Monday, February 29, 2016

DEL Celebrates Parents and Honors Unsung Heroes

The Department of Early Learning’s (DEL) Strengthening Families Washington division, with the help of Seattle’s Child has recognized 29 parents this past month in honor of Parent Recognition Month (February). This past fall, Strengthening Families Washington requested nominations from the public to honor “Unsung Heroes” or parents or caregivers who demonstrate strength, courage and empathy in their communities.

DEL Director, Ross Hunter makes paper & popsicle-stick 
helicopters with an Unsung Hero’s child at the 
mobile Hands On Children’s Museum.
DEL received many nominations and a committee of parents in Thurston County selected 29—one for each day in February. The 29 honorees from all over the state were then invited to Lacey, Washington for the 2016 Unsung Heroes event where family, friends and nominators shared inspirational stories about what it means to be an Unsung Hero in their communities.
“These families are up against incredible barriers, and yet, they show resilience and great strength,” said DEL Director, Ross Hunter. “I am honored to share a meal with the Unsung Heroes, hear their inspirational stories and award them for their unwavering dedication to kids.”
DEL Director, Ross Hunter and Assistant Director,
Greg Williamson honor Stephanie Cochran
(University Place).
Hunter as well as DEL Assistant Director, Greg Williamson awarded 29 Unsung Heroes and their families with a plaque and inspirational children’s book, The Dot after sharing dinner and playing with children attendees at Olympia’s Mobile Hands On Children’s Museum.
“Each honoree has a unique and truly inspiring story,” said Williamson. “Some are volunteers within their communities; others are mentors or foster parents—some have experienced great loss and personal triumph. All of the Unsung Heroes are assets to the families and children they serve daily.”
Each Unsung Hero’s story is available online at and has been shared on DEL’s Strengthening Families Facebook page.

More about Unsung Heroes

Nominator Laura Crooks reads nomination
to her husband, Hero Todd Crooks (Seatlle).
Unsung Heroes has celebrated parents and caregivers in Washington State since 2011. Nominees are selected based on their ability to utilize five “protective factors,” in their work and/or personal life such as:
·         Knowledge of parenting and child development
·         Social connections
·         Parental resiliency
·         Concrete support in times of need
·         Social and emotional competence of children

If you are interested in nominating someone for a 2017 Unsung Hero award, please look for further communication in the fall of 2016.

DEL Director, Ross Hunter plays with the wind
tunnel at the Mobile Hands On Children's Museum.
Event photos courtesy of Jamey Davidsmeyer.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Health Resources for WA's Littlest Learners

Are you looking for ways to encourage and engage young children to build healthy habits?  Check out the following resources for ideas:

Smart from the Start 

Smart from the Start is a nation-wide program designed to teach children the skills they need to make healthy choices about eating and physical activity. This program offers various curricula aimed at preschool-age children in three separate focus areas: 
  • Me and My Choices: Focuses on what is unique and special about each child and how they can make healthy food and physical activity choices.
  • Give It a Try! This focus encourages children to explore a variety of foods and engage in different activities as they learn that trying new things can be fun.  
  • Enrichment Zone: This focus provides activities and ideas for parents and caregivers. These tools help build on the lessons children learned in class so that parents can help enforce healthy habits.
Beyond lessons and curriculum, Smart from the Start offers grant funding for individual child care programs to expand or create physical activity infrastructure and healthy choice programs. The Smart from the Start Grant Awards are designed to encourage early learning professionals to create practical, long-term improvements in nutrition and physical activity at their facility. See more at:

Let's Move!

Lets Move! Child Care (LMCC) is an organization focused on preventing and ending childhood obesity. The LMCC offers obesity prevention resources and tools to child care and early learning professionals. In addition, LMCC has outlined five healthy goal areas:
  • Nurture healthy eaters
  • Provide healthy beverages
  • Increase physical activity
  • Limit screen time
  • Support breastfeeding
One of LMCC’s newest tools is the child care program self-evaluation quiz. After the quiz, you set goals for your program and make an action plan. Once your program has reached its goals, re-take the quiz and celebrate your success. By meeting the goals you set for your program—your program gets identified on LMCC recognition map! To date, 31 child care programs in Washington are participating in the Let’s Move! Child Care healthy goals. Visit the map of recognized providers or check out more information on the Let’s Move! Child Care website. 

Farm to School

Another on-line resource is the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Farm to School Toolkit.  Focused specifically for early learners, the Farm to Preschool toolkit incorporates activities designed to promote locally produced fruits and vegetables in a child care or preschool setting.  Such activities may include:
  • School garden curriculum
  • Class field trips to farms
  • In-class meal-preparation and taste-testing
Child care providers can draw upon young children’s natural curiosity to stimulate interest in local foods and draw connections between multiple areas of learning. The Farm to Preschool program is aimed at preschool age children, in any type of child care setting. Learn more at:

Friday, February 19, 2016

Governor Signs New Executive Order to Help Kids

Gov. Inslee signs executive order on February 18.
Yesterday, Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order establishing a Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families. The Governor expressed his interest in creating a Children and Family Department in Washington State government.  He is convinced that such a focus will increase the awareness of and advocacy for better outcomes for at-risk children in our state. 

According to the Governor's press release,
"Inslee intends to work with the Legislature to create a new cabinet agency charged with overseeing the services the state provides to vulnerable children and families. Many of these services are currently administered by the state Department of Social & Health Services."
Inslee cited growing evidence from states such as New Jersey, Tennessee, and Indiana that have created separate children’s departments and are seeing better outcomes due to the improved focus, visibility and accountability on children’s services.

This commission will consist of sixteen (16) members and is tasked with five outcomes due to the Governor by November 1, 2016.  DEL Director, Ross Hunter will serve on the commission along with two counterparts at the Department of Social and Health Services.  The commission will also include legislators, a representative from the Washington Federation of State Employees, judicial and tribal representatives and experts in child welfare.
"The core idea is to think about the services that we provide to children from a number of agencies and improve our coordination," said Hunter. "Can we do a better job of integrating what the Department of Health, the TANF system, child welfare, OSPI, the courts, juvenile rehab, etc. provide to kids to have better outcomes?"
Washington state made a similar move in 2007 to boost early learning by creating a Department of Early Learning. Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Seattle), chair of the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee, said the success of DEL is one reason she’s supporting Inslee’s proposal.
"Our children and families will greatly benefit from an agency dedicated to improving outcomes for our youngest Washingtonians,” Kagi said. “I have opposed this idea for many years, but the Department of Early Learning has demonstrated how much alignment and focus on outcomes can dramatically improve both the quality of services and the efficiency of managing complex programs. I wholeheartedly support the governor’s proposal."

Relevant Links

Q&As on the governor’s Executive Order: Transforming Services for Children and Families in Washington state
Executive Order 16-03: Transforming Services for Children and Families in Washington state

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Calling the Kindergarten Class of 2020

Are you the proud parent or caregiver of a child born between Sept. 1, 2014 and Aug. 31, 2015? If so, check out this very cool opportunity to share photos or videos of your little one for Thrive Washington's annual Leadership Luncheon. 

The luncheon is on Wednesday, April 6 (in Seattle) and welcomes more than 500 business, community and early learning leaders. Thrive Washington (a public/private partner of DEL) would like to share the "faces" of the Kindergarten class of 2020 with key contributors to early learning in Washington State.

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) has set an ambitious goal that ninety percent of the children DEL serves are “Kindergarten ready” by 2020. As DEL's partner in this work, Thrive Washington would like to feature the Washington State Kindergarten class of 2020 at a celebratory event with a large audience of children's advocates.

Here are the details:
  • Eligibility: Your child must have been born between Sept. 1, 2014 and Aug. 31, 2015
  • Email to
  • Send either a picture OR a 5-10 second video of your child. We know most of this will be done on cell phones, but send the highest quality images you can.
Include in the email the following information:
  • First name of child
  • Place where they live in Washington state (e.g., Seattle, Colville, Granger, etc.)
  • One sentence about what you hope/dream for your child’s future
  • Your name and your relationship to the child
Deadline to send in pictures and videos is March 1, 2016.
Everyone who submits a photo or video, even if it is not ultimately chosen for the final video, will be entered into a drawing for a $100 VISA gift card.

Official stuff:
  • By sending us your picture/video, you confirm that you are the child’s parent or legal guardian and give us permission to use it in the video, which will be shown at the luncheon and shared online. We might also use the video in community presentations throughout the year.
  • Submission of a picture/video does not guarantee that it will make it into the video, but we’ll try. The video is only about 3 minutes long.
  • You will not get a chance to review the video in advance.
  • The photo or video can only have an image of a single child. Twins, triplets, etc. are ok. Just please no pictures that include children not born between Sept. 1, 2014 and Aug. 31, 2015.
  • Please don’t send us anything that could be obscene, hateful, or places the child in a dangerous or compromising position.
  • Please don’t have any prominent logos, brands, or advertising in the image or video.
  • We will not use your picture/video in any materials beyond this video (e.g., publications, web images, solicitations, publicity, etc.).
  • We will not sell your picture/video to a third party.
  • Winner of the $100 VISA gift card will be contacted by email no later than April 15, 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

ECEAP Outcomes Report: Kindergarten Readiness and Educational Successes

Children in an ECEAP program in West Olympia eating.
The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is Washington's pre-Kindergarten program that prepares 3- and 4-year-old children from low-income families for success in school and in life. The Department of Early Learning (DEL) oversees this program.

The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is Washington's pre-Kindergarten program that prepares 3- and 4-year-old children from low-income families for success in school and in life. The Department of Early Learning (DEL) oversees this program.
"ECEAP is an exceptional program for our children," said DEL Director, Ross Hunter. "The evidence is in the data. ECEAP children see a significant increase in vital language, cognitive, social-emotional and mathematics skills--bolstering the probability that 90 percent of children in Washington are Kindergarten-ready by 2020."
Director Hunter released information regarding DEL's Kindergarten-readiness goal in the previously released Early Start Act report (available online at

ECEAP is aligned with nationally researched programs that have shown exceptional returns on investment and increased Kindergarten readiness in enrollees.

The newly released, ECEAP outcomes report showcases:
Children in West Olympia ECEAP Program listening.
  • Child development and learning outcomes,
  • Characteristics of children in ECEAP,
  • Kindergarten readiness data and more.
Using the Kindergarten readiness benchmark in GOLDTM by Teaching Strategies, data shows that few children start their Pre-K year in ECEAP with kindergarten entry skills. At the end of one year of ECEAP, the percentage of ECEAP children with kindergarten entry skills increases significantly. For children with two years of ECEAP, the results are remarkably higher.

The 2014-15 school year was an expansion year for ECEAP with:
  • A total of 47 ECEAP contracts with educational service districts, school districts, community colleges, local governments and nonprofits; eight contractors were new to ECEAP this year.
  • A total of 336 ECEAP sites across Washington, including 65 new locations.
  • A total of 10,091 slots for children, which was an increase of 1,350.
To check out the ECEAP outcomes report, go to DEL's homepage at To learn more about ECEAP, visit and search "ECEAP."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Becoming an Early Learning Professional Made Easy by Online Tool

The Department of Early Learning (DEL), the Center for Excellence for Careers in Education and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) have partnered to release the Early Childhood Education Career Planning Portal.
Screen shot of Early Childhood Education Career Planning Portal.
“Professional development is a key component of enhancing early education in Washington state,” said DEL director Ross Hunter. “The launch of this portal is one way that we hope to make higher education and training accessible.”
The portal is currently live at It features early childhood career options with “day-in-the-life” descriptions and position qualifications. Users can easily 
  • browse college degrees and certificates,
  • connect directly with college advisors and
  • begin planning careers and education goals. 
Users are also able to navigate the site independently, with an advisor or an Early Achievers coach.

One of the most innovative features of the Early Childhood Education Career Planning Portal is the advanced search function. It allows for a map-view of all educational programs throughout the state—online programs are also listed and described.

Support services are available on the portal, including, scholarship information, links to early learning partners and the professional development division at DEL.

For more information about professional development or the new portal, please contact:

Monday, February 1, 2016

Outstanding Child Care Center Experiences Emergency

On January 20, 2016, a fire started during child care hours at KidSpace, Inc., a licensed center located in Vancouver, WA. All the children and employees evacuated in a quick and organized manner as noted in an article in the Vancouver Columbian. To read the article click HERE.

Having a disaster plan and performing regular evacuation drills are one of the requirements of being licensed to operate a child care facility in Washington state; for centers, this requirement is spelled out in WAC 170-295-5030. But beyond just meeting the basic requirements—understanding the importance behind why something is required, helps to motivate us to go beyond the minimum standards and aim for excellence.

No one wants to think about a fire or other emergency situation happening at a child care facility—but it happened at KidSpace and it can happen anywhere. Fortunately, this facility had a well-thought-out evacuation plan and practiced drills with enough frequency that children and employees did not need to think, but just react. 

A DEL employee in the Vancouver licensing office has a school-age child that attends this child care facility. In talking about the fire at the child care facility, the child initially thought that the evacuation was simply a drill because the teachers remained calm. It was only after the child got outside and saw fire fighters, did the child realize it wasn’t a fire drill but an actual fire!
Vancouver Columbian report shows firefighters
on roof of Kidspace.
 A licensed child care facility located nearby saw flames at KidSpace and offered this space to help out. 

This helped KidSpace employees keep the children out of the elements and block the potentially traumatizing view of the fire burning their child care center. Parents, emergency personnel and employees from the nearby facility commented on how the KidSpace employees remained calm and collected which let the kids know that they were safe.

After an emergency situation, it is a good time for all providers to evaluate emergency plans and make changes if needed. Mark Kastenbaum, SW Regional Health Specialist, has provided the following resources for emergency planning:
In light of the fire at KidSpace facility and the quick and organized evacuation—we want to use this opportunity to commend and celebrate the KidSpace employees’. The Vancouver licensing staff have been working very closely with KidSpace employees to evaluate temporary space for KidSpace to use while their permanent facility gets repaired and rebuilt.

After the dust settles a bit, we want to use this experience as an opportunity to study this scenario like a case study and work with KidSpace to evaluate their emergency evacuation plans and see if they would tweak anything if this were to happen in the future. By sharing this experience with other providers—we can promote sharing of best practices among the early learning community.