Author Archives: Orcas Island Early Childhood Education

About Orcas Island Early Childhood Education

The Orcas Island Early Childhood Education (ECE) Community includes: Children's House, Kaleidoscope, and Montessori preschools working together in support of our community and its children.


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May 1 – 17, 2019

The Early Childhood Education Initiative (ECEI) has been a collaboration of the three licensed preschools on Orcas Island, private funders, and expert advisors for the past five years. ECEI has recently developed a Sustainability Task Force with a mission to identify and help secure long-term investments to sustain universal access to high-quality preschool.

The objective of the ECEI is that every child has access to at least 12 hours per week of preschool education and promote measurable increased in the quality of each program in the areas of teaching quality and in student learning and development.


The initiative has served over 100 preschool students and families with financial need, as well as supported over 20 early childhood educators to improve teaching practice in all three schools. Donations to the 2019 OICF Give Orcas Catalog listing will support continued high-quality instruction to the 60+ preschool students at Children’s House, Kaleidoscope, and Orcas Montessori School.

As a community, we can support the Early Childhood Education Initiative’s commitment to our youngest students so that they will enter school ready to learn. The ECEI is asking for $25,000 to support the quality component of instruction for one year.



Initiative Sustainability Task Force begins work

The new conference room at the Orcas Island Community Foundation was buzzing with excitement, as the ECE Initiative convened its first Sustainability Task Force meeting December 7.  Over the past four years, the ECE Initiative, comprised of educators from the three schools, education researchers and a small number of donors have significantly increased pre-school access and quality leading to improved kindergarten readiness for our children.

The new Sustainability Task Force,  facilitated by Jim Connell, met to begin the process of identifying and developing sustainable sources of funding for preschool access and quality in order to maintain and further strengthen kindergarten-readiness.

Total costs for the ECE initiative are estimated to be $125,000 per year: approximately $75,000 for the “quality component” and $50,000 per year for the “access component”.  The initiative’s Sustainability Task Force will be looking at public and private sources for these funds. (Contact Jim Connell to learn more about how you can help sustain quality preschool on Orcas.)

The following individuals will lend their expertise to work groups focused on pursuing specific pathways to sustainability:

Local community (private donors, organizations and foundations)

• Susan Anderson (Lead Communicator)
• Steve Jung (Advisor)
• Joe Cohen (Advisor)
• Amber Paulsen
• Teresa Chocano
• Tony Ghazel
• Kyle Carver

Public investments (county, state and federal)

• Travis Neal (Lead Communicator)
• Madden Surbaugh
• Eric Webb (Advisor)
• Rick Hughes

Regional and national foundations

• Jim Connell (Lead Communicator)
• Meagan Gable

OICF grants committee ranks ECE Initiative “critical need”

IMG_0293The Early Childhood Education (ECE) Initiative is participating in the annual Give Orcas campaign, and has again been ranked  a “critical need” grant for the community.

A key indicator of a healthy, thriving community is when all its young children have access to high-quality preschool education.  When children enter school ready to learn socially and academically, they’re on the path to being productive and successful citizens. The quality of preschool education rests on the quality of what goes on between our preschool teachers and our youngest students. The current ECE Initiative Grant supports program enhancements for teaching quality shown by research to be critical to increasing students’ kindergarten-readiness.

The Initiative has been a 4-year collaboration between Children’s House, Orcas Montessori and Kaleidoscope preschools, education researchers and a small number of local donors who’ve worked together with proven results.

To ensure this opportunity is available for the next wave of children, the philanthropic community is asked to join parents, preschool teachers, school fundraisers, supporters and others through the Give Orcas campaign May 1-18.

Donors can help sustain high-quality preschool on Orcas by giving to the ECE Initiative grant.

ECE Initiative banner layered


ECE Initiative delivers results

The Early Childhood Education (ECE) initiative — a four-year collaboration of three Orcas Island state-licensed preschools, private funders, and expert advisors — has produced objective results including universal access to at least 12 hours per week of preschool education for local 3-5 year olds, significant gains in teaching quality and in student learning and development.

To date, the initiative has served over 100 preschool students and families in financial need and supported over 20 early childhood educators (all educators in the three schools) to improve teaching practices.

 In 2014, the ECE Initiative found there were approximately 20 three- to five-year-old students who were either NOT ENROLLED in preschool OR currently enrolled in hours

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 3.42.09 PM insufficient enough (12 hours minimum) to make an impact on outcomes. As a result of the Access investment, more students were enrolled, but it meant more high-risk students entered the pool every year of the Initiative and stayed in the pool. (IEP, ESL and below poverty-level students.)

Initial evidence provided by our Orcas Island Public School colleagues indicated that almost half of students entering Kindergarten were “at risk” on a nationally recognized literacy assessment (Dibbles.) We asked whether improving Quality — in tandem with Access — in our state-licensed pre-schools would make a difference. By Fall 2016, Dibbles assessment results reported 85% of students from these preschools entered Kindergarten having scored at Kindergarten-ready levels on the state-approved literacy assessment. By Fall 2017, the school replaced the Dibbles literacy assessment with the now standard assessment tool, WAKids, which found 100% were ready in literacy.

Then by 2015, the ECE Initiative began to work toward the goal that 95 percent of Orcas K-bound students would enter OISD kindergarten-ready in 6 of 6 domains, which required an investment in teaching quality. In 2012-13 (prior to ECE Initiative investments) only 77.3% were ready in 6 of 6. By 2017 87.5% were ready in 6 of 6 DESPITE the added population of high-risk students now enrolled in the preschools. (See WaKids table.)


ECE Initiative seeks community support

Results show investments by the Early Childhood Education Initiative on Orcas has been highly successful and provide evidence that investing in quality preschool programs locally pays off in kindergarten-readiness.

In 2015, only 44.2 percent of Washington State  students entering kindergarten were considered ready in all six domains: social emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy and math.  While Orcas students tested better at 69.2 percent, we knew we could do better and set about defining the goals that would get us there.CH JENNY

By the fall of 2016, Washington State improved its percentage to 47.4 percent.  But assessments on Orcas showed that 87.1 percent were ready in 6 of 6 domains.  (In comparison, other San Juan Island County assessments showed only 61.1 percent and 48.1 percent were entirely kindergarten-ready.)

The percentage growth in readiness on our island is important because it demonstrates collaboration and investments in our preschools work! Orcas is the ONLY island on which all state-licensed preschools collaborate to improve these outcomes. And it’s the ONLY island that has an actively managed preschool Initiative willing to invest in student access and quality improvements.

The WA State Department of Early Learning has set a goal of 90 percent of students meeting kindergarten readiness in 6 of 6 domains by 2020.  With support of the Initiative and highly motivated preschools, Orcas Island is well on its way of meeting and exceeding this goal.

But this is just the beginning. The ECE Initiative is seeking bridge funding to provide time to develop a collaborative, long-term funding strategy for ECE with OICF and other community partners. LEARN MORE.


Quality outdoor preschool environments help inspire young imaginations


Sunbeams fill the afternoon playground, providing a warm relief against the colder fall temperatures.  Leaves float here and there across the playground, then gather in brown heaps enveloped by the sound of preschool voices. Spontaneously a group of four-year-olds begins to dance, tossing leaves into the air, laughing and squealing when leaves brush their faces, sticking to sweaters and hair.fallfun4a

In quality early learning environments, children relate intimately with their natural surroundings.  They may enjoy the roughness of the leaves on their hands and faces or imagine they’re a swimmer in the leaves, a princess on a soft mattress, a turtle in a shell.

Outdoor play is essential for a child’s physical health and brain development. And evidence shows children learn best through open-ended exploration and discovery. In quality preschools, like those on Orcas, free play is spontaneous, pleasurable, self-motivated, imaginative, active, and free of adult-imposed rules. Quality play involves the whole child: gross motor, fine motor, senses, emotion, intellect, individual growth and social interaction. These experiences help students gain confidence and the knowledge they need for later success.

Learn more about the impact of outdoor play and open-ended experiences in early development. Read about how the Early Childhood Initiative supports quality preschool programs in our own island community.


Young children learn about their world through personal touch

gabephotoImagine living in an environment where you were always told, “Don’t touch!”  Young children learn about the world around them through sensory experiences and in environments that let them explore safely and at will.  In fact, touching is essential for early development. Children like to feel the paint on the page or the wet brush on their fingers; they may even spread the color to their bodies to experience fully what “purple” feels like.

In quality early learning programs, educators offer deliberate, experiential opportunities for young children to see, hear, touch, and connect with their surroundings..  These sensory experiences help preschool-age children master the basics of learning readiness — skills which will later help them listen, absorb information, sit still, and learn in a formal setting where information is often provided through instruction rather than experience.

At play, young children use hands-on exploration and sensory learning to gain experience building and testing theories about their world, continually constructing new meaning and knowledge. And these experiences help students gain confidence and the knowledge they need for later success.

Learn more about the impact of touch in early development. Read about how the Early Childhood Initiative supports quality preschool programs in our own island community.

Quality preschools develop social-emotional skills key to later success

samandziahEvidence shows young children need more than intellectual or motivational skills to be successful in school.  They must be able to understand the feelings of others, control their own feelings and behaviors, and get along with their peers and teachers.

By developing good social-emotional skills, students learn to have empathy for others and to establish and sustain relationships. They learn how to manage strong emotions and express feelings in constructive ways.

The child’s social-emotional development influences all other areas of development — cognitive, motor, and language development .  Quality preschool programs incorporate experiences and teachings which promote development of these skills .  Understanding that children learn social skills best by modeling, repetition and practice, experienced teachers work with students to build language and other communication, that help with emotional growth and problem solving.

Consider what this might look like in a preschool environment:

The boys laugh as James pulls them in the wagon.  Liam asks to ride, too. “No,” says James. “The wagon is full.” 

Teacher Jenny watches Liam’s face sink and tears begin to well in his eyes.  She asks Liam to verbalize his feelings and listens carefully to the problem. 

“I can see that makes you sad,” she says.  “What do you think you could do about that?” 

Liams thinks carefully.  “Well,” he says. “Maybe I can be the one to push the wagon instead of riding in it.”

“That a good idea,” says Teacher Jenny. “Let’s go ask.”

Learn more about the impact of social-emotional development in early childhood. Read about how the Early Childhood Initiative supports quality preschool programs in our own island community.

Beth Jenson will present two parenting support workshops

bethjpgJoin us Saturday, March 7, at the Orcas Island Senior Center. A successful marriage and family therapist highly recognized for her work within the special needs community, Beth Jenson, MA, LMHC, will lead our third “Strengthening Island Families” parenting presentation Sat., March 7 at the Senior Center.  Attend one or both of the seminars and enjoy lunch and time to engage with other parents of preschool-age children facing some of the same challenges.

9:30 am – noon “Raising a Sensory-Friendly Family”  Your child avoids finger-painting, refuses to wear socks, or prefers to go naked.  He melts down at birthday parties, wiggles out of circle time, or covers his ears during songs.   Learn more about your child’s quirky sensory seeking or avoiding behaviors.  Explore ways to regulate extra-sensitive and extra-wiggly bodies and brains, soothe the accompanying meltdowns, and plan for success in activities that tend to upset the sensitive.

 12:30 – 3 pm “Bounce Back Kids – Teaching Kids Resilience” Explore how parents can strengthen kids’ resiliency – the ability to emotionally “bounce back” from negative experiences – and give our children strategies for dealing with the everyday childhood tragedies of frustration, disappointments and worries.

Children’s House, Kaleidoscope, Montessori and Salmonberry have agreed to provide child care free of charge for students whose parents will be attending the workshops.  Lunch will be served to students at the centers and parents or guardians attending the programs will be treated to lunch and refreshments.

The programs, care and lunch are free, but reservations are required to ensure adequate food and caregivers are available.  Reservations can be made to any of the Preschools. Learn more about our presenter at

Workshop helps parents gain empathy insight, skills

Parents from Eastsound’s early childhood learning centers learned new techniques for empathizing with others — particularly their own children — in a workshop, January 10th. Presenter Rena Patty talked to parents about the value of empathy (the respectful understanding of what others are experiencing) in improving relationships and focused on ways parents could do this with their children. renapatty1

The key ingredients to empathy, she said, are intention, presence, focus and confirmation so we can connect with our children’s feelings and needs. Parents don’t have to solve every need but should recognize that behavior is often an expression of the need and desire to be understood. Empathy can help a family connect better.

The “Empathy for Parenting” program was part of the “Strengthening Island Families” series, produced by the four early learning centers and underwritten by an OICF grant matched by San Juan County ECEAP. This is the second in the series.