UW-led update of early learning standards aims to boost preschool experiences

Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 4:45 PM CDT
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LARAMIE, Wyo. (PRESS RELEASE) - Early childhood educators, parents and others across Wyoming now have access to an important tool to help children from birth through kindergarten.

A collaborative, statewide effort involving the state’s early childhood professionals has produced an update to Wyoming’s early learning standards, with a goal of creating high-quality educational experiences for Wyoming’s children.

The Wyoming Early Learning Standards document will be mailed this week to all licensed early childhood programs in the state. It’s also available on the website of the Wyoming Early Childhood Professional Learning Collaborative, a partnership among state agencies, nonprofit organizations and the University of Wyoming to provide professional development opportunities for early childhood educators and elevate the quality of early childhood programs in the state.

“Early learning standards are for anyone who touches the life of a young child,” says Nikki Baldwin, the director of UW’s Early Childhood Outreach Network, who led the standards update effort. “Children progress and acquire new skills constantly, and across all settings. These standards provide important information for families; health care professionals; those working in community settings; home visitors; child care providers; preschool and kindergarten teachers; Head Start; child development centers; elementary schools and those working in after-school programs. They’re also for concerned citizens and policy makers who want what is best for Wyoming’s children.”

The standards cover the broad categories of children’s relationships and interactions; communication; cognition; and physical health and development. In addition to identifying key skills children need to engage in daily life independently and with others, the standards include measures of proficiency, teacher tips and specific examples from Wyoming child care providers.

For example, in the area of literacy, the standards offer specific ways to help children gain early reading skills and an appreciation for books; develop writing skills; and gain knowledge of print concepts and the alphabet.

“The new early learning standards provide a roadmap for quality instruction that can link the many facets of instruction for children, birth through kindergarten and beyond,” says Lisa Garner, a kindergarten teacher in Afton. “Using this roadmap will help to build a strong foundation for children to succeed.”

One of the aims of the new standards is to help Wyoming children in the transition to kindergarten.

“Research shows a wide gap between the environment and expectations in kindergarten and children’s previous experiences, which places a significant burden on young children and families,” says Amy Reyes, the early learning specialist with the Wyoming Department of Education. “Local communities, child care programs, preschools and school districts can and should help young children carry the burden of change that has historically been placed upon them. The new standards are not an additional requirement for kindergarten teachers, but a tool to help them match the demands of kindergarten with the needs of children.”

The new standards document is an update of the Wyoming Early Learning Guidelines and Foundations, published in 2013 and 2015, and a follow-up to work in 2001, when Wyoming was among the first states in the country to adopt preschool standards.

The latest effort was led by UW’s Early Childhood Outreach Network and involved three levels of committees, all focused on ensuring the voices of educators and caregivers were at the center. The team looked at standards from states across the country and considered the most current research in early childhood. The Early Childhood Outreach Network is an initiative of the Trustees Education Initiative in UW’s College of Education.

In addition to UW, the governor’s office, the state Department of Education, the Department of Workforce Services, local school districts, and public- and private-sector child care providers, the standards update included representatives of nonprofits the Align Team and Wyoming Kids First, an initiative of the John P. Ellbogen Foundation. Funding came from a federal preschool development grant.

To download a PDF version of the new standards, go to www.wyecplc.org/index.php/professional-learning-library/wyoming-early-learning-standards.

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