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Early Childhood Learning Initiatives

Background

The importance of early childhood learning experiences in shaping children's development throughout their lives is well documented. Current research indicates how children learn in the early years. This has led to a better understanding of the importance of quality early learning opportunities in building a strong foundation for learning and development.

From birth, children's experiences and opportunities are shaping their brains and, through construction and strengthening of neural pathways, are laying the foundation for all future learning and development. Because there are critical periods for development of some skills, such as language, it is important to partner with parents in a meaningful way to for them to engage and promote their children's optimal early learning and development. Parents are their children's first and foremost teacher. Parents who feel they are supported in raising their children and have ready access to accurate information and a variety of resources are more empowered and more likely to be engaged in activities – like talking, reading, playing, and singing with their children - that research has shown to promote children's optimal development.

Currently, provincial programs and services that support early childhood learning for children from birth to eight years and their families are provided by multiple agencies, organizations and service providers. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is identified as the lead department in collaboration with other partner departments. In addition to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, the Department of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development, and the Department of Health and Community Services all have responsibility for policy, programs and services for children birth to age eight years with a broader early childhood development focus with early childhood learning as one component. In addition, government departments that support early childhood learning through departmental led initiatives include the Department of Advanced Education and Skills and the Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs Office. Provincial strategies that support young children and their families include: Early Childhood Learning Strategy; Caring for Our Future: Provincial Strategy for Quality, Sufficient and Effective Child Care in Newfoundland and Labrador (2012-2022), A Northern Strategic Plan for Labrador (2007) and Reducing Poverty: An Action Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador (2006).

Funding was announced in the 2011 Speech from the Throne to advance the development and implementation of a provincial early childhood learning strategy entitled Learning from the Start. Initial focus is on the birth to three years period with a specific focus on supporting parents and the important role they play in supporting their children's early development and learning. Approved initiatives include: development and implementation of an early childhood learning curriculum framework, parent resources (including parent kits and website development), early literacy programming, promotional campaign focusing on the early years and play based learning; website development; and evaluation including implementation of the Early Development Instrument (EDI) and an early childhood evaluation framework.

In addition to birth to three initiatives, listed above, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development offers KinderStart/ Bon départ, a transition to school program which aims to enhance children's transition to school. All are described below in more detail below.

Children's overall development and early learning, including early literacy/numeracy, is a key focus for all initiatives.

Birth to Three Initiatives

Early Childhood Learning Framework:

  • An early childhood learning framework has been developed that outlines a pedagogical approach to early childhood learning with specific emphasis on play-based learning, the important role of adults in supporting children's early learning, a holistic approach to children's development and learning, and inclusion of children with exceptionalities.
  • This Framework includes a priority focus on parent and child interaction in relation to emergent literacy skills and child development targeting infants and children from birth to age eight.
  • This Framework provides the overarching and guiding principles for the early learning of children across all learning environments which include home, child care settings, community, and school.
  • The Framework outlines the four goals for early childhood learning: Well-Being & Belonging, Communication, Play & Exploration, and Social Contribution
  • The Early Childhood Learning Framework was piloted as an interim document in phases within various early learning settings:
    • Phase I April – June 2013 in regulated child care and family resource centres;
    • Phase II September – December 2013 at home, direct home services program, and library settings;
    • Phase III December 2013 – present in KinderStart program, kindergarten and primary grades, and public health programs.
  • The pilot findings informed the development of the Reflection document of the Framework document as well as the orientation required for phase-in of the Framework once it is released.
  • The early childhood learning framework is planned for phase in to early childhood learning environments beginning Fall 2014.
  • The Early Childhood Learning Framework and its supporting documents are being finalized and set to be launched in the near future.

Parent Resource Kits:

  • This is a partnership between the Division of Early Childhood Learning, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and Child Health Clinics, offered through the Regional Health Authorities. Parent Child Health Clinic visits are universally available to all families and their children at age 2, 4, 6, 12, and 18 months, and during the preschool child health clinic at the age of approximately 3½ years.
  • Parent Resource Kits have been developed and include a variety of early learning materials. Materials have been selected and/or developed through an inter-departmental committee with representation from departments on the Ministerial Council as well as the four Regional Health Authorities.
  • Resources provided in the kits are complementary to those already provided by public health nurses, and will support the existing work of public health nurses through the provision of take home resources, key messaging on child development topics and early learning materials that will help to extend the learning home.
  • Parent Resource Kits are provided throughout the province during regularly scheduled visits with public health nurses at age 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 months child health clinics.
  • Parent Resource Kits will also be provided at age 24 and 36 months. The delivery of these kits is not yet finalized and may include multiple delivery options, including provision through family resource programs, regulated child care, early intervention and early literacy programs.
  • By the time children reach Kindergarten age, parents/caregivers will have been provided with a range of early learning resources and developmentally appropriate materials to extend their children's learning and development through everyday activities that they do with their children, at key intervals during the early years. Language and literacy development through play-based learning is a priority focus in all Parent Resource Kits.
  • For example, 18 to 20 items including children's books, play items, CDs with music and nursery rhymes along with age and developmentally appropriate information, resources, tip sheets and activity guides will be provided, focusing on all areas of children's development.
  • Distribution of resource kits began in March 2012 in 20 pilot sites throughout the province.
  • Age 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 month resource kits are available in all child health clinics located throughout the province.

Early Literacy Programming:

  • Provincial early literacy programming is provided through a partnership between the Division of Early Childhood Learning, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the provincial public libraries and outreach programs
  • An early literacy program for parents and caregivers of children between birth to age three years entitled Early Literacy Foundations was launched as a pilot in January 2014.
  • Early Literacy Foundation Program:
    • Has been piloted through multiple offerings of ‘weekly' programming in which small groups of parents /caregivers attend with their children (e.g., 12-week program blocks offered several times over the course of a calendar year).
    • Is implemented by trained facilitators (with qualifications in Early Childhood Education) who are staff of the public libraries board.
    • Includes a program and activity guide supported by early literacy guiding principles (linked to the early childhood learning framework).
    • Has been implemented, to date, primarily in library settings during the pilot phase; however, there are plans to implement the program in a variety of other settings including schools, regulated child care, family resource programs and homes in the case of at-risk children and families (with location to be determined based on community needs assessments).
    • Includes provision of / access to a variety of early literacy resources, information and activities provided at program sites as well as on-line resources.
    • Includes mechanisms for referral to specialists (such as Speech and Language Pathologists or early intervention staff), as required.
    • Reflects the following guiding principles: inclusiveness, accessibility, developmental appropriateness, the important role of parents in supporting their children's development in the early years (parent – child interaction) and ensuring everyday activities support early literacy development.
    • Is under development to include an Aboriginal and/or French first language focus, as required.
    • Includes an evaluation component.
  • To date,
    • A Provincial Early Literacy Consultant has been hired through the public libraries.
    • Early Literacy Facilitators were hired and trained to implement the pilot to date. Additional staff are currently being recruited and trained to implement the program in additional communities for phase four pilot implementation scheduled to commence early next fiscal.
    • Program training package, facilitator's guide and facilitator kits are being finalized, based on pilot evaluation feedback received to date.
    • Over the three pilot implementation phases, offered between January – December 2014, 126 families and their children age birth to three years have participated in the Early Literacy Foundations Program to date.
    • The program has been piloted through 31 program offerings in 21 communities across the province.
    • Evaluation of pilot implementation is ongoing. A key finding is that the program is well received by families. The success of the program is based on well trained facilitators who are knowledgeable about child development, early literacy and have experience in working with families.

Early Childhood Learning Promotional Campaign

  • The Power of Play, a multi-year promotional campaign is currently underway which focuses on key early childhood learning messages and play-based learning.
  • The objectives of this campaign include an increased awareness of early childhood learning and the importance of learning through play, as well as an increased awareness of the parent/caregiver role in children's learning and development during the early years.
  • The campaign includes television, radio and print advertising as well as posters and other promotional items that promote the importance of learning through play.
  • Most recent promotional release was November 2013 and focuses on key parent activities of talking, reading, singing and playing with children as a foundation for learning.

Website Development

  • The Early Childhood Learning divisional website has been updated to provide parents/caregivers and early learning professionals access to resources and information on early childhood development and learning. The main objective of this initiative is to improve consistent messages based on best practice research to support the early learning needs of all children.
  • The website has been developed in collaboration with interdepartmental working groups who are key stakeholders in early childhood learning, and includes materials developed for the Power of Play promotional campaign as well as other resources highlighting best practices in early childhood learning. The website will undergo regular updates and additions.
  • Parent information on early literacy has been added to coincide with promotion of the Early Literacy Foundations program and partnership through the public libraries and outreach.
  • Community mapping of Early Childhood Learning Programs and Services is now available on the divisional website. Families can view a complete listing of available early childhood learning programs and services at a glance, search by program/service type (e.g., regulated child care, family resource centres, public libraries, child health clinics), or search available programs/services by community.

Evaluation

(1) Early Childhood Evaluation Framework
  • A logic model and evaluation framework has been developed for each of the approved Birth to Three initiatives. The objective of this evaluation framework is to evaluate each initiative through data analysis to ensure the goals and outcomes of these initiatives are met.
(2) EDI Implementation
  • The Early Development Instrument (EDI) is a population based measure for communities. It is a teacher completed instrument which measures children's readiness to learn at school across five developmental domains: physical health and well-being; social knowledge and competence; emotional health/maturity; language and cognitive development; and general knowledge and communication skills.
  • Full provincial implementation of the EDI occurred for the first time in 2013.
  • The objective of this initiative is to monitor and report on children's readiness to learn by assessing children's level of development in their first year of school.
  • The data analysis of the EDI findings will give the Early Childhood Learning Division an ability to report on how children are developing in terms of their overall developmental health and school readiness. With this data, a comparative analysis of the EDI findings can be made with other provinces, as well as comparisons within the province.

KinderStart/Bon départ

  • KinderStart is a school transition program offered in the year prior to Kindergarten entry. The program currently consists of five to ten one-hour orientation sessions organized and promoted at the school level for children and their parents/caregivers. The sessions support children's adjustment to the school environment, and provide parents/caregivers with information on how to support their children's learning at home.
  • During the first KinderStart session, children and their parents/caregivers are provided with a bag of learning resources and suggestions for home activities. Items provided in the learning resource bags include two children's books and activity guides, with an additional two books provided when children visit or contact their local library; play items; a variety of writing utensils, art, and manipulatives; and activity suggestions for parents to engage in with their children as outlined in an 18 month calendar. These learning resources focus and promote early literacy and numeracy through play, creativity and inquiry.
  • Registration for KinderStart is automatic when parents/caregivers register their child for Kindergarten at their designated school.
  • Registration takes place in the calendar year a child becomes four years of age. Parents/caregivers should watch their local newspapers and school newsletters for more details regarding Kindergarten registration in their area. Parents who have questions regarding KinderStart registration should contact their school district.
  • School principals notify parents/caregivers of the times of all KinderStart sessions in the fall of the given school year. A parent/caregiver session is held to provide a program overview and help parents prepare for their child's first school year.

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