We’re pleased to share a series of downloadable Resource Guides intended for people who work with infants and young children. These 10 guides (and two bonus resources) cover topics of interest to child care providers and early educators that are particularly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guides fall into three subject categories:
- Preparing for Children’s Return
- Understanding Young Children’s Challenging Behavior
- Supporting and Managing Young Children’s Behavior
Each guide includes a featured resource such as a video or article, followed by a brief summary of the main points and an interactive component such as a quiz or reflection question. Many of the guides are accompanied by handouts with practical ideas and activities related to the topic. The Resource Guides were compiled by CEED for the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). They are posted with MDE’s permission.
Topic I: Preparing for Children’s Return
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Topic II: Understanding Young Children’s Challenging Behavior
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Topic III: Supporting and Managing Young Children’s Behavior
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Kristina Erstad-Sankey is Associate Director of Program Quality at CEED. She and her colleagues work directly with early childhood education providers, such as Head Start locations, child care providers, and school districts.
Q: Can you describe some general principles of what a high-quality early childhood program looks like?
KES: There are basic standards in areas such as health and safety—think ratios, supervision, personal care and hygiene practices, etc. There are also standards around the materials and curriculum used, program structure, furnishings, assessments, and developmentally appropriate practices. Things like funding, data use practices, and ongoing evaluation can come into play as well.
Another important aspect of program quality has to do with the relationships among staff and families. This can mean the quality of staff interactions with children as well as the level of family involvement and inclusion. What might be less well known outside the field is that program quality can also include things like staff turnover and compensation. Another thing we look for is staff access to relationship-based professional development and training.
You might be wondering who comes up with the standards that we use to evaluate program quality. We get guidance from quality rating and improvement systems; in Minnesota, we have Parent Aware. There are also state-based child care licensing requirements, school district standards, and Head Start standards. We also draw on information from organizations that advocate for high-quality early childhood education, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
We also refer to standards that have been set by the Minnesota Department of Education called Early Childhood Indicators of Progress. The ECIPs describe the skills and knowledge that the Department of Education expects children to acquire in early childhood. The state also describes the skills and knowledge that they expect child care professionals to exhibit in their Knowledge and Competency Framework for Educators.
I know this might sound a little complicated, and it’s true that my team takes multiple dimensions of program quality into consideration when they do an assessment. However, the important thing to remember is that all of these standards and systems are working together to ensure that every child in Minnesota has access to early education that is meaningful to them.
Q: What is relationship-based professional development?
KES: Relationship-based professional development (RBPD) uses an ongoing professional relationship as the mechanism for growth and positive change in an early childhood educator’s practice. This is different from the traditional model of professional development that uses one-time trainings or in-service days as the mechanism. RBPD uses experience, reflection, and practice to help professionals set and achieve goals and have a long-term, sustainable impact.
Q: What would you like for early childhood educators to know about your team’s work?
KES: I love to highlight all of the different aspects of what we do, because often early childhood professionals are familiar with us from one specific area of our work. Maybe they have attended a training to learn how to use a formative assessment tool like Desired Results for Children and Families (DRDP) or COR Advantage. Or they have seen our staff present at a conference. We get the chance to interact with a lot of practitioners when we work with school districts on implementations and evaluations and when we conduct observations for example using the CLASS® or ERS assessment tools. We also provide group relationship-based professional development support. We are always looking for ways to partner!
One difference in COVID-19 pandemic times is that the in-person trainings that we normally offer are not possible. We are working diligently on an online format for these trainings, and when that is approved, it will appear in Develop and on CEED’s website. I’d encourage people who are interested to keep an eye out for that!
Q: What would you like for parents to know about your team’s work?
KES: One thing that seems to surprise many parents is how complex and well researched early childhood education is. Ask the early childhood professionals in your life about their work. Ask them about the assessments they use, a training or conference they went to, or what they’re up to on those staff training days. These practitioners really work hard to provide a quality program for the kids in their care, and I’ll bet they’d love to share with you the new things they are learning and thinking about.
In general, many people are surprised by the level of thought and preparation that goes into things like how a classroom is organized, how a concept is taught, or how a backyard is set up. All of these are guided by standards, research, and recommended practices. For example, a classroom might look really tidy to a visitor. We might look at how that cleanliness impacts the children in that classroom. Is the tidiness making it easier for children to find and use materials, to stay focused? Is the teacher’s time spent tidying up the room at the expense of learning moments? Taking time to learn and reflect about early childhood education is time well spent. Whether you are a grandparent taking care of a grandchild, an assistant teacher in a Head Start classroom, an educator in a toddler room, or a family child care professional, knowing how to support quality early childhood education is important!
Q: What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of work (aside from being a busy parent)?
KES: Running! I am working towards a marathon, but for now I’m just happy I can run miles in the double digits.
By Hannah Riddle de Rojas
Program quality specialist Hannah Riddle de Rojas explores two important ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has affected child care providers: financially and operationally
COVID-19 has turned life upside for people in Minnesota and around the world—including young children and the professionals who care for them. Before the pandemic hit, the child care sector already faced systemic challenges including funding, staffing, and ensuring quality. All of these have been exacerbated by current events. Let’s take a broader look at how the pandemic has affected funding for the sector before zooming in to consider how individual providers have been impacted. Please note that I’ll be using the terms “child care” and “early childhood education” interchangeably in this blog post.
How is early childhood education paid for? How has the pandemic changed the equation?
The US Department of Health and Human Services provides Head Start and Early Head Start grants to child care providers that serve low-income families. In Minnesota, the Department of Human Services supports low-income families through the Child Care Assistance Program. The Department of Education provides Pathway scholarships to low-income families as well as free voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) programs in some school districts. However, child care providers are not required to accept these subsidies, which cover only a fraction of the actual cost of care. Instead, they may opt out of accepting families who use child care assistance funds. When providers do accept these funds, they may need to offset their losses by increasing the tuition paid by families who do not qualify for assistance. That’s why most funding for child care and early education comes directly from the tuition paid by families.
How much are families paying for care? In Minnesota, early education and care tuition averages $16,172 per year for full-time infant care and $12,480 for a full-time preschooler in a center program. These costs rival many families’ rent or mortgages. With many families facing job loss or uncertainty due to the pandemic, it becomes even more difficult to pay for care.
Additionally, other families have made the difficult choice to keep children home from child care during the pandemic. Some providers also closed temporarily. These decisions have had a significant financial impact on providers. According to a March 2020 survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), 54% of Minnesota-based respondents had lost income due to the pandemic. Forty-two percent stated that they had families enrolled who could not continue to pay tuition. Thirty-three percent said that they would not survive a closure of more than two weeks without significant aid.
Is there help available for child care providers?
Congress provided $3.5 billion to states through the Child Care and Development Block Grant as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, an economic stimulus bill that passed on March 27, 2020. States were able to use these funds to support child care providers amid closures and decreased enrollment and to provide tuition assistance to essential workers.
At the state level, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz allocated approximately $40 million in Peacetime Emergency Child Care Grants to help child care providers continue to operate. The goal of the funding, which was administered in three rounds by Child Care Aware of Minnesota, was to ensure care for the children of essential workers. Ann McCully, director of Child Care Aware of Minnesota, reported that while 23% of applicants were funded in April and 30% in May, an increase in available funds meant that 67% were successful in the final round of funding in June.
In July, Minnesota’s Department of Human Services launched a grant program called COVID-19 Public Health Support Funds for Child Care. This program allocated a further $56.6 million in funding for family and center-based child care providers throughout the state. The program was intended to support all licensed providers that were open during the grant period and that were maintaining health and safety standards. The application process for this funding closed on July 26, 2020.
Providers are adapting
COVID-19 has impacted more than just child care providers’ financial situation. It has also meant substantial operational changes. I talked with several center-based child care providers in the Twin Cities metro area and a family child care provider in Morris to learn more about how they have adapted.
Jamie Bonczyk is the executive director at the nonprofit Hopkins Early Learning Center. She reports that they are currently serving 60% of the children enrolled at their program. As families begin to return to work, however, she notes that the situation is becoming more complicated.
“We have more children waiting to be served than we have the space to do so,” Bonczyk shared.
At St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development, a nonprofit that operates a child care program in Minnetonka, six of 12 classrooms are currently open. Early childhood education supervisor Mike Huber shares that they are serving 90 children out of the center’s 250-child capacity. This has meant a dramatic decrease in staffing; only 20 out of 60 staff members are currently working. These staffing shifts have also forced the center to reduce its usual programming for children with special needs.
At Edina Daycare, a Spanish Immersion program, early childhood educator Jasmine Barco explained that new health and safety standards have meant that educators needed to implement new schedules, budgets, policies and procedures. She explained that the changing standards also impacted curriculum.
“Our teachers have had to put a halt to certain activities in our curriculum, and that alone has affected our students, because of the routine that we’ve already created that then had to change,” Barco explained. “However, this has given teachers an opportunity to be flexible with their curriculum to ensure we can maximize the student’s freedom in the classroom with the new standards.”
Barco also told me that keeping a platform for keeping families up to date with changing CDC policies and procedures and answering their questions and concerns has been a priority.
Sherry Tiegs, a family child care provider in Morris, explained that enrollment in her program is at about half of capacity. Additionally, she has found that some of her business expenses have gone up significantly. For example, Tiegs remembered a visit to her local grocery store when she found that the cost of ground beef had doubled since her last shopping trip. She shared that some families in her program have lost income as parents have lost jobs, and other families haven’t been able to afford to hold their child’s spot when they aren’t attending.
The new guidelines for maintaining a safe environment and disinfecting surfaces and materials have also added to Tiegs’ work day.
“I do more detailed cleaning and disinfecting than before,” she told me. “My work hours have been extended at least by two hours (or more) every day after the last child leaves to do (indoor and outdoor) environment and toy cleaning and disinfecting.”
Along with shifting enrollment and increased safety standards, providers are dealing with the financial impact of the pandemic. Huber said he feels lucky that St. David’s Center is part of a larger agency, because the cost of administering the program is greater than the revenue it generates. Operating as part of a larger nonprofit helps smooth out the financial bumps in the road that this particular program has encountered due to COVID-19.
Hopkins Early Learning Center is facing more difficult challenges, however. “In child care, tuition is directly tied to operating capital,” Bonczyk told me. “Our revenue has been greatly reduced while fixed costs have remained the same.”
Like many providers surveyed by NAEYC, Bonczyk is worried that without additional funding, her program may not remain financially viable.
At Edina Daycare, Barco shared, fall enrollment is a major concern among staff members. “Fall is our best season for enrollment, and due to the pandemic, the majority of our events are canceled,” she explained.
“Grants are vital right now to fill the gaps, especially the ones that don’t require extra training and extra paperwork,” said Tiegs. For businesses like hers, grants from the State of Minnesota can mean the difference between surviving and closing their doors.
If you are a child care provider, we want to hear from you! What has been the most challenging aspect of providing child care during the COVID-19 pandemic?
By Deborah Ottman
In previous posts on creating online learning experiences for adults, Associate Director of Professional Development Deborah Ottman emphasized the importance of keeping your particular audience in mind as you determine the goals and learning objectives of your training or course. She also talked about structuring the learning experience—what she calls “finding a flow.” In her most recent post, she discussed fostering learner engagement and a sense of community online. In this final post in the series, which is intended for subject matter experts, Deb shows how assessment can both gauge students’ learning and build on it.
For subject matter experts and students alike, assessment can seem like something of a chore. I often think this harks back to the test anxiety that many of us have felt at one time or another when faced with a final exam or a standardized test. Yet assessment is integral to learning, and I’d argue that an assessment itself presents a great opportunity for learning to take place. The goal of an assessment should be to support and extend authentic learning. This is true whether you are designing a professional development training or an online course for degree-seeking students.
There are two general categories of assessment: formative and summative. Formative assessment happens on a regular, ongoing basis. Summative assessment takes place at the close of a section of the course or at the close of the course itself. In both instances, assessment allows the instructor to evaluate, measure, and document the strides students have made, as well as to uncover where additional learning needs may be. Moreover, formative assessment yields important information that the instructor can use to adjust instruction as the course progresses. It also provides ongoing feedback to learners, be it a percentage of correct answers on a quiz, a letter grade on a paper, or a reflective written response to a discussion post.
It’s helpful to start thinking about how assessment will be accomplished while you are gathering and organizing content. To kick start that process, I’d suggest circling back to the course goal(s) and learning objectives that you formulated at the outset. One of our guiding questions was:
What do the students need to learn?
The course goal(s), along with the learning objectives connected to achieving each goal, represented your answer to this question, and your answers shaped your content selections. They can serve the same purpose here. Let’s add another guiding question that is specific to assessment:
How can learners provide evidence that they’ve achieved the goal(s) and objectives?
I’m not talking about choosing between a multiple-choice and a true-or-false quiz, or an essay question versus a discussion board prompt. Let’s think more broadly. When considering professional development, we know that adult learners need to feel new content will be useful to their work role, so assessments should reinforce the practical application of the content. Subject matter experts will want to incorporate activities that permit learners to flex their new skills and apply their new knowledge. This can happen either out in the “real world” or through relatable tasks, scenarios, or case studies that are included in the course materials. This is known as authentic assessment.
Consider this helpful definition from education consultant Grant Wiggins, author of “Healthier testing made easy: the idea of authentic assessment”:
What do I mean by “authentic assessment”? It’s simply performances and product requirements that are faithful to real-world demands, opportunities, and constraints. The students are tested on their ability to “do” the subject in context, to transfer their learning effectively.
The best assessment is thus “educative,” not onerous. The tasks educate learners about the kinds of challenges adults actually face, and the use of feedback is built into the process. In the real world, that’s how we learn and are assessed: on our ability to learn from results.
Authentic assessment boosts knowledge acquisition by asking learners to apply their new knowledge to activities that mimic professional situations and settings. Recall that this also is a factor in strengthening learner engagement; this kind of assessment is a true win-win.
As you think about the “what” and “how” of measuring students’ learning, it’s helpful to work with an instructional designer if possible to learn about the wide variety of tools and technologies that are available. Alignment comes into play once more. When evaluating an assessment tool, you’ll want to consider its validity—that is, whether it actually measures the learning it is supposed to measure. It’s worth taking time to thoughtfully pair the mode of assessment with the knowledge or skills being assessed. That way, not only can the assessment itself be called authentic, so can the learning!
CEED is delighted to welcome Anne Larson, PhD, to our team as a research associate. Dr. Larson studies the development and implementation of practitioner-supported and caregiver-implemented language assessments and interventions for young children. She and her family have just relocated to the Twin Cities from Utah, where Dr. Larson was on the faculty at Utah State University. However, she is no stranger to Minnesota, having completed her doctorate at the University of Minnesota after establishing a career as a speech-language pathologist in Twin Cities public schools.
Q: Your research centers on language assessments and interventions for young children. Talk a little bit about some of the specific topics that interest you.
AL: In terms of language assessments, I’m interested in identifying screening and progress monitoring tools that can be used for children under age three. There are very few measures available and even fewer that have included children and families from historically marginalized racial, ethnic, and linguistic groups in their development. In a recent project, we looked at the initial validation of the Early Communication Indicator (ECI) for Spanish- and Spanish-English dual language learners. Long-term, I’d like to explore modifications of the ECI and other measures, such as vocabulary checklists, for children from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
My research on language interventions typically involves children who are around 18-30 months old. However, the projects I work on actually focus on the adult caregiver or caregivers who interact with the child. For one recent study, we trained early intervention providers to use a coaching approach in their work with caregivers of young children with disabilities. Although the focus of the study was changing provider behavior, the ultimate goal was to promote the use of naturalistic language intervention strategies by caregivers. Using these strategies, the caregivers can then affect child language outcomes.
Naturalistic language interventions are ways to support responsive and engaging interactions between children and their caregivers. Caregivers can include parents, other family members, childcare providers, and so on. An example of a naturalistic intervention strategy might be: “Comment on what the child is doing.” This strategy encourages caregivers to provide more language input around their children. These strategies are designed to be embedded within everyday activities and routines, rather than adding something extra for caregivers to make time for with their children.
Q: Your work is described as community-based research. Could you talk a bit about what that term means, as well as the rewards and challenges of this type of research? Why is this approach so important?
AL: I think of community-based research as having a genuine interest in community needs and making a concerted effort to work with community members and stakeholders as part of the research team. This approach is very rewarding to me, because I know that my research is immediately relevant to the target group. It is sometimes challenging, however, to describe this more collaborative approach, because some communities have had the experience of researchers coming in and telling them what to do without first engaging them and listening to their needs. I’m looking forward to building on relationships I have in Minnesota, understanding community needs, and continuing with this work to make critical strides for young children and families in Minnesota.
Q: Tell us about the work you will be doing with your Institute of Educational Sciences Career Award.
AL: The Early Career Award is focused on designing a language intervention that I refer to as VALI (Video- and App-based Language Instruction). This will be a four-year project. We’ll develop three iterations of an intervention for Spanish-speaking families who identify as Latinx and also have young children with language delays. Caregivers will access an app with information about naturalistic language intervention strategies that they can use with their children. Caregivers will also participate in back-and-forth asynchronous coaching with a trained bilingual early interventionist who can support their individual family needs.
Q: Your role at CEED will also include work with the Reflective Practice Center; how does reflective practice come into play in your area of study?
AL: Reflective practice has a lot of similarities with the coaching-based models I use in my research. The more I learn about reflective practice, though, the more ideas I encounter that can be incorporated into my work. I’m looking forward to expanding reflective knowledge and practice within the field of early intervention. I think there are many practitioners who, like me, may not previously have been aware of reflective practice or its benefits for providers, families, and children alike.
Q: What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of work? (That’s assuming that family life with young children allows for hobbies!)
AL: You’re right that “me” time is fairly limited with two young children! I enjoy family bike rides, hiking, and camping.
Karen Anderson provides administrative and technical support to all programs and projects at CEED. If you’ve taken one of our online courses, you’ll have met Karen in her role as technology liaison for instructors and students. She manages CEED’s social media presence, so you may also have interacted with her there. If you’ve ever used our website, Karen makes it function smoothly for users. When you connect with CEED, you’re likely connecting with Karen!
Q: How did your career path lead you to CEED?
KA: I had a variety of jobs for quite a long time, and I came to realize that I wanted to work at a university instead of in the corporate world. I was lucky enough to be hired by the Institute of Community Integration (ICI) and CEED on a federal grant and that began my time at the university. ICI and CEED formed a wonderful community of caring people and expertise in the areas of disabilities and early childhood. I loved the environment and had the opportunity to learn so much on the job.
Q: Your background also includes experience with filming and editing videos. Tell us more about this.
KA: One of the initial grant projects I worked on involved filming and editing video clips for use with technical assistance teams. I had a wonderful mentor within the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) who taught me the basics of filming and editing, and I have built on that knowledge throughout my time at CEED, learning new software and equipment as needed. I had the opportunity to film CEED events and to film instructor online lectures for our online courses. It’s been a wonderful way to extend my skills.
Q: Tell us about your role in managing CEED’s professional development and training opportunities.
KA: One of the most valuable aspects of providing support to our online course students is introducing so many of them to online learning. Some students may start out feeling a little timid and may be reluctant to navigate the site and use the tools. By the end of their course, many have told me how comfortable they became with online learning. I have learned so much from their feedback, and it helps us make improvements to our sites. Interacting with attendees at our in-person events has been such a privilege. Early childhood professionals are so dedicated to their work, and I am inspired by that dedication to such an important field.
Q: You are CEED’s in-house expert on accessibility. Can you talk a little bit about why this is so important?
KA: Making CEED’s resources accessible is a legal requirement. It also honors our commitment to universal design and providing equal access to materials and knowledge for people with any type of disability or challenge. I’ve been fortunate to learn so much about tools and methods for making materials accessible, both through CEED projects and because of CEED’s commitment to accessibility. And finally, I attended a workshop on accessibility where the instructor talked about accessibility being a civil right, which really touched me and guides my dedication to making certain we honor that right as thoroughly as possible.
Q: What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of work?
KA: I play piano and flute (and a couple songs on the harmonica!). I love camping, swimming, canoeing, and hiking and was an avid biker for many years of my life, riding 15 miles per day. I completed the Minnesota Ironman in biking (100 miles to Buffalo, MN, and back) and have biked from the Twin Cities to Duluth three times. I’ve traveled extensively in the US and Mexico and have a great love for seeing what’s around the next bend. I’m also an avid movie fan and am tolerating online movies until that wonderful time when we’ll be able to get movie popcorn at the theater again!