Steps to Building an Early Learning Nation

Let's build an early learning future

Steps to Building an Early Learning Nation

Let's build an early learning future. Here are the steps you can take.

See what is working in other communities by reviewing examples from the field. Communities across the country, including the Early Childhood–LINC network and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, provided examples of their efforts and actions to build towards better outcomes for children. Across all communities, the work highlighted here begins at birth. This section is a resource to guide and inspire you. It will look different in your community. What matters most is taking a step forward.

Convene a coordinated early childhood planning group
  • In Kent County, MI, First Steps is a nonprofit organization created to lead a community initiative and collaborative to prioritize and advance a comprehensive and coordinated early childhood system. First Steps and its partners develop and implement strategies to ensure the necessary services are available and accessible. In addition to convening community leaders, First Steps gathers information and reviews data to provide accountability for the public and private money spent on early childhood in Kent County.
  • In Hartford, CT, the Mayor convened a planning group of school leaders, representatives from philanthropy, and the state to strengthen the City’s early childhood policy and services. The Early Childhood Blueprint grew out of this convening and called for the coordination of diverse programs and services focused on public policy-making and financial investments toward improving the lives of young children. 
Develop a snapshot of young children in the community
  • In Kent County, MI, a 2008 study comparing health outcomes of privately-insured children with those of children covered by Medicaid found large disparities. As a result, the Children’s Healthcare Access Program (CHAP) was developed to help connect children and parents to their medical coverage and resources. In three years, CHAP has reached over 17,000 children, resulting in a 35% reduction in emergency department usage for non-emergent issues, 24% improvement in well child visit rates and cost savings of $1.53 per $1.00 invested in the program.
  • In Kent County, MI, a 2010-2011 assessment of kindergarten students from 20 school districts uncovered that 25% of students had low or extremely low age-appropriate oral skills, 20% of students were at-risk and needing special school services at kindergarten entry, and Kent County’s children of color, low-income, and minority students were fairing worse than their peers, scoring up to 18 months behind. As a result, Early Learning Communities were established in the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids Public Schools and now offer development and training for parents, teachers and caregivers,; neighborhood “play and learn” sessions; summer KinderCamp,; and community field trips and events.  
  • In Hartford, CT, as part of the City’s Early Childhood Blueprint, the City’s technology department created the Hartford Early Childhood Data System. The database is accessible for all preschool providers to enter child and family demographic data, progress measures, attendance information, and track English Language Learners and children with IEPs all of which can be transferred to kindergartens upon entry. The priorities of the data system are to improve instruction, provide administrators with data to improve program quality, guide professional development, and produce citywide profiles.
  • Since 2008, in Alameda County, First 5with support from the Interagency Children’s Policy Council (ICPC)has commissioned Applied Survey Research (ASR) to conduct an assessment of school readiness levels of new kindergarten students. for the fifth year since 2008. The 2013 assessment took place in 14 Alameda County school districts. The current readiness study investigated three primary questions related to the school readiness levels of entering kindergarten students:  How ready for school are the sampled kindergarten students?  How many of these students are proficient or near proficient across domains of readiness? What family factors and child characteristics are associated with higher levels of school readiness? This study will be repeated every two years to monitor progress in improving children's outcomes.
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  • In Rifle, CO, the Roaring Fork Valley Early Learning Fund offers literacy resources for underserved children and families in their region through Gus the Bus. A retrofitted school bus, “Gus,” operates as a mobile preschool classroom with qualified teachers to six isolated and underserved neighborhoods. The mobile classroom provides parent trainings, early childhood literacy programs, and book bag rotation and distribution in sites such as workplaces, libraries, churches, and community colleges.
  • In Seattle, WA, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution to begin the design and implementation of a Universal Pre-K program, Preschool for All. The program is voluntary for families and designed to increase the number of children prepared for kindergarten through high quality early childhood education, family engagement, health screenings, culturally appropriate language support, and connection to kindergarten readiness. The program will receive public funding and will undergo rigorous, longitudinal evaluation.
  • In Ventura County, CA, as a response to their findings that one in three children is overweight or obese, nonprofits, businesses, families, and communities came together to develop the Good for Kids Restaurant Project. The project works with local restaurants to improve kids menus by adapting them to meet the Good for Kids nutritional guidelines. More than 30 restaurants in three cities have participated by altering their menus, offering discounts on Good for Kids meals, displaying a Good for Kids seal of approval in their front window, and providing a platform to discuss healthy eating and healthy choices in their communities. In return, restaurants benefit from website and social media publicity, print advertising, and media coverage.
  • In Palm Beach County, FL, the Children’s Services Council’s Early Childhood System of Care includes the Healthy Beginnings Program which offers universal screenings for pregnant women and newborns to identify risk factors. Once screened, staff connects families with appropriate early intervention services from one of their 18 partner agencies.
  • In Ventura County, CA, the Port Hueneme Library partnered with First 5 Ventura County and Among Friends Adult Day Care to reignite an intergenerational, bilingual literacy program. Abuela Storytime trains senior volunteers in storytelling with felt boards, sing-alongs, projections, and story-related games and offers them the opportunity to share stories in Spanish and English with the community.
  • In Denver, CO, the Countdown to Kindergarten (C2K) program offers children a seamless transition from preschool or childcare to kindergarten. Building on the knowledge that achievement gaps emerge before children arrive in school, C2K sets parents and children up for success through a variety of strategies and experiences. It includes improved communication with families, expectation-setting, workshops on how to choose the right school, and how to support learning at home.  Currently in Southwest Denver, plans are underway to evaluate and replicate the model elsewhere in the city.
  • In Ventura County, CA, United Way and First 5 Ventura County introduced the Born Learning Campaign to promote public engagement and quality early learning opportunities in everyday activities. The campaign’s Born Learning Trails are located in public spaces accessible to all families and consist of nine colorful “stations” that present early learning and physical activity opportunities for children and caregivers to engage in together. Born Learning Trails are installed by community volunteers in outdoor spaces provided by the city parks department, school districts, and nonprofit organizations and are in close proximity to young child and family resources.
  • In Hartford, CT, in response to trends that many children were entering kindergarten without the skills essential for success – despite increased preschool enrollment – the city implemented a professional development component for all early childhood providers. As part of the initiative, the Instructional Leaders Institute provides monthly training workshops to each program’s curriculum specialist as well as onsite one-on-one coaching support and a quarterly Administrator’s Forum. Instructional Leaders also trained in Mind in the Making, an unprecedented effort to share the science of children’s learning with the general public, families and professionals who work with children and families, developed by the Families and Work Institute.
  • In Denver, CO, a dynamic group of childhood literacy professionals from the Denver Public Library, Reach Out and Read, Colorado and the Colorado Parent & Child Foundation came together to create Earlier is Easier. Now, in partnership with more than 20 early childhood organizations, the site is a rich resource for parents with age-appropriate tips and activities that promote development and parent-child interaction. The site also directs parents to local and national resources on a range of topics, from discipline and nutrition to childcare and developmental milestones.
  • In Orange County, CA, the City of Buena Park developed and implemented a kindergarten transition program for children who were not previously connected to a former early learning classroom. To implement this plan, the city prompted the school district to formalize a partnership with local nonprofit, THINK Together to open three new literacy and math summer classrooms which are staffed by two district teachers, a THINK Together teacher, and four AmeriCorps volunteers. The City of Buena Park is pushing to increase the number of children served, and this fall, the district will launch a drop-in program.
  • In Seattle, WA, the Seattle Early Education Collaborative (SEEC) started in 2006 and is a collaboration between Head Start/Early Head Start, and early childhood education programs funded by Washington State, local tax levies, and the City of Seattle. All told, SEEC’s members serve more than half of Seattle’s low-income children. SEEC’s members train early learning providers on how to interpret data in order to improve their practice and instruction. Additionally, SEEC provides professional development opportunities for early learning providers and services to help with the transition to kindergarten.
  • In Alameda County, CA, First 5 Alameda County (F5AC) received a grant to partner with and sub-grant to six libraries and parks and recreation departments to create 13 early learning resource hubs in neighborhoods with low elementary school academic performance. The goal is to get more children kindergarten ready in these neighborhoods. The 13 sites were selected because they are frequented by families with young children and have low barriers to entry for parents whose children are not enrolled in formal care or preschool programs. In the first 18 months of the program, these sites hosted 300 classes for children, 646 parent-child playgroup sessions, 69 parent education classes, and 91 story-time sessions, serving 1,000 families with children aged zero to five. To support the six library and parks and recreation partners, F5AC provided staff coaching support, program planning guides, and evaluation tools (child observation tool and family surveys).
  • In Baltimore, MD, B’More for Healthy Babies (BHB), a joint project of the Baltimore City Health Department and the Family League of Baltimore City, is working to reduce infant mortality by working with at-risk pregnant women and new mothers. Through home visits, expanded screening and with referrals to health and social services, staff trainings, and home-based early childhood programs, BHB is supporting Baltimore mothers to ensure they get a positive start with their children. Within three years, the infant mortality rate in Baltimore dropped to its lowest ever, at 9.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, and the disparity between African-American and white infant mortality rates decreased by 40%.
  • In Palm Beach County, FL, with thought leadership and support from the County’s Early Childhood Cabinet, the County’s Children’s Services Council sought to decrease teen pregnancy rates by integrating the evidence-based, nationally recognized Teen Outreach Program (TOP) into its programs. Since 2009, teen pregnancy births have dropped 42.2%. since 2009, which TOP and programs like it certainly contributed to.
  • In Orange County, CA, the City of Mission Viejo supported collaboration between the city library system and the Children and Family Commission of Orange County to support more young children through the library system. Specifically, a librarian and the Early Learning program manager for the County Commission worked together to share resources and integrate early learning specialists into the libraries. This project is about meeting children and families where they are (local libraries) and connecting them with early learning support and resources to improve outcomes.
  • In Kent County, MI, Welcome Home Baby (WHB) is a gateway for newborns and their families to access the system of early childhood services in their community. WHB identifies first-time parents, age 25 or younger, or parents giving birth in the United States for the first time, as well as families of newborns who have been hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit as eligible for their program. The three touchpoints with families are inpatient hospital contact, a one-time home visit completed by a registered nurse, and a follow-up phone call approximately thirty days after the home visit. Of the 3,366 eligible families offered WHB services in 2012, seventy-one percent of them accepted a home-visit, of which seventy-eight percent were completed for a total of 1,868 home visits that year.
  • In Ventura County, CA, the Parents Inspiring Parents collaborative was designed in partnership with parents to build confidence, address barriers, and prepare parents for leadership opportunities in their community. Through a partnership between local government and organizations, 25 parents participated in a series of seven interactive trainings covering topics including communication, fathers as leaders, driving change, the legal system, and a community resource fair. These parent leaders are now helping to build community, prioritize the needs of children and families, and facilitate future trainings and collaboration throughout Ventura County.
  • In Buffalo, NY, Read to Succeed Buffalo started the Community Alignment for Reading Excellence (CARE) program to provide professional development in literacy coaching for Head Start teachers working with Buffalo’s highest need three and four year olds. The CARE program has been successful in closing the achievement gap for these students, nearly three-quarters of whom are now performing in the high to moderately high range. CARE plans to expand into all pre-K through third grade classrooms in targeted schools by fall 2015.
  • In Palm Beach County, FL, with thought leadership and support from the County’s Early Childhood Cabinet, the Children’s Services Council has partnered with the school district to launch the “My Happily Ever After Begins with Reading” campaign. A public awareness and book distribution effort to promote love of reading and help build children’s home libraries. So far, the 87,000+ public elementary school students have been able to take home, and keep, at least two books of their choice. The campaign also includes resources for parents and families to encourage reading at home.
  • In Atlanta, GA, Get Georgia Reading and Talk With Me Baby are partnering to reach expectant and new parents with information about the importance of early language exposure for the social, emotional, and linguistic development of their child. The Language Nutrition program is providing professional development to nurses as well as child and family service organizations. Parents are also exposed to videos and supplied take-home materials in hospital waiting rooms that highlight the importance of early language exposure.
  • In the City of Oxnard, CA, a consortium of nine community organizations hosted the Strengthening Families Leadership Summit. The April 2014 Summit brought together over 160 policy makers to discuss local progress in adopting the 5 Protective Factors (5PF) Strengthening Families Framework and its implementation through evidence-based program. Examples of programs spotlighted by the Summit include public health nurse utilization of the 5PF in home visits, integration of the 5PF into the Child Welfare Improvement Plan, and 5PF staff trainings for local youth and family organizations.
  • In Palm Beach County, FL the Children’s Services Council launched and maintains website resources for providers and families of young children. has resources for kids, parents, and friends to support and encourage love of reading. Children’s Services Council’s main site ( includes three tailored microsites for providers, families, and the general public. The Child Safety site ( provides caregivers and parents with strategies for protecting children from accidental injury.
Establish a system of data collection
  • The Children and Families Commission of Orange County developed and implemented the Early Development Index (EDI) to measure children’s health and school readiness. EDI is essentially a census to identify, at a neighborhood level, the active ingredients that support and promote children’s resilience. By using shared measurements and data, the city can align its work across departments to improve education and community health outcomes.
  • In Kent County, MI, Early Learning Communities (ELC) implemented an approach to tracked and evaluated programming and found that participating children demonstrated significant gains in literacy skills, including recognition of upper case letters. They also found that roughly two-thirds of parents and nearly all providers participating in 3-6 months of the program demonstrate the kindergarten readiness knowledge outcomes established by ELC. More than half of caregivers report having more knowledge than their peers about supporting development of early childhood literacy skills, and two-thirds of parents and more than half of providers indicate that their children have early literacy abilities that are higher than children not involved with ELC. The program invests $250 per participant. ELC estimates a $1,750 per participant return on investment for the community and Michigan’s economy. 
Celebrate your success and encourage other communities to join the ELN movement
  • In Kent County, MI, community organizations partnered with the Economics Club of the Grand Rapids area and the Great Start Collaborative to sponsor an event featuring noted speakers, such as David Brooks of the New York Times and Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Join the network of elected officials and community
leaders who are building an Early Learning Nation.