The Arts: Reducing Stress in Children

A new study from Child Trends explains that selecting a preschool that incorporates art, music and dance into it's curriculum helps reduce stress levels in children. 

Watch the video below to hear from children who have participated in these programs and to learn more from the researchers behind this study.

Posted on November 6, 2017 .

Year-round Outdoor Play Can Boost Kids' Performance in School

Spending free time outside can particularly benefit a child’s development when pursued year-round.


Outdoor play in childhood is associated with many soft skills that are important for school success, such as executive functioningExecutive functioning is defined as a set of mental processes that enable us to plan, prioritize, focus attention, filter distractions, and more. These skills are important assets for learning in preschool, elementary school, and beyond.

A recent study from Norway looked at the associations between time spent outdoors during child care and executive functioning. Among children ages 4 through 7, those who spent more time outside during child care performed better on an executive function assessment and showed fewer inattention-hyperactivity symptoms. Further, numerous studies have found that playful engagement with nature in kids under age 12 was linked with improved mental health and emotional regulation.

Read more from

The Foundations of Reading: Talking is Teaching

I was recently on an airplane watching a Dad traveling with his baby daughter, who was probably just about a year old. The plane we were on was having mechanical difficulty that caused it to remain on the tarmac for nearly an hour before take-off, no short amount of time for such a young child. Although this Dad certainly had his hands full, he did a great job of keeping his daughter entertained. And though there were a book and a few toys on hand, at the center of the entertainment was a conversation. When Daddy was face to face with baby - singing a song or reading a book or just commenting on what a pretty girl he had, all was well. When Daddy stopped talking, baby's attention began to drift. The conversation was the engagement.

male teacher reading.jpg

Over the hour that we waited on the tarmac, I took the opportunity to do a bit of reading myself and stumbled upon a blog, A Little More Conversation: Language and Communication Skills That Make All of the Difference for Kindergarten ( The author, Devin Walsh, is a kindergarten teacher in Mississippi and she opined on the importance of conversing with children to develop the language skills that serve as the foundations for literacy as kids enter school. The truth of Ms. Walsh's thinking was being aptly demonstrated in the row immediately in front of me.

The importance of regular conversations in developing language is abundantly clear in the research. Kids who are regularly engaged in meaningful conversations have larger vocabularies, as well as better social skills. It's language that provides the links that connect us. For those who lack that early exposure, the consequences are deep and lasting and are inextricably tied to the ability to learn to read.    

As I continued on my journey, my next flight was also populated with a fair number of children. A Mom with 2 young boys, probably about 2 and 3 years old, next came to my attention. They boarded the plane fairly late, apparently as the result of a connecting flight that had been delayed. The exasperation on the part of Mom was palpable and as the rambunctious little boys began debating who would get the window seat, out came the electronics. Mom's phone and her iPad came out of her purse and the boys quickly settled in to their games. I could see the games that involved colorful letters and shapes jumping off the screens at the kids. They were certainly happily engaged, being exposed to educational content, and pretty much speechless for the duration of the hour-long flight.

There are many ways that we can teach our kids and technology is certainly a valuable tool. That said, I believe Devin Walsh got it right when she pointed to the need for "a little more conversation." As parents, we all need a break some times and technology can fill a void but it cannot replace a conversation with the most important person in your life. So, the next time you have some time with your children, please sing them a song, or read them a book or tell them how lucky you are to have them. Not only will you be better connected for it, they'll be better readers.                                       

Judy Jankowski, Ed. D.                                            

Posted on September 18, 2017 .

Yoga Bug: Simple Poses for Little Ones


Learning to love and accept our bodies, building lifelong attention, and self-soothing when distressed—when it comes to the benefits of yoga, you can’t get started too early.

Sarah Jane Hinder has introduced a new yoga board book: Yoga Bug: Simple Poses for Little Ones.

For infants to four-year-olds, this delightfully illustrated book guides young people and their caregivers through ten simple and authentic poses (named after insects) that will benefit children for a lifetime. 

Check out the Yoga Bug video below! 



Posted on August 29, 2017 .

Learning Through Sensory Play!

Materials: Shaving cream & Cookie Sheet

1. Let your child draw, make letters and words in the shaving cream.

2. Help them sound out the words as they write them.

3. This can also be a fun bath time activity!



Lisa Howard, President & CEO

Posted on August 8, 2017 .

Clothespin Match-Up

Photo credit: A Spoonful of Learning

Photo credit: A Spoonful of Learning

UVA curriculum activity to do at home!

Materials: Clothespin (wooden), index cards with numbers 1-10 written on them

1. Have your child put the number of clothespins on the number card (example: card has a "4" on it, child puts four clothespins around the card).

2. Ask the child to do that for each card & count aloud as the clothespins are attached.

3. Remove the clothespins and start again.

Variation: write letters on the clothespin & match up the letters to the word.

What: Builds fine motor skills.


Lisa Howard, President & CEO

Behind Every Child Behavior, There Is A Feeling

Learning about your child’s development

Here are some basic age-appropriate ways that you can support your child’s feelings:

Birth to 9 months old

  • Talk, read, and sing to your baby. By holding, cuddling, singing and talking to your baby every day during daily routines, you provide the nurturing their growing brains need. And your baby needs your loving touch and soothing words just as much when they’re fussy to help them feel special. A bonus is that these bonding moments help you feel better, too.
  • Help your child transition to a new caregiver. A favorite toy, stuffed animal or blanket can help comfort your baby in unfamiliar situations. Also, be aware of your own response to a new caregiver when your baby is present; your baby can notice concern in your facial expressions and body language even when they are very young.

9 months to 18 months old

  • Be an emotional role model. Even at a young age, your baby learns by watching you. Taking a deep breath during stressful situations, expressing joy when you’re happy, and letting your child know that you love them helps them learn how to behave with others.
  • Be aware of developmental stages. Though your baby is becoming a toddler, they’re still not capable of doing things that older children can do, like sharing toys or playing one-on- one with other children. The more you know about what your child is capable of at a certain age, the more prepared you’ll be for the times when they need a little more help to get along with others.

18 months to 24 months

  • Talk about feelings. As your child learns new words, ask your child to think about how they’re feeling, and offer words to help them express difficult emotions.
  • Help your child develop appropriate responses. Young toddlers need guidance to understand the appropriate ways to behave when they’re angry, disappointed or frustrated. You can help them by hugging them, telling a story, singing a song, or giving them a favorite toy or blanket so they can self-soothe.

24 months to 36 months

  • Offer choices. Older toddlers typically want to feel some control over their environment. Let them decide how they will accomplish tasks, or offer simple “either/or” choices. Simple choices can reduce conflicts and help your child learn to communicate their needs and wants using words.
  • Praise good behavior. Be specific about what they did right, and how that made you feel.

Read more from Talking Is Teaching.

Posted on June 14, 2017 .

What Does Serve & Return Look Like in Early Childhood?

How do you build a child’s brain? Well, one of the most promising approaches might remind you of a game of tennis or playing ping pong. Research tells us that the interaction between children and adults matter. When an infant or young child babbles, coos, talks or cries and an adult reacts with a positive response, a healthy brain is developed.

A baby cries………… the adult responds with a touch, holding or a hug.

A child motions or gestures..…………. the adult responds with eye contact and their own motion or gesture. 

A baby babbles………… the adult responds with words and talks back to the baby.

A child drops an object……… the adult picks it up.

A baby picks up a book………. The adult looks at the book and reads it aloud.

A child points at a picture in a book……… the adult talks about the picture and points to the same picture while describing the illustration. 

A healthy brain is developed when there is a responsive relationship with the adults in a young child’s life.

If responsive caregiving is not present, the brain does not develop as expected, which may cause difficulties in learning and behavior.

 Lisa Howard

President & CEO





Posted on May 30, 2017 .

The Play’s the Thing!

You stop and stare as you look at the living room you just cleaned a half hour ago. How is it possible that your child could create a disaster of this magnitude in such a short period of time? You get ready to say “You need to clean-up this mess right now” but in your pause of disbelief you realize that your child has carefully orchestrated this play environment and is completely immersed in his imagination. Checkers are people, the empty snack bowl (crumbs included) is a boat, everyone is sailing across a mighty ocean that was very recently your child’s blanket “lovie”. You think to yourself “Wow, that’s impressive, I would never have thought of that!”

Your child’s play is critically important for his or her learning and development. Young children’s brains are rapidly growing and brain development is dependent upon high quality play opportunities. Children need to explore a variety of experiences and be encouraged to fully engage in their play. This doesn’t mean that you need to buy a lot of expensive toys. You want a variety of toys that can be used in multiple ways.  More important is that children need freedom of movement.  Sometimes, we are tempted to leave our young children in a stroller, highchair, or a pack-and-play (especially if they seem content being there) because it’s easier to keep our eye on them but this may limit their potential for play.  So, get your child out of that seat even if she might get into a bit of trouble!  Another great way to stimulate play (and the brain!) is to encourage children to play with your safe household objects. It’s tempting to turn on the television or give your child a tablet or smart phone for 25 minutes to entertain them while you cook dinner but your child will be better stimulated if you allowed some of your pots and pans to become rockets and fairy houses.

So, next time you walk in on your child engaged in some serious play, take a few minutes to sit down and carefully observe your child. What do they get excited about? What do they do when things don’t work as expected?  Join in but let them lead the play.  You can do some parallel play (if your child is stacking blocks, you can stack some blocks too) and see how your child responds. In paying attention to how your child plays, you will learn a lot about how play contributes to your child’s development.

Written by

Amanda Williford, PhD

Research Associate Professor



3 takeaways:

·         Your child’s brain development depends on high quality play opportunities!

·         Take time to play with your child.

·          You will learn a lot about your child by paying attention to how your child plays.

Posted on May 18, 2017 .

Yoga and Executive Function Skills

Good Morning Yoga & Good Night Yoga
Did you rush out the door this morning? Do you struggle to have a calm and peaceful bedtime routine? Do you have a hard time falling asleep as your mind races with everything on your “to do” list for tomorrow?
If your mornings and evenings are filled with hustle and bustle, we have the answer for you! Get ready for the day with a few yoga poses with your child.

Praise for Good Morning Yoga: A Pose by Pose Wake Up Story by Mariam Gates, Illustrations by Sarah Jane Hinder

Praise for Good Morning Yoga: A Pose by Pose Wake Up Story by Mariam Gates, Illustrations by Sarah Jane Hinder

Settle down for the night with a few yoga postures to calm your mind and body. 

Praise for Good Night Yoga: A Pose by Pose Bedtime Story by Mariam Gates,  Illustrations by Sarah Jane Hinder

Praise for Good Night Yoga: A Pose by Pose Bedtime Story by Mariam Gates, 
Illustrations by Sarah Jane Hinder

These two books help kids have calm and focused days and peaceful nights (ok, it works on the parents too). It takes about three minutes to read through the book and illustrates the poses in an engaging, easy and fun way.
There’s been a tremendous amount of research and attention given to the importance of social-emotional development, character development and executive function. Let’s unpack how yoga and mindfulness can help young children and elementary school-aged children develop these skills that will help them in school, relationships and the work place down the road. 
What are executive function and self-regulation skills? These skills help us to plan, focus our attention, recall facts, follow directions, take turns, persevere and juggle tasks. The brain has to filter distractions, prioritize tasks and control impulses. It is during the early childhood years that these cognitive and emotion-regulating skills are learned. 
According to the Center on the Developing Child@ Harvard, when children have opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation skills, individuals and society reap lifelong benefits. 
When children and adults practice yoga and mindfulness, numerous studies show improved attention, cognitive outcomes, social-emo

tional skills and greater compassion for others. It teaches all of us how to self-regulate and calm our bodies.
Go get your yoga mat or a towel and read these books with your child by author Mariam Gates (She even reads them aloud on You Tube). Start a new routine with a few yoga poses and postures. Couldn’t we all use a little more peace, relaxation and quiet in our days?

Good Morning Yoga

Good Night Yoga


Lisa Howard, President & CEO






Posted on April 12, 2017 .

March Madness & Soft Skills

March Madness is over (thank goodness)! What a game last night!! North Carolina beat Gonzaga 71-65. It was a nail-biter for anyone who watched. As a die-hard Tar Heel fan, this game was tough to watch especially after Villanova’s buzzer beater win last year over the Heels. Marcus Paige said it best last night in a Tweet, “Watching as a fan is way more stressful than playing.”

Both teams battled through poor shooting, Joel Berry II played with two hurt ankles, Williams-Goss played through injury, there were too many foul calls, missed foul shots and it was a sloppy, ugly battle between two No. 1 seeds.

Both Roy Williams and Mark Few along with their players took the high road and refused to blame the officiating crew. In fact, Mark Few said, “Those were three of the best officials in the entire country—NBA, college or anything.” The coaches and players showed qualities that matter on and off the court. They exhibited “soft skills” like: grit, perseverance, optimism, humility and self-control.

As parents, we can turn the pregame parties and post game celebrations into real life lessons for our children that will stick long after the buzzer sounds. We can use the game as a “teachable moment” to:

·         Let our children struggle and fail so they can learn to manage failure and learn from mistakes.

·         Give our children opportunities to experience disappointment and frustration. Encourage them to keep trying and to do their best.

·         Encourage our children to practice and work hard. This is what develops grit, perseverance, patience and discipline.

·         Show our children how to be courteous and humble and take the high road no matter what life throws your way.

Research tells us these “soft skills” are highly predictive to success in school, life and the workplace. And these skills begin during the early childhood years. Last night was a great night to be a Tar Heel, but it was also a great night to be a Zag.

Lisa Howard, President & CEO

Lisa Howard, President & CEO

Do you have yoga at your morning meeting? We do!

Do you have Yoga @ your morning meeting? We do. Here’s why:

Yoga and teaching young children mindfulness can help them learn to relax, concentrate and reduce impulsiveness. The many benefits for young children include:

  • Builds physical strength and encourages muscles to be used in new ways
  • Develops coordination
  • Promotes body awareness
  • Improves balance
  • Builds confidence
  • Increases concentration
  • Reduces stress and calms the body
  • Encourages imagination and creativity

Yoga engages the heart, mind and body. It helps children develop emotional intelligence, communication skills, trust and empathy. Introducing Yoga at an early age sets children up for a healthy & fit lifestyle. Not to mention, it will increase strength, flexibility and coordination. Shh…our teachers even do Yoga with the kids before nap time. Now, that is brilliant! Over the next few weeks, we are going to arm you with a few Yoga poses that your entire family can do at home. And we are going to bring in our very own expert to offer a family Yoga class. Can you say, Namaste?"

Lisa Howard headshot circle.png




Lisa Howard, President and CEO, E3: Elevate Early Education and The New E3 School

Posted on April 3, 2017 .

Math & Music: Patterns of Mathematics

As a former math teacher, I am fascinated by the many patterns of mathematics.  In fact, one of my favorite topics to teach was the Fibonacci sequence*.  It is amazing how many different places you can find numbers from that sequence in nature, art, geometry, architecture, and even music.  It isn’t surprising that researchers have found a strong link between mathematics and music.   In my experience, I found that the best math students were often very competent musicians.

That leads me to wonder if intentionally exposing children to music at an early age may help create more confident and competent mathematicians.  The research seems to support that music can, at the very least, help children better understand and remember some emergent mathematical concepts.  There are three related but different ways of using music to encourage development of math skills in young children.

First, we all remember singing songs as small children that helped us learn concepts:  the Hokey Pokey, Old MacDonald, etc.  Studies have shown these musical mnemonics can be a very powerful learning tool for any subject.  Once words are set to music, the mind connects the two and a very powerful memory is created which can be retrieved easily.  A web site for finding a song for just about any concept and most age groups is

Second, there is evidence to show that just adding musical elements to enhance a math lesson or activity helps children pay better attention, and they are better able to recall concepts taught.   The music stimulates parts of the brain that help children form mathematical concepts.

Finally, music is inherent in all of us; we hear music, and we rock our babies, clap our hands, tap our feet.  These responses are reactions to musical elements such as steady beat, rhythm, and melody, all of which reflect mathematical concepts. 

The steady beat of a song helps children understand the important concept of one-to-one correspondence (matching up one thing with something else).  Thus, by clapping to the steady beat of a song, you are connecting the beat with your clap and reinforcing the concept of one-to-one correspondence. 

Rhythm is similar to steady beat but where steady beat is constant, rhythm varies.  Rhythm helps with one-to-one correspondence but it also helps children learn about patterns.  Even newborns learn about rhythm as parents sing lullabies to them and rock them to the rhythm of the music. 


Provide children with an instrument to shake or tap in rhythm with music.  As children get older, sing songs with them and encourage them to repeat the song or extend the pattern; for example, when singing “Old MacDonald,” stop after “With a moo moo here,” and have your child repeat the phrase or extend the pattern by adding “and a moo moo there.”   Encouraging your children to express themselves by moving differently to varying sounds or rhythms motivates the brain to categorize sounds and understand patterns within music.

We all know music has many benefits from aiding relaxation to stimulating the mind.  It is exciting to realize that music provides children with their first patterning experience and helps engage them in mathematics even when they don’t recognize the activities as mathematics. 

 *If you are not familiar with the sequence, it is formed by starting with the two numbers, 1 and 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two:  1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34, etc.  There are books written about it but you can also find many sites on the internet that will illustrate how often it is found in our lives.

By Mary Hubbard, Educational Advisory Board Member

Posted on March 27, 2017 .

Advocacy in Education: Four Key Efforts by UVA’s Curry School of Education

Creating a first-of-its-kind preschool is one of four major efforts by The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education to improve early education. The New E3 School is a result of the partnership between E3: Elevate Early Education and the Curry School's Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (UVA CASTL).

The New E3 School, an innovative laboratory school aiming to prepare children between ages 1 and 5 for kindergarten opened its doors in 2015.

UVA CASTL's Amanda Williford and Bridget Hamre, both research associate professors, lead the effort in developing the school’s curriculum and professional development approach.

A recent study led by Williford shows that 34 percent of Virginia children entering kindergarten lack key skills needed for success.

The New E3 School, the first of its kind, aims to change that. The curriculum builds from the latest science about how young children learn, with a focus on supporting teachers to interact with children in ways that help them become critical thinkers, problem-solvers and effective communicators early on in life. 

“The New E3 School is designed to be a statewide model of best practices of early childhood education spanning from infancy to preschool,” Williford said.

Read more of the efforts by UVA to improve early education in the story published by UVA Today: A Legacy of Advocacy in Education: Four Key Efforts by The Curry School

Posted on November 8, 2016 .

The Toddler Years.

Did you know that nearly 90% of your baby’s brain will be developed by the time they’re 5?   

To give your baby’s brain a boost before they turn 2, below are some easy tips to make sure that your toddler is getting all the attention, love, and interaction they need.

 13-15 MONTHS:

• Read, read, read—we can’t say it enough, read to your toddler!  Let them hold the book and turn the pages as you read together.

• Speak up—introduce your child to new words daily by talking to them throughout the day.  Talk about the things you see, hear & do together.

• Build it up & tear it down—build a tower together with a few blocks & then knock it down & start all over.  This helps teach cause and effect & strengthens fine motor skills.

16-18 MONTHS:

• Talk back—even if your baby isn’t using words you can understand, be sure to talk back to them when they make sounds to encourage them to keep on talking.

• Pretend—give your baby items that you use daily like toy keys, dishes, or a telephone & let them practice pretending to use these everyday objects.

• Splish, Splash—give your baby cups & other toys during bath time to let them explore & play with water.

19-21 MONTHS

• Family Band—make your own music together with items found around the house—rice in a sealed container can quickly become a maraca, or a pot & a spoon become a drum.  

• Ask questions—as you continue to read together, be sure you’re asking lots of questions about the pictures, the story & what they see.

• Play-Dough—let your baby explore with play-dough and watch them mold, squeeze, shape & be creative.  Make sure they don’t try to eat it.

22-24 MONTHS

• Follow the Leader—let your child copy you as you crawl, run, jump & dance around the house.

• Shape up—draw some simple shapes (circle, square, triangle, etc.) and talk about them with your child.  See if you can find shapes around your house—plates, windows, glasses, etc.

• Help out—give your child little jobs to help out around the house— putting toys away, dusting, helping you cook, etc.—this will let them feel helpful and needed.


Posted on October 24, 2016 .

Engineering= hands-on play!




Early childhood educators have always recognized how building with blocks (and similar hands-on activities) help children develop motor skills while at the same time exercising their creativity. But these activities can also be framed as authentic engineering. At The New E3 School, our future engineers use their hands to create, design, construct and build. They are also learning about teamwork; how to work together, problem solve and communicate. Engineering is Elementary is creating an engineering design process for the preschool classroom. Read more about EiE's framework for preschool engineering here.  

Early childhood educators have always recognized how building with blocks (and similar hands-on activities) help children develop motor skills while at the same time exercising their creativity. But these activities can also be framed as authentic engineering.

At The New E3 School, our future engineers use their hands to create, design, construct and build. They are also learning about teamwork; how to work together, problem solve and communicate.

Engineering is Elementary is creating an engineering design process for the preschool classroom. Read more about EiE's framework for preschool engineering here.


Posted on August 31, 2016 .

E is for Engineering!

What is S.T.R.E.A.M?  Engineering!

There was a time when many subscribed to the school of thought that engineering was reserved primarily for college students.  However, now more than ever, research continues to emerge on the value of teaching engineering to young children. 

When children are engaged in engineering, they are using their hands to create, manipulate, test, problem solve, improve, design, construct and build.  They’re also building their teamwork skills as they work together to collaborate, problem solve, and communicate with one another.

Engineering opens up children’s minds and through hands-on projects and experiments, children strengthen their ability to learn from their mistakes, learn to keep an open mind and find new solutions to problems, and be persistent. 

At The New E3 School, our future engineers design, build, construct and have lots of fun working as a team to create their structures. 




Want to learn more about engineering and how to cultivate engineering skills in your child?  Check out this post from the National Science Teacher's Association.  

Posted on March 10, 2016 .