Graduation, “crossing over” from preschool to kindergarten

A few weeks ago I attended my granddaughter’s graduation from preschool.  Parents, siblings, and grandparents chattered excitedly as the graduates entered the room and lined up on one side. The head teacher explained that the children were “crossing over” from preschool  to kindergarten, and so today, they would literally cross over a bridge—actually, a wooden rocking boat turned upside down.  As each child’s name was called, he or she walked to the bridge, walked over the bridge, hugged or shook hands with the head teacher, and sat down on the other side of the room. Their faces beamed, and cellphone cameras clicked...

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Something we can all agree on….Voters united around quality Early Childhood Education

I can often be a political junkie and stay very connected to the conversations in Washington. However this year it has been hard to stay connected and encouraged when everything seems so polarized and motivated by fear, hate and party success at the expense of what is good for America, and what is good for our children and families.

So I was happy to read some positive news – The First Five Years Fund’s 2017 national bipartisan poll found that all political parties agree on the importance of quality early childhood education and making it a priority... 

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Attending Preschool: It’s Not Just the Kids who Benefit

The Department of Health and Human Services says that child care costs should be about 7% of a family’s income. But a recent study at the University of New Hampshire shows that on average, poor families spend almost 20% of their income on child care. For some families, the cost is prohibitive. Mari Villaluna, for example, a 36-year-old career counselor, tutor, and single mother, put her monthly take-home pay, about $3000, on one side of a sheet of paper and then listed her monthly expenses on the other side. When she factored in the $2500 she expected to pay for child care, she realized that she’d be behind by $15 a month. No matter how she calculated, she concluded that she’d always be “in the negative,” so she dropped out of the work force and stayed home to care for her daughter.*

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Strong Start Tucson: A Locally Supported Program for Tucson Kids

U.S. policy on the education of young children is at odds with both public opinion and our growing understanding of the best ways to help kids succeed in school. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the First Five Years Fund during the 2016 presidential campaign, 90% of voters agreed that Congress and the next president should work together to make quality early childhood education more accessible and affordable to low- and middle-income families. First Five Years And detailed, up-to-date research shows that properly run early childhood programs can have "significant and consequential effects into the middle school years."  Other studies have found beneficial effects on school completion, involvement in the juvenile justice system, and other important measures of well-being. Yet despite both strong public support and a sound empirical foundation, policy makers have not acted to establish the needed programs. And, at the federal level, there is little hope that they will do so during the current administration.

At the state level, the picture is complex...

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Raising the sales tax to provide a preschool education for about 8000 more 3- and 4-year-olds in Tucson may strike some people as unnecessary and even infuriating. But enabling more children to attend high-quality preschools is a wise investment that can prevent more expensive problems later on.  Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Preschool fosters social and emotional development: Young children need to develop empathy, learn to control their impulses, and manage their anger and frustrations—and that’s what happens in a high-quality preschool where children feel secure and cared for and where they’re taught the social/emotional skills that will help them to succeed in school and in life.
  • Preschool promotes language and cognitive skills:  Preschool teachers help children stretch their vocabularies by reading aloud and talking with them during activities. In addition, young children’s cognitive skills are strengthened when they engage in a wide range of hands-on activities that challenge them to observe closely, ask questions, and solve problems.
  • Preschool teaches children to be competent and to feel competent: As children set the table at snack time, feed the goldfish, and put materials away in the proper place, they not only develop new competencies, they develop an image of themselves as competent people who are able to take care of themselves and their environment.
  • Preschool prepares children for kindergarten: Kindergartens are becoming the new first grade, so it’s more important than ever to prepare children for the academic demands they will face. But this doesn’t mean teaching early literacy and math skills through mind-numbing drills. Teachers in high-quality preschools know how to introduce skills in the context of activities that are engaging and meaningful. Children also learn the behaviors required to function successfully in kindergarten, such as listening while others are speaking, cooperating with peers, and following directions.

By supporting Strong Start Tucson, we can make a difference in the lives of 8000 children who otherwise would not be able to afford preschool. This is not only the humane thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do:  If we pay now so children can reap the benefits of attending high-quality preschool, we won’t have to pay more later on for interventions to remediate the problems.

Carol Weinstein
Emerita Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Rutgers Graduate School of Education



A recent article in a prestigious educational journal reports that shifts in policy and practice have resulted in an increasing emphasis on academic learning in the early grades.  Indeed, the authors argue that kindergarten is the new first grade: Students entering first grade are now expected to know what students leaving first grade were expected to know just a decade ago.

 Not surprisingly, this emphasis on academics has filtered down to preschool...

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Let’s Talk Money

The cost of preschool is one of the largest items in a family’s budget--and especially for a low-income family. Consider these figures:  For a family of three, the federal poverty level for 2017 is $20,420; for a family of four, that figure is $24,600.  Now consider the price of preschool.  In Arizona, the average cost of sending a four-year-old to preschool is $7,398. That’s about one third of a family’s total income if they’re living at or near the poverty level, and after rent, there’s little left for everything else. Sending a four-year-old to a high-quality preschool can be even more of a drain on a family’s budget.

Believe it or not, paying for preschool is not so different from paying for college.

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Developmentally Appropriate Practice: One Indicator of High-Quality Preschool

Early childhood educators often talk about the importance of “developmentally appropriate practice” or DAP. But what does this mean exactly? According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), DAP is “an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn.” Teachers who implement DAP know what is typical at each age and stage of early development so they can provide children with the right mix of challenge and support. With DAP, children remain curious and creative, but don’t feel overwhelmed by material or tasks that are too difficult.

Consider this scenario (taken from the NAEYC website):

In the dramatic play center, two 4-year-old girls are pretending to read menus. Maria [the teacher], noticing that neither girl has taken on the role of waiter, takes notepad and pencil in hand and asks them, “May I take your order?” Over the next few days, more children join the restaurant play. Waiters set tables, take orders, give orders to the cook, and prepare checks for diners.

Maria’s intervention extends and enriches the children’s play. As they take on the new role of waiter, they interact in different ways, create more complex dramatic play situations, and use writing and math for new purposes. In short, Maria is meeting children where they are and stimulating them to go further. Such “scaffolded play” is one hallmark of a classroom characterized by DAP and one indicator of high-quality preschool education.

Carol Weinstein
Emerita Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Rutgers Graduate School of Education

Why is “high quality” important and what is it anyway?

Strong Start Tucson aims to give thousands of children the opportunity to attend “high-quality” preschools. But why is “high quality” so important?  The answer is that in the case of preschool, being average is not good enough. From large-scale studies on the effects of preschool, we now know that programs of moderate quality generally have little impact on children’s readiness for elementary school, and poor-quality programs can actually have a negative impact (or, at best, no impact). In contrast, high-quality preschool programs improve children’s early language, literacy, and mathematics skills, and the higher the quality, the larger the impact. The conclusion is clear: High quality is the minimum necessary to reliably increase children’s readiness for elementary school.


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High Quality Preschool Makes a Difference and Makes the Cover of Scientific American Mind

The recent edition of Scientific American Mind (March/April 2017)* features a compelling article by Melinda Wenner Moyer about the value of high quality preschool. Vivid examples of what works, and what doesn’t, underscore snapshots of national data and research that show the importance of high quality early experiences for young children.
Ms. Mayer’s article lifts the hood and allows us to peek at the inner workings of preschools and the policies that shape them. She notes disparities in National data (e.g., “Only 18 percent of low-income American children, versus 29 percent of high income kids, are getting a high-quality preschool education…”,p. 29) that echo Tucson’s own situation. She notes tensions between two ends of early childhood education spectrum (i.e., that neither formal, rigid instruction nor completely unstructured play have the same benefits as “scaffolded” play and extended discussions with a skilled adult) and urges attention to key aspects of high quality interactions. She notes, “Frequent opportunities for extended discussions are what boost literacy and languages skills the most” (p. 31) and cites relevant research that shows “Kids in guided play learn the most, by far…” (p. 33).

Arizona is called out as one of only 4 states in the nation that not only do not require preschool teachers to have bachelor’s degrees, but do not even require them to have specialized training in early childhood education. This is one of the many reasons why Strong Start Tucson emphasizes high quality preschool.
Ms. Mayer concludes her article with a call to arms: “Preschool could be a way to help every American child, regardless of barriers, reach his or her fullest potential…” and “…the country… needs to recognize that it is only high quality preschool that accomplishes this feat.”

Submitted by Allison L. Titcomb, PhD

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