Using Technology with your Preschooler

When my children were young 25 years ago, when we waited to see the doctor, at the car repair shop, or in any other potentially trying situation for young active children, we cuddled and read books together, or I brought their favorite toys (which I let them choose) and we played together.

Today, when I walk into a waiting room, I see parents engrossed in their magazines or talking to each other while their toddlers play on i-pads or other electronic devices. Sure, the children are quiet, but is this really good for the children?

Advocates claim that introducing very young children to computers gives them an intellectual head start. They believe computer programs designed for toddlers can increase hand-eye coordination and attention span, and stimulate budding minds.

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Bring Books to Life with Interactive Reading

When children are actively part of the storytelling experience, it helps their brains to develop and prepares them to read independently later. And they like it better!

So when you read with your children, try asking them questions that will help them to think about the story and relate the stories to their life experiences.

The best questions don’t have one right answer.  Ask questions that prompt your child to think about the story and express an opinion. Doing this helps children to practice language, develop bigger vocabularies, and develop a love of books and reading aloud together.

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First 5 Launches Pilot Child Care Rating System

Parents looking for quality child care in Contra Costa will soon have an easier time identifying it, thanks to a new quality rating system First 5 Contra Costa and our partners are launching this month.

We’ve selected 20 child care centers to participate in a pilot Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) designed to support and assess the quality of licensed child care programs. Each site will be rated and earn points for various elements of quality, such as teacher-child ratios, teacher qualifications, and teacher-child interactions. The total points determine the overall rating, similar to ratings for hotels, movies, and restaurants.

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Retaining ECE Providers in Professional Development Activities

Recently, First 5 Contra Costa awarded a total of $220,000 in financial stipends to child care providers who completed , a rigorous year-long professional development program designed to improve child care quality, especially for low-income children. Called CARES Plus, the program trains providers on teaching techniques (using the CLASS tool) that create an optimal learning environment for children.

A total of 171 child care providers received a stipend, which ranged from $800 to $1,800, for completing the program. Our participants currently work in child care, mostly with lower-income children. Many start their days at 7:00 a.m. and go until 6:00 p.m. Most have families of their own. And most don’t earn more than $35,000 a year for the critically important work they do preparing children for kindergarten.

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Fun Math and Science Activities for Your Preschooler

Did you know that U.S. students finished 25th in math and 17th in science in the ranking of 31 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development?

“These numbers are a disgrace, honestly. We wouldn’t tolerate it if it was one of our sports teams competing internationally. The whole country would be up in arms,” says Mary Ann Rankin, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative.

There are many federal and local efforts underway designed to get more students into the STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – pipeline. Most of these efforts begin around junior high. But I think we need to start even earlier – and we are. Continue reading

What’s the Latest on California’s Race to the Top Grant?

It’s been a few months since California was one of nine states to win a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant to improve early learning systems, particularly for children most in need. So what do we know so far about how these funds may benefit young children in Contra Costa County?

This first thing to note is that it’s not a lot of money. California originally requested $100 million, but received $52.6 million. The Bay Area’s portion of this will be $8.8 million over a four-year period, and Contra Costa will receive about $1.5 million. Despite the reduced funding, the grant is still expected to benefit 65% of children under five in California, or about 1.8 million children. Continue reading

California’s Kindergarten Readiness Act – Now What?

It’s kindergarten registration season in school districts throughout California. Some parents may be wondering if their child is ready for kindergarten, while others may be wondering if their child is even eligible.

New kindergarten entry requirements coupled with possible state budget cuts makes this a very confusing time for parents of soon-to-be kindergartners.

For years, California kindergarteners had to turn 5 before December 2 in order to register for kindergarten. The Kindergarten Readiness Act (SB 1381), passed in September 2010, changed the entry date to September 1 so all children would enter kindergarten at age 5. The new age requirement is being phased in over three years starting in 2012-13. Continue reading

What Makes a Preschool Great?

A great deal of thought and consideration goes into selecting a quality preschool for your child. Experts say that the most important component of quality preschool is warm, nurturing teachers and caregivers. Quality preschool also includes the children’s day-to-day experiences as well as safe environments in which children can engage in interesting activities.

As you look for the right preschool, I recommend that you visit several different types of programs and bring your child with you when you visit. Trust your intuition. Continue your search until you find the right program for you and your child. Continue reading

Reading Tips for Children with Special Needs

We know that when parents read aloud with their children regularly, children’s vocabulary increases and they are more prepared for kindergarten. But for children with special needs or disabilities, reading together is not always so simple. The type of story, its illustrations, how the pages feel, or the way the story is told make a big difference.

To ensure children with special needs enjoy books and the positive experience reading with an adult brings, Ange Burnett, the Coordinator of the Contra Costa Child Care Council Inclusion Project, offers these tips:

1. Not all books are appropriate for all children. When you choose books to adapt, consider every part of that book, from color to content. Pay attention to the story theme and the illustrations. Look at the print size, book size, and even the texture of the cover or pages. Continue reading