and anything else you might find in your own backyard. 
  • Risks and challenges - equipment and activities that allow children to adventure or take risks (safely) such as logs or balancing beams.
  • Wheeled toys - such as tricycles, wagons or bikes (used with safety gear).
  • Manipulative equipment - objects such as balls, jump ropes, hula hoops can allow children the ability to practice object control such as throwing and catching.
See more suggestions for outdoor play and learning here: NAEYC Outdoor Play.

Monday, March 14, 2016

DEL Redesigns Scholarship Program

The Department of Early Learning is excited to announce the redesign of the scholarship program for early learning professionals! This will allow us to streamline services and support early learning professionals in their career development.

Beginning July 1, 2016:
  • Early Achievers Grants: Students pursuing an Early Childhood Education certificate and/or Associate Degree offered through a Washington State community and technical college will apply to for an Early Achievers Grant through their local community and technical college. This scholarship program is managed by the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.
  • Washington Scholarships for Child Care Professionals: Students pursuing their Child Development Associate Credential (CDA), GED or attending a public University working towards a Bachelor’s degree will apply to Child Care Aware of Washington for a Washington Scholarship for Early Learning Professionals. This program is managed by Child Care Aware of Washington. Current Washington Scholarship recipients will continue to be funded by Washington Scholarships while actively enrolled and meeting eligibility criteria.
"We support a seamless transition for current scholarship recipients with continuous financial assistance, advising and uninterrupted course work," said DEL Assistant Director Nicole Rose.
DEL and state partners will develop a transition plan and will share additional information in the coming months regarding scholarship applications, eligibility and guiding resources for scholarship recipients (such as an FAQ document).

For more information about scholarships, educational programs and career options in early learning, please visit the newly-developed Early Childhood Education Career Planning Portal at http://ececareers.del.wa.gov.   If you have immediate questions, you may contact MERIT Support at MERIT@del.wa.gov.