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In winter 2009, our Play and Learn staff participated in a quality assurance project called Creating Excellence in Early Childhood. The purpose of this project was to create excellence in Play and Learn groups by exploring strategies to improve quality in five areas:
Free play
Group time
Open-ended art
Social-emotional development
Parent/caregiver education

Through workshops and individual coaching provided by Family Support leadership, Play and Learn facilitators developed and implemented 41 essential program elements, eventually going through a formal evaluation process to assess the consistency of design and quality across Center for Human Services’ 12 Play and Learn groups.

Over the past year, we have returned to these indicators repeatedly to influence our curriculum development and daily programming. We have also used the program elements in training of new staff members.

Jane Shumway is a Play and Learn facilitator at Northshore Family Center (NFC) and Ballinger Homes Site. She started working with us in April of 2009, and as she celebrates her 1 year anniversary with CHS, we are also concluding her formal training with Creating Excellence in Early Childhood. Jane completed several self-assessments in March, and over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to observe and participate in her groups at NFC.

[Jane receiving an award at a family support retreat in 2009.]

This is one of the best parts of my job, as I have the privilege of witnessing so many incredible parents and caregivers learn alongside their children, preparing them for success in school and in life.

Here are some photos from my visit:


Megan and Ben talk about the names of vehicles as he stamps them on his paper. When parents or caregivers interact in this way with their children, it strengthens attachment and increases vocabulary, important precursors of healthy social-emotional development and academic success. Our open-ended art projects allow Ben the freedom to explore art materials and determine the scope and design of his work; this builds confidence and lasting creativity.


Payton plays with a stacking toy as her mom watches nearby. As she does this, Payton is developing her gross-motor skills (like hand-eye coordination). She is also learning to play independently of her mom, which involves separating from and then reuniting with her, an important social-emotional skill for toddlers.

Paree experiments with bird seed, funnels, and wheels. This scientific exploration is reinforcing pathways in her brain that will later help her learn math and science concepts.

Tanner summons all of his upper body strength to push play dough through a ‘dough extruder”. The muscles he is using in his arms and fingers will be important as he learns to write letters and numbers.
Gaby dresses me up and brings me dinner before we sit and ‘eat’ together. Imitating and trying out adult behaviors is one of the primary ways children learn.

Judy paints Parker’s foot in preparation for a group painting project. In our Play and Learn groups, parents and caregivers have the opportunity to practice skills and try out projects that can be replicated at home. Parents and caregivers are their children’s first and best teachers.