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By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

As the President of Child Care Services Association, a mother and a grandmother, I have been following the advancement of HB 485, the Virtual Early Learning Pilot program, under consideration by the North Carolina State Legislature. The 3-year pilot would allow up to 10 school districts to offer online pre-k to at-risk, 4 year-old children, at a cost of $500,000 per year for the next three years.

I know that every year, state legislators are forced to make difficult decisions in allocating state funding. I can imagine that there is great pressure with these decisions and that legislators look for ways to save money, while still achieving intended outcomes. With regard to state pre-k funding and the goal to have all children throughout North Carolina enter school with the skills to succeed, it is important for legislators to understand how young children learn and what school readiness really means.

Decades of research show that the greatest gains made by children in pre-k occur where teacher interactions with children promote critical thinking skills as well as concept knowledge through warm and responsive relationships.[1]  This isn’t by chance. It’s by design. It’s in-person. It’s individualized to meet each child where he or she is at to build on strengths and build up areas that are not as strong.

Numerous evaluations have shown the importance of instructional, social, and emotional serve-and-return interactions that occur daily between teachers and children, as well as among classmates”[2] that result in developmental gains across early childhood domains (e.g., social and emotional, language and literacy, critical thinking and physical development). These interactions “motivate and deepen learning, enable children to organize and focus their attention and other capacities needed to learn, and promote peer cooperation and support,”[3] which comprise the foundation for school readiness. It’s about soft-skill development as well as concept development related to letters and numbers.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to visit pre-k classrooms and talk to pre-k teachers. Too many of our at-risk 4 year-olds haven’t been read to; they don’t know that books contain words and pictures that tell a story, that letters have sounds and that stories have a sequence – a beginning, a middle and an end. Some have never held a pencil or colored with crayons or written their name. Some haven’t held a pair of scissors or developed the dexterity to use a pencil or have ever put together a puzzle. You would think by age 4, children would know colors and basic shapes, but some do not.

The same children might know how to watch a video on a parent’s phone, but they can’t wait their turn or share, they can’t transition between activities and they don’t know how to use their words to express their thoughts or feelings in a group setting – to lead, follow or just get along with peers. They may or may not have consistent rules at home so they don’t know how to manage themselves appropriately and follow rules in a classroom. These are soft-skills that are learned in a hands-on experience that can’t be learned through a computer lesson.

Pre-k programs also screen children for vision, hearing, speech and physical development and help identify children who could benefit from early intervention services in areas where there may be a delay. None of this can occur through an online preschool experience – at least not in an effective manner.

The NC Pre-K program works. Studies have found that NC Pre-K raises children’s literacy, math and social-emotional skills not just for kindergarten entry[4] but also throughout elementary school and the most recent research shows gains through middle school.[5]

When kindergarten teachers are asked what school readiness means and what skills are most important for school readiness, their top responses include: children who can regulate their impulses, pay attention, listen to and follow directions, be willing to try different tasks (e.g., have self-confidence), engage in self-care, get along with peers and have motor skills such as the ability to hold a pencil.[6]

Despite the strong evaluations of NC Pre-K, current funding supports fewer than half of eligible children. To me, the answer should be to adequately fund NC Pre-K so that 4 year-old children can attend, not divert resources to an online preschool that misses the mark on what matters most for early childhood development – effective interactions with children. Not screen time.

There is still time to course correct on state budget issues. We don’t need a 3-year pilot that diverts $1.5 million from additional pre-k seats for children. Let’s put every dollar possible into expanding what works. And, for 4-year old children, that’s a setting that promotes interactions with teachers and peers.


[1] Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education, Society for Research in Child Development and Foundation for Child Development, 2013. https://www.fcd-us.org/assets/2013/10/Evidence20Base20on20Preschool20Education20FINAL.pdf

[2] The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects, Deborah A. Phillips of Georgetown University, Mark W. Lipsey of  Vanderbilt University, Kenneth A. Dodge of Duke University, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, Daphna Bassok  of the University of Virginia, Margaret R. Burchinal of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greg J. Duncan of the University of California-Irvine, Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution, Katherine A. Magnuson  of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Christina Weiland of the University of Michigan. (2017).  https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/duke_prekstudy_final_4-4-17_hires.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program Evaluation Key Findings (2002–2016), Frank Porter Graham Institute, University of North Carolina, 2017. https://fpg.unc.edu/sites/fpg.unc.edu/files/resources/reports-and-policy-briefs/Summary%20of%20NC%20Pre-K%20Evaluation%20Findings%205-2017.pdf

[5] Evaluation of North Carolina’s Smart Start and NC Pre-K Programs: Follow-Up Through Eighth Grade, Duke University, December 2018. https://duke.app.box.com/s/pw3zv27a2jkmfas2j183yg4ekamxzl8y

[6] What Kindergarten Readiness Means to Kindergarten Teachers, New America. 2009. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/early-elementary-education-policy/early-ed-watch/what-kindergarten-readiness-means-to-kindergarten-teachers/

Written by Christy Thalheimer, M.Ed., CCSA Child Care Referral Manager

It seems fitting that Child Care Provider Appreciation Day is recognized nationally on the same weekend as we celebrate Mother’s Day. We often think of one of the many early educator roles as that of a caretaker; one who offers safety, security, knowledge and compassion to children. When Parenting magazine polled mothers in a recent article about what gifts they wanted for Mother’s Day, the top 10 had nothing to do with something purchased. Instead, the top 10 had one thing in common: taking care of themselves albeit through a clean house, “off mom” routine for a day or a spa day.

A Gift for You

What if I told you I wanted to give you a gift this Provider Appreciation Day of better overall well-being and enhanced connections with your students? What if I told you this was possible without having to spend one dollar or attend another training? 

Welcome to Mindfulness! A simple practice of being present in the moment, with acceptance and openness. Mindfulness strategies can help reduce your stress, lower your anxiety and help you have a more positive and productive emotional state as a teacher.

By now, I am sure most readers have heard of mindfulness through reading a magazine article, a social media post or through mainstream media. It’s a growing trend in the early education field with research supporting practices that can reduce both emotional and physical distress. While mindfulness practices do not replace your health care routines, they can be a complimentary practice that benefit your brain, body and relationships. Learn more about Patricia Jennings’ mindfulness research with teachers at the University of Virginiahere.

The Gift of Mindfulness

I was first introduced to mindfulness in the fall of 2015 out of necessity for a graduate thesis topic and balance in my life. On April 1, 2015, I received the hardest news I have ever had to mentally absorb. My mom, my confidant and grandmother to my 5-year-old, received a diagnosis of cancer. Treatment would begin right away; it was a type of lymphoma cancer and in stage 4. I was devastated! We talked about the care my mom would need and how treatment would affect her life and ability to care for herself. Of course, I would be there through it all.

I worried though. I was a full-time working mother of a kindergartener who began graduate school in January on a time-limited scholarship and lived 1.5 hours away from my mother. Over the next few months, I juggled everything with great time-management skills, a flexible work environment and an understanding husband. Until, I couldn’t any more! I was “burning my candle at both ends.” I began to be snappy with my family, felt tired all the time, my body was showing signs of serious stress and my mind would never rest.

Then came a critical moment in my graduate school work—I had to identify a thesis topic. As a student in education, I had already been reading about breaking research around mindfulness in the education field. Then, I went to NCAEYC’s 2015 conference and I met Dr. Kathleen Gallagher. Her research at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute intrigued me and when asked, she happily agreed to be my internship supervisor. The research we conducted around mindfulness and learning to practice mindfulness was the answer to my prayers for my thesis and for being able to be present for my family.

Top 5 Mindful Practices

Here are the top five mindful practices I incorporated into my life. These practices are easy to build into your daily routine at home or in the classroom.

  1. Three Deep Breaths: This practice has helped me calm down when we have received upsetting news. It is also very helpful to teach a child this technique so they have self-regulation tools to calm down more quickly while reducing quick, shallow breathing.
  2. 5-Minute Mindful Breathing: This practice is very helpful as you prepare to address something that you find particularly stressful. I have used this technique for better focus before presentations. At home, this helps me become aware of my emotions before I respond to my daughter.
  3. Mindful Observations: This is a quick exercise you can do to ground yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed or to reconnect when you want to better enjoy a moment. I have been able to use this strategy to enhance the intimate relationship with my husband. 
  4. Body Scan: The body scan has been very useful for the many sleepless nights I had during my mother’s illness. I also guide my daughter through a body scan when she has trouble getting to sleep at night. (Works like a charm!)
  5. Mindful Moments: Repurpose everyday routines or activities into mindful breaks. This can include mindful walks, listening to soothing music, folding laundry, showering or drinking your morning coffee. Making any moment into a mindful moment can help you better enjoy the activity, just by changing your perspective.

I hope you find at least one mindfulness gift to use daily. There is a robust amount of research and resources available just by searching online. Take time this weekend to try these five simple strategies.

I can personally attest that building mindfulness strategies into my life helps me deal with anxiety (good and bad) in a more positive way. I have a better ability to slow down, enjoy life and regulate my awareness as well as be more compassionate with family members and colleagues.