“Beyond the Classroom” at Young Child Expo

I had the privilege this week to present at the Young Child Expo in NYC on “Beyond the Classroom: Using Community-Based Interventions to Improve Early Literacy and Math.” This is one of my favorite presentations to give! I started this presentation based on learnings from a project with Reach Out and Read Carolinas based on seeing the real, measurable impacts of a light-touch intervention to empower families.

The presentation has evolved each time, thanks to great audience participation, and I’veyoung child expo icon expanded from just talking about literacy to also highlighting math and STEM programs. I myself have changed with the presentation – when I first presented at Smart Start 2016, I wasn’t even pregnant; now, with a 15 month old, I have my own lived experiences on how to reach parents “where they are.”

You can access my slides via the Institute for Child Success. Here’s the conference write-up:

Parents are children’s first teachers, but often our efforts to improve academic and social-emotional outcome are focused solely on classrooms. Parents, extended family, and adults in the community can play a critical role in fostering early math and literacy in young learners if they have access to resources and knowledge that fit their daily lives. This workshop will introduce research on building early math and pre-literacy skills, including long-term outcomes, and highlight promising, innovative literacy and math programs outside of the classroom, including two-generation and light-touch approaches which use existing structures of everyday family life.

Where are programs in your community meeting families where they are? Can this resource help work in your community? How can we further empower all adults in a community as partners for learning? Drop me a line and let me know!

Head Start a lifeline for families in rural communities

Head Start has fascinated me for some time, starting with my time working as a literacy volunteer in a Head Start classroom in Connecticut as part of my Work-Study job during undergrad. It was, by and large, the perfect position for me – for a few hours a week, I got to leave campus, read to kids, and play around with them.

As I stumbled into the field of early childhood in graduate school – again thanks to a Work-Study position, this time with the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers – Head Start came up again and again. During my years at NIEER, we saw updates to the Head Start Impact study which were used by some who oppose the program as evidence that it does not work. The truth seems much stickier – Head Start has some academic impacts, which may fade over time; it develops social-emotional skills which resurface throughout a child’s lifetime and contribute to long-term outcomes; and, it provides crucial connections to programs and services for low-income families. Community connections are not an accident of the program, but by design; Head Start is run through Health and Human Services, not Education, which is the first hint of its broader goals.

And so many in the field – but especially those families who have been served by Head Start – were not surprised by the recent Center for American Progress report on the essential role of Head Start in rural areas. It is a crucial report for putting the spotlight on areas often left behind in our policy debates, as I explore at the Institute for Child Success’s blog:

“It is easy, sometimes, for cities to dominate the conversation on education policy in America, especially in the world of early childhood. In recent years, we have seen major preschool initiatives as central policy issues from New York to Seattle and in between. Cities, with their high student populations and larger pools of potential teachers, are an easy poster child for early childhood innovation. But a new report from the Center for American Progress makes clear what residents outside cities have known for years – the unique needs of families in rural communities are a tough fit for early childhood services.”

I’ve had the opportunity to explore data sets on Head Start in the South for a paper at ICS as well as to contribute to the Rural Trust’s report on the state of rural education. But this report from CAP fills a huge hole in the literature with this deep dive. Combining information from Head Start’s Program Information Report database with USDA data on rural geographic areas is a tough methodological lift – we had considered it for the Head Start in the South paper but ultimately decided it was too heavy a lift for the scope of that project. The CAP researchers do a huge service for the field and ensure that the voices of rural families are centered in our early childhood policies.

What Kid Readers Want

Scholastic published a new report this month focusing on the reading habits of children and their families. This is the fifth edition of the report, which included over 2,500 children and their parents. It’s one of the more fascinating things I’ve read lately, both for the points it raises that were surprising, and the fond memories I have of childhood reading.

Lisa Guernsey at the New America Foundation has a great rundown of the survey itself and of some of the more interesting findings:

The results are packed with interesting nuggets for parents and educators alike. They show a decline in “reading for fun” at home among some age groups…while they also show the importance of school to low-income children as a place for reading. A new section of the report provides insight into reading habits among parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. And many of the children’s responses throughout the report point to the power of allowing children to choose what to read.

Scholastic has published a few great graphics on the findings of the report, including what kids are looking for in books (52%…say the person who does the best job of picking out books to read for fun is ‘Me.'”) and how tastes change by age. The report includes finding on the frequency of parents reading to children, a measure that has become increasingly discussed with the recent American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for children to be read to from birth. While parents recognized the importance of reading aloud to children who were learning to read (though they often were not able to do this as much as they would like), a particularly fascinating finding was about reading to children after they are able to read on their own. From the NIEER online newsletter, which I co-write:

The study found that while more than half of children ages 0 to 5 were read to between 5-7 days each week, about one-third of children age 6-8 were read to, and only 17 percent of children ages 9 to 11 had this experience. Eighty-three percent of children ages 6-17 reported they “enjoy(ed) being read aloud to at home,” saying it was a special and fun experience with parents. Additionally, according to a piece in The New York Times, “…literacy experts say the real value of reading to children is helping to develop background knowledge in all kinds of topics as well as exposure to sophisticated language.”

Kids want to be read to. Even kids who may claim to be “too old” or “too cool” for Mom or Dad to sit down with a book may occasionally like the experience! And here’s why:


I have such wonderful memories of being read to. I agree with that 78% who say it creates a special time with parents, but as a kid myself, I go to be on the flipside. My “little brother” (read: now in his second year of teaching high school) wasn’t the strongest reader as a kid, and it kept him from being the kind of voracious reader I was. As I was tearing through the Harry Potter books, he wasn’t sure he wanted to dive into them. So I read them to him, out loud. From across the bedroom we shared. In the backseat of the car in 20 minute chunks as my mom drove out to my older brother’s high school with us in tow. For 15 minutes sitting out adult swim at the pool. When the fourth book came out, I read it for the first time while reading it to him. When the fifth book came out, he felt up to taking it on by himself, and while that was great (except for fighting over our one copy!), there was a piece of the experience now gone for me. Whether it was just the pride of being the helpful big sister or really getting to share something I loved, I treasured those moments. I’m thinking of so many parent friends who post Facebook updates of their excitement to start reading Lord of the Rings to their kids – kids who wouldn’t be ready to take on those tomes yet, but get to experience this wonderful stories complete with a reader who will do different voices, share that experience, and hopefully remember it fondly when they pick them up again on their own years later.

You might not have time to read the whole report, but do try to find the time to grab your favorite childhood book – or help a young reader find a new favorite! – and settle in with the child in your life for some quality time.

25 years later, early childhood educators still get a raw deal

This week, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment released its report Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Childhood Workforce 25 Years after the National Child Care Staffing Study with a live event at the New America Foundation. In 1989, the National Child Care Staffing Study brought attention to the high turnover rates and poverty-level salaries for early childhood education teachers. The new report revisits the topic of teacher wages and working conditions in light of the dramatic increase in attention to, and investment in, early childhood education in the last 25 years. Despite this focus at the local, state, and federal government levels, as well as in private industry and philanthropy, early childhood education teachers are still struggling to get by….Low salaries have real, negative impact on early childhood professionals. In 2012, almost half of childcare workers used one of four public income support programs to support their own families, compared to a quarter of the U.S. workforce. The utilization of these programs by early childhood workers (the Earned Income Tax Credit; Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) totals $2.4 billion per year

via Revisiting early childhood teachers, 25 years later | Preschool Matters… Today!.

Those are my thoughts on a new blog with NIEER. As a researcher talking about a new report, my job is to focus on the data and the facts. But a large part of me can’t get over the gut response of “OMG.” It’s not news that early childhood education is a low-paying field, but to see the realities of teachers lives, and what they give up for pursuing meaningful work with big impacts, is heartbreaking. The original staffing study was published just as my parents were exploring early childhood education options for me. I can’t stomach idea that my beloved teachers from that part-day, church-based programs were statistically likely to be in a rough economic place; I certainly can’t stomach the fact that friends going into the field 25 years later are facing the same barrier.

The PATH to nowhere

This started as a series of tweets and clearly got out of hand. I don’t even ride the JSQ-33rd line impacted the last three days (except weekends, when there IS no other option!). Written via smartphone on my NJT connection so please excuse formatting.

UPDATED at 9:44am to fix some formatting and add links.

PATH’s job after the fire is to assess damage & recovery time, communicate that to us, & then do it. If line needs to be shut down for repairs, that’s tough. But people need notice. If they knew night before, they can rearrange child care, try to work from home, maybe carpool, AT LEAST know to leave early for an alternate route. Last minute changes have costs in our time and money, and can be serious issues for people trying to get kids to school or get to their jobs. Last minute decisions that go out by TWITTER and not the email and text alerts regular riders rely on and sign up for creates a situation where we have no faith in this system: they are not safe, clean, or reliable, and they let us fend for ourselves. It’s not just PATH failing at communications. Riders on Twitter said they’ve had trouble boarding both NJTransit buses and trains, even though NJTranist is supposed to be cross honoring on all modes. My favorite is the rider who showed a customer service agent yet NJT tweet on cross honoring and was told they didn’t know NJT had a twitter and it might not be official. This is what thousands of commuters in the NY metro area have to deal with.

And, of course, a PATH fare increase next week.

Riders aren’t blaming PATH for the tunnel fire (but we do need more info on what happened and what’s being done to prevent it again!). But when a fire can cripple transit and no real solutions or information are offered, this is a major failure to keep our area working.