Contributors: Gabriella Caferro, QPPD Administrative Specialist and Early Learning Coaches Emily Zartman, Fanny Yang, Aaron Jeffers, Shawn Harris, Katie Culler, Amina Sudduth
As the summer comes to an end, DEEL is shining a light on how schools and community-based organizations prepared students for in-person learning for their return to classrooms this fall. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting several programs that provided increased academic, social and emotional learning opportunities that support student wellness and success. In this article, we feature Seattle Preschool Program’s home learning kits which provided families with materials to support their child’s learning and development from home throughout the pandemic.
When the pandemic began, keeping 3- and 4-year-olds engaged through remote learning proved to be a challenge for parents and teachers. Early learning research shows us that at this age, children rely heavily on sensory exploration to build an understanding of the world around them. Interacting with tangible objects makes important sensory connections in children’s brains and builds important foundations for learning and development. As the rich learning environment of preschool classrooms was altered to a virtual format, families’ access to the wide assortment of materials typically found in a preschool classroom was limited. Families and educators found themselves in new, uncharted territory.
To address this need for Seattle’s youngest learners, the Department of Education and Early Learning’s (DEEL) Quality Practice and Professional Development (QPPD) team developed home-learning kits for children enrolled in DEEL-sponsored early learning programs such as birth-to-three services, Seattle Preschool Program (SPP), and SPP Pathway programs to increase parent engagement in their child’s learning and support healthy childhood development from home.
DEEL’s team of Early Learning Coaches designed the kits to include materials conducive to social-emotional learning, literacy, math, science, motor skills, creative arts and outdoor exploration. Materials provided in the first kit in August 2020 included crayons, scissors, glue, and counting links. In the 2020-2021 school year, twenty-two preschool programs and seven birth-to-three agencies participated in the home learning kit program.
The first shipment of learning kits were received with enthusiasm by children, parents and educators alike. Noreen Johnson-Latour, a preschool provider at YMCA Preschool at Hallows shared that DEEL’s kits, “allowed us to make sure children had quality materials for learning at home in a remote setting. We were able to build a stronger home-school connection by allowing us to create activities kids could do at home using items we knew they had access to with little or no work on families’ part. And the smiles on the kids’ faces when they received the materials were priceless.”
As the year progressed, the kits evolved to provide new materials such as playground balls, watercolors, a fort builder, children’s yoga kits, sensory sand activity sets, and more. DEEL also sent home an additional learning kit in June 2021 to encourage continued summer learning for preschool-age children. Based on remarkably positive feedback from parents and preschool providers, DEEL announced it would continue providing home-learning kits to families of young children on a quarterly basis. In total, DEEL has invested $700,145 to provide 6,200 home learning kits for children ages 0-5 years old enrolled in DEEL’s partner early learning and preschool programs from August 2020-September 2021.
Parent engagement and support in infant and toddler education sets children up for success in kindergarten and beyond. Mabel Kwong, a preschool provider at CISC Yesler Bilingual Preschool, shared that the kits were, “a good reward to help children maintain motivation in this challenging year of remote learning. The children were so excited about these materials, and parents were pleased to see that DEEL provided safe and age-appropriate activities.”
“We are thrilled that DEEL is providing what our children need for them to thrive during virtual learning,” said Carol Brown, Director of First Place, a Seattle Preschool Program provider. “Our families are so excited about the support given for our virtual preschool classrooms. We are thankful to DEEL for supporting us in fostering a healthy environment where children can develop, learn, grow and have fun doing so.”
This fall, DEEL is shifting the home learning kit model to make materials available for all children accessing in-person preschool service due to the increased parent engagement and positive effect of continued learning at home during the pandemic. In the 2021-2022 school year, DEEL will provide 2,000 home-learning kits to infants, toddlers, and SPP preschoolers. Families can still view weekly learning activities developed by DEEL’s Early Learning Coaches that utilize materials included in last school year’s kits at seattle.gov/education/for-parents/home-learning-resources. All DEEL-contracted early learning and preschool program providers can opt-in to DEEL’s home-learning kit program by contacting Gabriella Caferro by email at email@example.com.
Funded by the Families, Education, and Preschool Promise (FEPP) Levy, SPP provides accessible, high-quality preschool to Seattle families regardless of their financial means with a focus on eliminating race-based kindergarten readiness gaps. SPP offers specialized dual-language preschool classrooms throughout the city and culturally responsive early education and learn and grow with peers from all backgrounds. Enrollment for the SPP 2021-2022 school year is open now through March 2022. Learn more about SPP and apply today at seattle.gov/applyspp.