School-Connected Play & Learns

The First 10 Network launched in 2022 as a way to connect First 10 communities to one another so that they can learn about and build on each other’s innovations and adapt them to meet local needs. At our February network meeting, a panel of on-the-ground experts from the First 10 community—facilitators who lead play and learns and the administrators who help organize and promote them—discussed how to structure play and learns.  Our panelists shared ideas for recruiting families and forming creative partnerships with districts, libraries, Head Start agencies, and other community programs.  


First 10 communities are developing collaborative partnerships across early childhood programs and services to develop, facilitate, and promote school-connected play & learns to families with 0-5 year-olds. Including different types of providers in planning ensures that the play & learns best meet the needs of children and families.

Local libraries can be a valuable partner since they offer space and librarians can guest read and provide tours of the library and library website, connecting families to library resources. 

Recruiting Families to Participate in Play & Learns

First 10 Communities use a wide range of recruitment strategies to bring families to play & learns.  Many use social media to inform families of upcoming play & learns sessions and share pictures and agendas of previous sessions. Weekly or monthly newsletters were also popular ways to connect with families and offer resources, such as links to The Basics principle for the week. Some communities start by reaching out to families on Head Start waiting lists. Others conduct child screening at the same time as play & learns so that the families get a glimpse of what is offered at play & learns and are encouraged to participate. 

One novel recruitment idea was to spread awareness of Kinder enrollment with flyers on Superbowl pizza boxes!  

Play & Learn Setups

The panel offered several different strategies for play & learn setups. Examples included: letting children play in a gross motor room during the initial introduction for parents; giving parents activities that they could choose from; and using goodbye bubbles to close the play & learn.

Many First 10 play & learns incorporate The Basics, in a variety of ways: developing a lending library with The Basics books and sensory toys; sharing the Basics video and description via email so that the parents can just talk about it during the play & learns; and/or watching the Basics video with parents and kids, incorporating the kids in watching and interacting with the children on the video, while modeling how to interact with kids for the parents. 

One group added an outdoor component to play & learns and has found it successful in encouraging conversation and connections.

Frequency for Play & Learns:

First 10 communities are testing the number of play & learns sessions offered per registration cycle. In some cases, offering (for example) six sessions has allowed families to commit to shorter lengths of time, while in other cases, offering more sessions has allowed flexibility for families to continue engaging despite missing a session or two.

Offering Virtual Play & Learns Post-Pandemic

Some communities adapted play & learns to occur virtually due to the pandemic.  Some parents still prefer to attend virtually for various reasons, including flexibility and concern about germs/illnesses.  In these instances, books, craft materials, etc. are provided to the virtual participants, just like the in-person participants. 

Offering both in-person and virtual options creates an opportunity to engage with a much wider group of parents and families. One community, for example, startswith virtual session for 1 hour on Saturday and then goes into an in-person play & learns. 

This network meeting was a great opportunity for First 10 communities to hear successful examples of play & learn strategies and gather ideas to take back to their own communities!

School Leader Perspectives on First 10 Partnerships: New Video

First 10 is excited to share the first in a series of short videos to spotlight the work of First 10 partnerships nationwide. In First 10, community agencies, families, Head Start, child care, preK, and schools form partnerships and take action to ensure all children learn and thrive. We’ll be sharing a variety of perspectives in our video series. In this first video, York, PA district leaders share their insights on First 10.

Innovative Communities Support Young Children and their Families

Powerful Convergence

Just out in Kappan magazine:

“In many cities and towns across the United States, elementary schools are forging deeper partnerships with families and community organizations well before children arrive at kindergarten. The aim of this work is to improve children’s experiences and family engagement and support along the entire continuum from prenatal care through grade 3 and beyond.

This potent combination of educational supports and family services is the single best strategy we have to address pernicious opportunity gaps and raise achievement for low-income children. Communities such as Cincinnati, Ohio; Omaha, Neb., and Multnomah County, Ore., are embracing this approach to tackle persistent poverty, family instability, the hollowing out of the middle class, and the demand for a more highly skilled workforce.”

You can find the full article here.

The Power of a Good Kindergarten Curriculum

A Thinking and Feedback chart from Traka Smith’s kindergarten classroom at the Curley K-8 School

Last week approximately 35 Rhode Island teachers and coaches began learning how to implement an interdisciplinary kindergarten curriculum developed by the Boston Public Schools (BPS). This training is part of a pilot project sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) with the aim of supporting developmentally-appropriate, Common Core-aligned kindergarten teaching and learning. 23 kindergarten teachers from 8 districts are implementing Boston’s curriculum this fall with professional development support from BPS and coaching support from the Education Development Center (EDC). I’m running this project for EDC and will share highlights from the initiative in a few posts over the next couple of months.

This initiative began with RIDE identifying a need to support teachers and districts in improving kindergarten practice in ways that are both consistent with how kindergarteners learn best and aligned with the Common Core standards. RIDE then worked with us at EDC to develop an approach that began with the state’s first ever kindergarten conference this past September and continues with the curriculum and coaching pilot. In an effort to build district capacity, coaches from each district are joining the kindergarten teachers in the professional development sessions and participating in special coach training days.

Continue reading “The Power of a Good Kindergarten Curriculum”

“Out of the Books in Kindergarten, and Into the Sandbox”

From today’s New York Times:

As American classrooms have focused on raising test scores in math and reading, an outgrowth of the federal No Child Left Behind law and interpretations of the new Common Core standards, even the youngest students have been affected, with more formal lessons and less time in sandboxes. But these days, states from Vermont to Minnesota to Washington are again embracing play as a bedrock of kindergarten.


“People think if you do one thing you can’t do the other,” said Nell Duke, a professor of education at the University of Michigan. “It really is a false dichotomy.”

Deepening and Extending the Work in New Jersey

New Jersey is well-known for its leadership in early learning. Notable examples include the state’s highly-regarded preschool and kindergarten implementation guidelines, its investment in preschool across the state, extensive support for PreK-3rd early literacy in low-income communities, its PreK-3rd Leadership Training Series, and leading edge success stories in communities like Union City and Red Banks. Vince Costanza, the Executive Director of the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge for the NJ DOE, recently shared some updates on the state’s early learning work in a blog post and in a presentation at the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Birth—3rd District Leadership Summit. Here are a few highlights:

  • 1st through 3rd Grade Guidelines: Having created PreK and Kindergarten guidelines, the state is extending its implementation and best practice guidance to the early elementary years. Costanza says that the transition out of K is “the next frontier.” Regarding the new guidelines: “We want something that say the things that need to be said and aren’t currently being said; that conceptualize academic rigor and developmentally appropriate practice and show what it would look like.” Supported by NIERR and CEELO, the Department of Education has worked closely with teachers, districts, and higher education, building engagement and buy-in at the local level. Costanza expects that the guidelines will be finalized this fall.
  • Deepening Kindergarten Practice:  The Early Childhood Department has developed a 3-part video series, High-Quality Kindergarten Today, that demonstrates best practice in kindergarten classrooms. Renowned early childhood educator Dorothy Strickland provides helpful commentary throughout the series. The department is also creating a professional development series focusing on problems of practice in kindergarten teaching.
  • Connecting State Initiatives: Regarding integrating state initiatives like the Common Core, educator evaluation, student growth objectives, and the kindergarten entry assessment, Costanza talks about the need to “double down and define what this work looks like in the early years.” See New Jersey’s Teacher Evaluation Support Document for PreK and K for an example.
  • The KEA and Social-Emotional Development: Rick Falkenstein, the superintendent of the Kingwood Township School District, describes a partnership in which the state supported KEA implementation in a number of school districts. Falkenstein reports his kindergarten teachers saying that their use of Teaching Strategies Gold has made them more “intentional” in their teaching. One veteran told him, “I know my students in ways I didn’t before.” Falkenstein also noted that as a result of his kindergarten teachers using the KEA, 1st and 2nd grade teachers are expressing more interest in social-emotional development. “It has been pretty contagious.” I wonder if other districts are experiencing this kind of contagion effect?
  • 10 Kindergarten Policies: The Ounce session on kindergarten also profiled a policy statement from the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education: The Power of Kindergarten: 10 Policies Leading to Positive Child Outcomes.
  • New Transition Tool from Washington State: And in a contribution to the session from the West Coast, Anne Arnold from the Highline Public Schools shared a Profile of a Kindergarten-Ready Child, a transition form developed by a cross-district coalition that included Seattle and that was supported by the Gates Foundation.

Expanding Prekindergarten, Not Forgetting Kindergarten

Is New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s method for expanding Pre-K a model for other cities?
Six experts’ views on the implications of NYC’s PreK expansion for other cities.

The View from 3 Feet
4 year-old experts talk about the value of preschool in this video, a project of the Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation’s National Opportunity to Learn Campaign.

As Preschool Ascends, Is Kindergarten Being Left Behind? 
Education Week’s Christina Samuels asks, “But what about kindergarten? Does the focus on preschool mean that we are already providing a consistent, high-quality option for the first “official” year of school?”

The Case for the New Kindergarten: Challenging and Playful
And in case you missed it, see this commentary by the authors of a recent kindergarten study: