Posts Tagged ‘prek’

The Importance of Family in Early Childhood Education: Now is the Time to Reengage

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Lori Reemts, Project Coordinator for Curriculum & Instruction

Early childhood educators are a unique brand of teacher. Much like each level of a child’s school career, the earliest exposure brings dynamic challenges and high rewards. There is much to be said for these educators who really start it all. As the end of the academic year approaches, a mixture of emotions surges for these dedicated educators.

I am proud of my students, but have my little ones grown enough to be ready for the challenges of kindergarten and beyond? 

I am proud of myself, but have I done all I can do to help foster their academic growth as well as their physical, emotional, and social growth? 

Yes! We conquered the separation issue and there is no more crying!

What about that lingering behavior challenge? I still need to address that in a more proactive and supportive way. Do I have time? There is still 3 months of school left – but I need some help. 

I started the year off with great parent involvement and communication but it seems to have slowed. How do I keep parents informed and working with me as partners for their children’s growth? Will the support needed to sustain their growth occur in the summer? Maybe parents don’t know what to do.

I love and adore my kids but – oh my – how long is it until summer again?

At this time of year it may be worthwhile to spend a little time revisiting and reflecting on progress made so far. It may be easy to slip into the daily routine and perhaps miss opportunities to renew, reignite, or reinvigorate potential partners in our students’ learning, specifically the students’ family members.

It takes a village, a simple take on the Nigerian proverb regarding raising children, seems to be an idea of increasing importance as our society grows and changes. This idea can be loosely translated in support of the importance of the teacher/parent relationship. Research has consistently shown that meaningful family engagement in children’s early learning supports school readiness and later academic success. This really isn’t arguable. Parents understand this. Parents, like teachers, wish nothing but the best for their children. Parents, unlike most teachers, sometimes feel they are ill-equipped, lacking in resources, or that they simply do not understand early learning. It is important that we continue including and sharing with our families of preschoolers so that they are more confident in their abilities to productively support their child’s learning.

The National Institute for Early Education Research released a study in 2012 which looked at changes in parental expectations for their children’s school readiness and at in-home practices.  The study found that (for the time between 1993 and 2007) parent expectations for their children to be school ready increased. At the same time, the study found a significant decrease in the time families were engaging in activities that support children’s growth in skills such as self-regulation and higher order thinking, both of which contribute significantly to children’s school readiness (Snow, 2013). In an effort to provide the best for our young ones we often overlook the simple things that are directly in front of us. Rather than assume ill-will or apathy, let’s assume a lack of knowledge and practice.  After all, parents are not required to be certified; they do not have a specialization in early childhood.

It is in our best interest to not only partner with parents and family members, to support them as we all support the student, and to reinvigorate the family efforts and involvements but to work to keep that relationship mutually beneficial, just as we would any relationship.

Perhaps your classroom once had what seemed to be high parent interest and involvement, but as the year progresses that partnership seems to have waned. Where did they go? Perhaps your classroom has never really seen family engagement at all. Again, it is important to refrain from any temptation to pass judgment, and to seek to understand the “why” so that we can be the supportive resource our students need us to be. There are some simple ways to re-engage the families, thereby reinvigorating the partnership in learning. This, in turn, supports the village that supports the child not only in a pre-kindergarten setting, but throughout their learning career.

Ideas to Begin, or Refresh and Reinvigorate!

  • Reflect on your classroom environment and climate—is it still welcoming?
  • Create opportunities for authentic and useful parent involvement (i.e., within classroom supporting students, outside of the classroom prepping supplies or materials, etc.).
  • Hold “parent academies” either in person or online prepping families for the transition from PreK to Kindergarten. Build their understanding of resources that foster student growth in self-regulation and pretend play, learning about literacy and math development, and sustained growth over summer.
  • Encourage/model purposeful play, including open-ended questioning during play.
  • Create a “reference” sheet pulling together helpful hints to help parents as they work on open-ended play; interactive reading and questioning; authentic and meaningful praise; making connections; building on small challenges to gently push toward something new or a bit more complex; repeating and extending what a child says; using interesting vocabulary; modeling expected and appropriate behaviors; and encouraging investigation in self-selected areas, etc.
  • Share websites such as
  • Use regularly scheduled opportunities, such as conferences and materials (i.e., class newsletter) to share information, hints, and celebrations.
  • Create/display/share concrete collections of student experiences (i.e., student products, in-class photos, class memory books).
  • and more!

It could be argued that families are the most influential resource that early educators have whether it is the beginning of the year or the end. Make use of this resource! Renew and keep the partnership strong through the end of the year and beyond.


Snow, K. (2013, January 1). Research News You Can Use: Family Engagement and Early Childhood Education. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

Oral Language Development in Early Childhood

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Cathy Doggett, Education Specialist – School Ready

Broad achievement gaps exist prior to school entry. Four-year-olds from low income families have heard 45 million fewer words than their higher socioeconomic status peers, leading to a great disparity in vocabulary size. (Hart-Risley, 1995) English Language Learners have significantly lower vocabularies than their peers. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012) Researchers have found a strong correlation between the receptive vocabularies of Pre-K students and their 4th and 7th grade reading comprehension scores.  (Tabors, Snow, and Dickinson, 2001)

Twenty-six of the Pre-K Guidelines are devoted to language development. Yet time spent on language development in Pre-K does not always reflect its importance.  A recent study found that teachers introduced on average only one new vocabulary word per read aloud. (Zucker et al., 2013)

Research shows that in order for language instruction to be effective, it must be:

Intentional– New vocabulary is explicitly taught. The teacher plans experiences and lessons specifically to support language development through center activities, small group lessons, read alouds, and daily routines. (Justice, et al. 2005)  Click here to view a 2 minute video example of a small group language building lesson. (Video is from the Region 13 School Ready website –

Meaningful– The teacher introduces vocabulary that relates to a common theme which reflect students’ interests and daily experiences (e.g., “My community” rather than “polar bears”).

Rich with Opportunities for Practice– Robert Marzano concluded that “to understand the word at deeper levels… students require repeated and varied exposure, during which they revise their initial understanding….…Without [these] experiences … word knowledge remains superficial…” (Marzano, 2004) Students need multiple opportunities to practice new words over time, often in playful learning centers.

Consider all the language possibilities in a Dramatic Play Center that is transformed into a weather station: mild, warm, hot, cool, cold, freezing, light, moderate, heavy, clear, partly, mostly, low, mid, high, wet, dry, sunny, cloudy, rainy, windy, stormy, snowy.

Story retelling is another great way to promote language development.  After reading The Mitten by Jan Brett, a teacher uses masking tape to create a mitten on the floor. She first guides children to pretend to be the characters and climb into the mitten as they retell the story. Later they retell the story independently in the Library Center.

The School Ready Pinterest page offers 14 different boards of ideas for transforming the Dramatic Play Center into different “places” that offer opportunities to use different vocabulary sets (e.g., farm, doctor’s office).



Austin ISD, Manor ISD, Del Valle ISD, Pflugerville ISD, E3 Alliance, Success by 6, and Region 13 collaborated to create a tool for administrators to use to evaluate the quality of language instruction and supports in a Pre-K classroom.  It’s available through the School Ready website.


Hart, B. &  Risley, T. (1995).  Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

Dickenson, D.K., Snow, C.E., & Tabors, P.O. (2001). Homes and schools together: Supporting language and literacy development. In: D.K. Dickenson and P.O. Tabors (Ed.), Beginning literacy with language. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). The nation’s report card: Vocabulary results from the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments (NCES 2013 452). Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Zucker, T.A., Cabell, S.Q., Justice, L.M., Pentimonti, J.M., & Kaderavek, J.N. (2013). The role of frequent, interactive prekindergarten shared reading in the longitudinal development of language and literacy skills. Developmental Psychology, 49, 1425-1439.

Marzano, R. (2004). Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Justice et al., (2005) in Baker, S.K., Kameenui, E.J., & Simmons D.C. (1995). Vocabulary Acquisition: Synthesis of the Research.  National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators. University of Oregon.

Making the Most of Pre-K Team Meetings

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Authors: Cathy Doggett and Leslie Gaar de Ostrovich, School Ready Specialists

Pre-K teachers often use team meetings to share activity ideas for upcoming themes and to plan field trips and special events.  As the demands for school readiness increase, it’s necessary to shift the focus on team meetings to improving lesson quality and linking data to instruction.

Teachers who use team meeting time effectively work at least 45 minutes per week together on clear, measurable goals to increase student learning.  Team members come prepared to reflect on and plan lessons, discuss assessment data, and discover new strategies to support student learning.  Each team member reviews the Teacher’s Edition (TE) and/or scope and sequence of the curriculum ahead of time and is prepared to assume a role in planning process.



Team members begin the meeting by discussing what went well during the week.  One teacher serves as a facilitator, leading the team through a pre-determined agenda.  Teachers share lesson details that will help each other.  For example, Teacher A explains changes/improvements that she will make to the math lessons from the TE and additional math lessons she will teach.  She also shares materials she created for these lessons, ideas for extending math lessons into centers, and strategies for gathering data to assess math competencies on the Pre-K report card.

Teachers B and C discuss details for read-aloud lessons and centers related to the new theme.  As the recorder, Teacher C uses an action plan list for each task, listing who is responsible and by when they will complete it.  For example, Teacher A may need to e-mail shape cards to her team members by Thursday.



Teachers take time to identify opportunities to collect data to assess student understanding by using checklists, work samples, etc. They plan time to teach key Pre-K guidelines/competencies.  Occasionally they use team meetings to analyze assessment data and consider how they’ll need to alter RtI Tier I and Tier II instruction for struggling students.

Please use these School Ready website resources to help your Pre-K team maximize meeting time to improve school readiness:

  • Pre-K Team Meeting Frequently Asked Questions
  • Pre-K Team Meeting Outline
  • Pre-K Team Meeting Norms
  • Key Components of Collaborative Team Meetings

Professional collaboration requires a sophisticated skill set for open communication and conflict resolution. Without administrative support for teachers to develop and use these skills, collaboration is unlikely to be effective or sustained.

Questions to Consider:

  • What is really happening during your Pre-K Team Meetings?  How much meeting time is spent on deep reflective discussion about improving lessons and tying lessons to student data?
  •  What is one small step you can take to support your teachers to use meeting time to make more data-driven planning choices?


Meaningful, Challenging Writing Opportunities for Young Children

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Author:  School Ready Team

Writing in many early childhood classrooms is limited to:

  • Copying words
  • Name writing
  • Helping the teacher compose a Morning Message
  • Practicing correct letter formation
  • Whole group journal writing on assigned topics


While these practices are part of Pre-K writing instruction, much is missing! Opportunities to learn Pre-K Guideline IV.B.1 (Child independently uses letters or symbols to make words or parts of words-phonetic spelling) are often particularly lacking.


Example of phonetic spelling:



A high quality Pre-K program offers a balance of meaningful teacher-led and student-led writing opportunities that include all of these 5 components.



Throughout the week in a high quality Pre-K program, the teacher and students compose lists, letters and other forms of writing through shared or interactive writing.

During Center time, students are invited to write in various centers (e.g., food orders in a Dramatic Play restaurant and observational drawings in Science Center).


Children make books regularly or engage in Writing Workshop, composing their own texts.   Name writing occurs naturally throughout the day as students sign a wait list for a popular center, answer a survey or record their names on art work.

Rather than copying their names or isolated letters over and over again, young children need meaningful reasons to write. In Real Life Reasons to Write, Louis Mark Romei offers a short list of ten compelling ways to prompt young writers:

Questions to Consider:

  • How can you challenge and support Pre-K teachers to gradually begin offering comprehensive writing instruction that includes all 5 components?
  • How can you ensure rigorous, meaningful writing instruction including opportunities to develop phonetic spelling?

What to Look for on Pre-K Classroom Walk-Throughs

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Author:  School Ready Team

Are your Pre-K classes “kid ready”?  Here is a quick list of 5 things to look for.