The former retail space that houses the Early Learning Academy (ELA) in Lexington, Nebraska, may seem like an unusual setting for innovation in early childhood education, but this preschool program that serves children 3 to 5 years old houses such proactive initiatives as an early intervention program for special needs students and a migrant community classroom to serve English language learners.
The ELA, which accommodates up to 300 children, is “a play-structured learning environment with academic objectives designed to enhance a child’s social, emotional, intellectual, language, physical, and aesthetic development.” Focused on language acquisition and literacy, the ELA aims to prepare children to enter kindergarten by building the knowledge, skills, and emotional foundations to equip them for the transition.
A crucial part of their educational process, as described by Director of the Early Learning Academy Tracy Naylor, is to bridge the gap between the classroom and the home environments of ELA’s students, an effort that created an interest in Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s support program Ready Rosie.
Naylor had been looking for educational materials for a large population of Somali families with whom she worked when Sixpence home-visitors (an early childhood program Naylor also oversees for the district) returned from a conference with news of videos used to reinforce classroom skills in the home environment.
Initially, ELA had to put Ready Rosie on the back burner, but when contacted by Communities for Kids representatives, Naylor began to see the value of using Ready Rosie to make significant contact with families. As she puts it, “Being able to provide them [the families] with Ready Rosie gives parents the opportunity to be that first teacher.”
For those unfamiliar with the program, Ready Rosie uses video modeling to build partnerships between early childhood education programs and the families of the children who attend, operating on the concept that “every child can be ready to learn when schools and families work together.” Ready Rosie offers families the opportunity to receive a weekly playlist of videos that reinforce academic, social, and emotional concepts the students are working with and provide activities that families can use at home to reinforce these concepts.
Abbie Neujahr, who is in her eighth year of teaching at ELA and her second using Ready Rosie, offers that “Ready Rosie does a good job of showing parents what they need to do at home with what they have at home.” Neujahr coordinates the release of videos, sending out a preset playlist on Monday that parents can use to practice skills and then following up on Fridays with a customized list that previews the new week’s upcoming skills.
Response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive. Naylor states, “I like the direction Ready Rosie is headed right now. It’s super easy to use.” And her teachers seem equally positive about the videos, with each having a favorite set.
Abbie Neujahr really enjoys the social/emotional videos, particularly the tips they provide, while Katie Maloley, a twelfth-year teacher of kindergarten and preschool, is adamant about the math videos. Maloley currently uses them to work with students on counting to five and includes Ready Rosie because she “loves the counting ones (videos). It’s not just pencil and paper work.”
Both Neujahr and Maloley are preschool parents as well as teachers and provide insight from the family side of the process. Maloley says she likes “that they show families interacting, that modeling.” Her daughter loves watching the videos with her, which, she adds, is good bonding time for them. Neujahr’s son also watches the videos and likes them. She says they “let him take ownership and take the lead in his learning.” But it’s not just involved teacher/parents who find Ready Rosie valuable. Naylor shared responses she has received from other parents. One mother offered, concerning a video on appropriate use of media, “it was great. It’s a rule now in our house not to use any media while we’re eating.”
Another parent commented on the bridge the videos create between school and home, “Sometimes I ask Ezra what songs you sang at preschool and he can’t remember the way the song went so this will help me connect with him about school.” Finally, a Spanish-speaking parent, addressed the ways in which the program is assisting vulnerable populations when she said, “I love it because I understand that Mateo will integrate quickly and his academic level will progress much more quickly” (translation). Clearly, Ready Rosie is having a positive impact in the classroom and at home.
The innovations occurring in Lexington are a clear example of the progress that can occur when communities, care providers, and organizations come together for the betterment of Nebraska’s children and families. Ready Rosie, which already has 23 coordinators working with 60 programs in 3 regions of the state, is supported by the $8.9 million Preschool Development Renewal Grant recently awarded to Nebraska and by the collaborative working with a strategic plan aimed at providing “a system where community leaders work together to provide opportunities for quality early childhood care and education, starting at birth, and in coordination with the full suite of health, mental health, and social supports that families may need.” Naylor’s experience with Ready Rosie suggests the effort is working. She emphasizes that the “videos are helping our parents know what to do with their kiddos.” She adds. “They reinforce what they are doing at school.”