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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: early learning

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July 30, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Guests: The critical role of doctors in early learning

Jill Sells

Jill Sells

Mary Ann Woodruff

Mary Ann Woodruff

Equal opportunity is at the heart of many civic discussions, from preschool to the minimum wage. Rarely is it emphasized that a child’s chance to reach his or her potential is greatly impacted by what happens before he or she utters a word.

The stark reality is that inequities related to both economics and race are present in infants. Brain and economic research unequivocally demonstrate that the earliest experiences matter the most.

As pediatricians, we’ve shared the joy as families welcome newborns into their lives. We’ve helped them understand that babies are wired to learn, innately attracted to their parents’ voices and faces, and actively engaged with the people around them.

The latest University of Washington study from Patricia Kuhl at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) demonstrates that “babies practice speech long before they can talk.” Helping parents support their child’s learning from birth should be among the highest of our priorities as pediatricians. Children’s doctors are trusted by families and are uniquely able to support parents through each stage of their child’s development.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: early learning

July 9, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Kindergarten catch-up program yields results in Lake Washington

Photo by Caitlin Moran / The Seattle Times.

Photo by Caitlin Moran / The Seattle Times

Two years ago, the Lake Washington School District started a small experiment to see if it could help struggling kindergarten students catch up with their peers.

It was based on a common-sense idea: To improve, the kindergartners needed more time at school.

Kelly Pease, the district’s director of intervention programs, realized that students who were the furthest behind often were the ones who attended only a half day of kindergarten. That’s likely because many of their parents couldn’t afford the full-day programs that Lake Washington, like many school districts, offers for a fee.

Half-day programs, which the state funds, are free.

So district leaders decided to offer those students the chance to attend a free program for the second half of the day, designed specifically for them.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, early-childhood education, kindergarten

July 8, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Is preschool effective? Some good signs for incoming class of 2028

For the 9,800 children in Washington who attended the state’s preschool program this past school year, the challenges went well beyond learning to count and identify letters.

Nearly half  4,112  live in families with incomes that are half of what the federal government considers the poverty line. Roughly 10 percent are homeless, 13 percent have at least one parent with mental health issues, and for 12 percent of them, one or more of their parents never finished middle school, much less high school.

But a report from the state’s Department of Early Learning suggests that the Washington Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is making a big difference in these 3- and 4-year-olds’ lives – emotionally, physically, and academically.

The report looks at the results from a new tool that the preschool teachers are using to rate everything from how well their students follow directions to how well they know the alphabet.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, ECEAP, preschool

July 2, 2014 at 5:00 AM

It ain’t rocket science: Early experiments key to school success

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

We’ve heard plenty about the lousy performance of U.S. students in math and science, with accompanying alarm bells about future economic implications. A recent Education Lab story provides a case in point.

Now comes a raft of research suggesting that better science education could reap rewards even greater than creating an army of chemists.

The Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan policy center, has years of data showing that early education in science and math may be even more important to — and predictive of — future academic success than reading skills.

Here’s why: Science, even at the most basic level, requires reflection and explanation (providing a boost to vocabulary). It also involves identifying patterns, combining measurements and problem-solving — all key for math.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: early learning, science

June 9, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New videos offer research-based tips to boost early learning


A diagram from the training modules shows a father using eye contact to interact with his child.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) is putting its research into action by offering parents and other caregivers virtual lessons in how they can support early brain development.

A series of free online training modules is now available on the I-LABS website. Some of the tips:


Comments | More in News | Topics: Bezos Family Foundation, early learning, University of Washington

May 28, 2014 at 3:25 PM

Hot topics on Thursday’s agenda: pre-K education, school funding

Two events on Thursday will focus on big issues for public education:

At 5:30 p.m., a Seattle City Council committee will hold a public hearing on a proposal to phase in a universal pre-K program in the city. The council is considering asking Seattle voters to pay for a voluntary pre-K program that would be available for all residents on a sliding fee scale, based on their income.

Public comment sign-up sheets will be available at 5 p.m., with each speaker  allotted up to two minutes.  The hearing will be held at the Jefferson Community Center gym at 3801 Beacon Ave. S.

At 7 p.m., groups led by the Washington State Budget & Policy Center are sponsoring a conversation about the landmark McCleary school funding case, in which the State Supreme Court ruled that legislators are failing their constitutional duty to fund a basic education for all the state’s children.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, McCleary, pre-K

May 15, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Guest: Here’s what quality pre-K looks — and sounds — like

matthew o'connor2

Matthew O’Connor

People in Seattle like to make noise — and the most recent NFL season proved it. The record-setting decibels produced by fans at CenturyLink Field are a point of pride in our city.

When opening the door to my pre-kindergarten classroom, a visitor is met with a similar wall of sound. A group of children in the classroom library is performing readers’ theatre, generating the “next chapter” of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

“Maybe Goldilocks writes a letter to the bears saying ‘I’m sorry for eating your food!’” says Sydnie. A separate group is constructing what the students have decided is a food-stirring machine out of wooden blocks. “Make sure the button says ‘start’ on it!” shouts Emile, calling across the classroom to Mekhi at the writing desk, who furrows his brow and places pencil to a scrap of purple paper, saying the word start to himself slowly to parse the sounds he hears. Mekhi later tapes this scrap to the food-stirring machine, and the group declares it complete and fully functional, although its purpose and product is still up for heated debate.

It is a frenetic scene to witness — some might even call it chaos. But it is a carefully orchestrated chaos, a barely restrained madness that, when all parts are moving just right, can result in powerful change for these students. This change is rooted in something so simple: words.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: early education, early learning, Matthew O'Connor

May 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Pre-kindergarten programs in Washington at the ‘tipping point’

With all the talk about expanding pre-kindergarten programs nationally and locally, a new report this week came with a surprise.

In the 2012-13 school year, the number of 4-year-olds in state-funded pre-K across the country declined for the first time in at least 10 years, said a group of researchers from Rutgers University, with 9,000 fewer students than the year before.

The drop, they said, was driven by big declines in California and a few other states. In California alone, enrollment dipped by 15,000 students.

In Washington, enrollment stayed about the same  about 8,700 students who are 3 and 4 years old.

But this state is on the cusp of a big increase, said Amy Blondin, spokeswoman for the Department of Early Learning.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Department of Early Learning, early learning, early-childhood education

March 31, 2014 at 3:34 PM

Baby talk 101: New program puts brain research into action

The research is clear: the first few years of life are crucial to a child’s brain development and future language skills. The best way to build strong neurological connections? One-on-one, verbal interactions between the child and an adult caregiver.

But what does that interaction sound like? What’s the best way to talk to a baby who can’t talk back yet?

A Sunday story from reporter Katherine Long describes how a new pilot program is working to give parents in South King County the tools to strengthen early brain development. Called Vroom, the program includes hundreds of suggested activities — from mimicking a baby’s babbling noises to playing peek-a-boo — that parents can try at different ages.

A sampling:


Comments | More in News | Topics: baby-talk, early ed, early learning

February 6, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New preschool will teach children in Vietnamese and English


Courtesy Hoa Mai Vietnamese Bilingual Preschool

Three Seattle organizations have joined forces to open the first Vietnamese-English dual-language preschool in the city, and likely the first in the state.

The Hoa Mai Vietnamese Bilingual Preschool is scheduled to open this fall near the Mount Baker light rail station and is already accepting applications. The first open house is scheduled for Feb. 28.

The preschool grew out of discussions with Seattle’s Vietnamese community. Many parents were dismayed that their children were growing up without knowing the Vietnamese language and culture, said James Hong, director of operations at the Vietnamese Friendship Association. The association, working with Sound Child Care Solutions and Artspace, decided to open a dual-language preschool to help address that concern.

Some parents worried that young children learning two languages might not master either, Hong said, but “research we looked at … shows it pays off in the end.

“It was exciting for us to learn that a child can learn two languages at the same time and not fall behind,” he said.


Comments | More in News | Topics: dual-language, early learning, early-childhood education

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