Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 74° Partly Cloudy
News >  K-12 education

Community partnership to offer free early learning materials for families

The conversation cards are assembled in groups.  (Courtesy photo)
The conversation cards are assembled in groups. (Courtesy photo)
By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

It’s no secret that school and day care closures due to COVID-19 have stressed families to the max. Parents worry about the lack of socialization opportunities for young children, and fear it may impact kindergarten readiness.

That’s why the rollout for free new tools that encourage language- and math-rich conversations couldn’t come at a better time.

A group of community partners, including, Spokane County Library District, Everyday Language and Learning Opportunities, the Spokane STEM Network, KSPS, NorthEast Washington Educational service District 101, Community Minded Enterprises, the University of Montana and Washington STEM have collaborated to create four sets of conversation cards that support meaningful learning through conversation in the home and in familiar community spaces.

“Over the past year, we’ve been collectively working on developing a suite of free tools and resources for families, caregivers and children,” said Mary Ellen Braks, SCLD public services manager.

The project originated five years ago.

Allison Wilson, Ph.D., assistant professor, early childhood education at the University of Montana, launched Everyday Language and Learning Opportunities when she worked at Eastern Washington University.

“It’s a way to engage children in everyday conversation,” Wilson said. “Language-rich interactions are crucial. Meaningful relationships between children and caregivers are an even greater predictor than vocabulary words for markers like kindergarten readiness.”

Wilson said community partnerships were vital to putting ELLO, and the newest initiative hELLO Math, tools into the hands of parents.

Braks agreed.

“This has been incredible partnership and collaboration among our partners and the broader community because we all believe that these resources can make a significant difference in early childhood development for so many,” she said.

The resources include four sets of conversation cards, math talk tote bags, and a poster series. Each of the conversation card sets (mealtimes, laundry, grocery and neighborhood) includes 10, 4-by-6-inch, double-sided, color cards, assembled together on a stroller strap with carabiner.

Being able to attach the conversation cards to a stroller or backpack ensures caregivers have easy, accessible prompts with them wherever they go.

The idea is simple: start with an open-ended question, repeat what the child says, build on it with a longer sentence to add vocabulary, and then continue the conversation. Not only does the child learn new words, but more important, they learn the back-and-forth flow of conversation.

For example, at the grocery story you can talk about shapes, by asking, “What do you see that’s round like a circle?”

The child replies, “An orange!”

You can then broaden the conversation to include math concepts, by replying, “Yes! An orange is shaped like a circle. How many oranges do you see?”

Braks explained, “In early learning math and language is so intertwined, but a lot of times when a kiddo gets to kindergarten they don’t have the vocabulary to match the math skills that they’re learning. It’s not about right or wrong answers – it’s all about the conversation.”

Back at home, parents can use prompt cards at mealtimes or while doing laundry.

“The intention is to embed learning opportunities in everyday activities,” said Wilson.

COVID-19 put a crimp on assembling the card sets, but currently 1,000 of each of the four sets are available, and will be distributed by local community partners.

The cards are available in English, Russian, Marshallese and Spanish, and can be downloaded for free from the hELLO website.

“Eventually we hope to secure more grant money to distribute them through the library,” said Braks. “Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. We’re trying to give parents tools, so they will feel like that.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.