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Education Lab Blog

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

Topic: early learning

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January 26, 2015 at 5:00 AM

The growth of language/social skills may start with parents’ gaze

Somewhere around 10 months of age, babies begin watching their parents’ eyes, following the direction of their gaze so that they can look at the same things.

It goes like this: Baby looks into mother’s eyes, mother looks at the kitty cat, so baby follows her gaze until they’re both looking at the kitty cat together.

That’s long been considered an essential skill for later social and intellectual development — and it’s one of the things doctors check for when diagnosing autism. But it has been unclear how the ability is linked to everything else unfolding in a young child’s brain.

Now researchers at the University of Washington are beginning to connect the dots between gaze-following at 10 months of age and skills that emerge later such as language and the ability to see the world from someone else’s perspective.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences

January 8, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Washington’s preschool program has good results, low participation

From left, preschoolers Emily Cortes-Gonzalez, Daisy Rojas-Pineda and Paloma Castro converse together during an open-ended activity session at the Denise Louie Education Center in the Beacon Hill. Photo by  Marcus Yam / 2014.

Seattle preschoolers interact with each other during an open-ended activity session at the Denise Louie Education Center in the Beacon Hill. Photo by Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times 2014.

Washington state’s preschool program is boosting achievement in math and reading in elementary school, but the state lags behind most of the country in signing children up, according to two recent reports.

Washington ranks 47th among states on several measures of preschool enrollment included in the annual “Quality Counts” report by Education Week, the national newsweekly.

In that report, released today, Washington earns a D grade because of lower-than-average enrollment in preschool overall and in the federal Head Start program, as well as a yawning enrollment gap between rich and poor.

For example, almost two-thirds of kids growing up in households bringing in $100,000 or more a year attend preschool in Washington. But only 4 in 10 kids from households making less than $20,000 are enrolled, according to Education Week.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, preschool, school funding

January 3, 2015 at 9:00 AM

On the agenda: Free early learning event, school funding forum

Two upcoming events:

On Tuesday, Jan. 6, Tom Ahearne, attorney for the consortium that filed the landmark McCleary school-funding case will speak at a meeting sponsored by the Seattle Council  Parent, Teacher and Student Associations, the League of Women Voters and the Seattle Education Association. It is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Seattle Public School headquarters, 2445 Third Ave. S., Seattle.

Along with Ahearne, the event will also feature speakers who will talk about options for new revenue for schools, and the Council will talk about how its members can advocate for more education funding.

The event is free, but seating is limited.  RSVP at:

On Wednesday, Jan. 7, nearly 300 King County  elected officials, educators and representatives of  agencies, organizations, businesses, and parent advocacy and faith-based groups will meet to talk about how they can work together to make early learning a county-wide priority.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, Neuroscience and education

December 24, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Inslee’s budget calls for all-time biggest boost to early learning

Among a slew of education proposals announced during Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget rollout last week, Inslee suggested a hefty boost to the state’s Department of Early Learning — $177 million over the next two years, more than doubling the amount of money the department gets from the state today.

The governor hailed that increase as the “largest-ever state investment in early learning.”

He is right.

Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee

As far as the 8-year-old Department of Early Learning is concerned, the $177 million increase would be the department’s biggest ever, said Mike Steenhout, its chief financial officer. Among other child care and early learning services, the department runs Washington state’s preschool program, called the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or E-Cap, which currently provides preschool to about 10,000 low-income students statewide.

If adopted, Inslee’s suggested $177 million increase would be nearly three times greater than the next largest funding spike in the department’s history, which came as it was ramping up around 2007. Inslee proposed adding $2 million for home visits, $4 million for early intervention with special needs toddlers and providing $70.5 million in state dollars for the Early Achievers child care rating and improvement program, which is today almost entirely funded by a one-time federal grant.


Comments | Topics: early learning, Jay Inslee

December 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Washington state misses cut for new federal preschool dollars

Washington State fell short in a competition among states to win new federal money to expand the availability of subsidized preschool, according to state and federal officials who announced the winners on Wednesday.

Washington was one of the 36 applicants for the grants, but was not among the 18 selected.

The grants, totaling more than $226 million, were part of more than $1 billion of public and private investment in early childhood education announced by President Obama during his White House Summit on Early Education on Wednesday.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, Federal funding, preschool

December 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Harvard experts on families and learning offer apps guide for kids

Please don’t scroll down to the end of the this post because there’s a monster at the end of this post.

Well, as fans of the Sesame Street classic “The Monster at the End of this Book” know, the only monster waiting on the last page is good old lovable Grover. But now kids can enjoy the digital version of Grover’s anguished pleas to stop turning pages on their iPhone or iPad.

The e-book for preschoolers is among the free or low-cost educational apps, online games and e-books recommended by the Harvard Family Research Project for families to put those smartphones, tables and game consoles to good use over the winter holidays.

The Harvard researchers suggest that parents choose digital activities that are engaging, encourage rich exploration, stimulate language development and offer children a new way of experiencing the world.


Comments | More in News | Topics: digital media, early learning, educational apps

December 1, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Texting parents with tips boosts pre-K language skills, study says

Children from low-income families typically have fewer opportunities to develop language skills than middle-class children, which creates learning gaps evident on the first day of kindergarten.

Research shows that parents can close that gap if they read regularly to their children and take advantage of everyday activities like grocery shopping and doing laundry to build literacy skills.

But educators have long struggled with how to get that message heard widely, without spending too much money.

Stanford researchers recently tested one promising solution — text-messaging — that provides parents with bite-size tips that they can use immediately with their kids.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, parent engagement, technology

November 19, 2014 at 9:00 AM

On the agenda: Films, discussions on preschool, high-stakes testing

Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

A number of education events will be held this week on early childhood education and standardized testing.

For those of you interested in both topics, we’re sorry to say that two of them are at about the same time this coming Thursday.

On pre-K: King County is hosting a free screening of “The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation,” the opening episode in a series that will air on PBS this spring. King County says the series will explore “the importance of investing in early childhood development.”

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on “what it takes to ensure King County is a community where young children thrive.” Panel participants will include King County Executive Dow Constantine, and early learning advocates and educators. 6 p.m. Thursday, Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, 400 S. 2nd St., Renton.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, on the agenda, testing

November 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Researcher: Don’t take screens away from kids, use them wisely

What babies watch on television or computers or other screens doesn’t teach them anything they couldn’t learn in the real world.  In some cases, so-called “screen time” can do more harm than good — distracting a child and making him less likely to finish a task or solve a problem.

So why not just take screens away from little kids?

Donna Grethen / Op Art

Donna Grethen / Op Art

Because screens are everywhere your child is going to be in life, says Rachel Barr, one of the lead authors on a report out last month from Zero to Three, a nonprofit group providing parents with information on early development. It’s better for parents to help their kids learn to use screens wisely than to try to bar them altogether, Barr says.

Barr’s research summarized much of what science has found about how infants learn from two-dimensional screens since television programs like Teletubbies and The Wiggles first started targeting programming to infants in the 1990s.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning

November 6, 2014 at 6:00 PM

Mr. Marshmallow Test to talk about willpower at UW

Credit: McClatchy Newspapers

Credit: McClatchy Newspapers

The researcher who explored the lifetime benefits of delayed gratification by tempting preschoolers with marshmallows will speak at the University of Washington on Nov. 17.

Walter Mischel, now at Columbia University, devised the now-famous marshmallow experiments in the late 1960s at Stanford University. He tested the willpower of preschoolers by giving them a simple choice: Get one tasty treat immediately, or get two about 15 minutes later.

Kids were left alone in the room with a bell. Ringing the bell brought back the adult and the child got the sweet. Holding out long enough without ringing the bell, and the child got two.

Children employed clever strategies to distract themselves from looking at the marshmallow, like turning their backs on the treat.

Mischel found that kids who were able to delay gratification at age 4 had greater success decades later in school and adult life.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, Science of learning, University of Washington

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