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Commentary: Hill’s Child Development Centers embrace Early Learning Matters curriculum

Children seated around a table in a Child Development Center classroom.

Children in a Child Development Center classroom at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. A new Early Learning Matters curriculum that launched January 2021 in the preschool classrooms, ages 3-5 years, at both Hill AFB CDC East and CDC West is getting positive reviews. (Courtesy photo)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- “Military kids are the cornerstone of military families worldwide. Helping ensure their health and mental well-being enables military parents to focus on serving the country. Military kids provide creative and resourceful support to their families and communities, all while regularly adapting to new environments and making sacrifices alongside their parents.'' -- Dr. Kelly Blasko, Counseling Psychologist and Lead of Military Kids Connect and the Defense Health Agency’s Connected Health Branch

April is designated as the Month of the Military Child, the time we celebrate our military children: their sacrifices, tenacity, resiliency and ability to adapt to the many changes that military life brings.

First established by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1986, the Month of the Military Child has become a time honored tradition ever since. Here at the Hill AFB Child Development Centers, the staff are dedicated to celebrating and supporting military children all year round, but love the community focus that April brings.

In the spirit of Month of the Military Child, it’s the perfect time to highlight some of the groundbreaking innovations being introduced and implemented at Hill AFB CDCs.

The field of Early Childhood Education and what we know about children’s development is continually growing and progressing. Within the field, the Air Force has consistently been at the forefront; quick to embrace the newest developments in ECE research and ensuring teachers are prepared with the necessary tools and knowledge to best support each child’s individual growth and development.

For the last 20 years, Air Force Child and Youth Programs has been utilizing Creative Curriculum to guide children’s activities, support developmental growth, and facilitate learning in the classroom. However, as the field of ECE grows and evolves, so must we.

The DoD has partnered with leading experts in the field of ECE at Purdue University to create an Early Learning Matters curriculum suited specifically to meet the unique needs of our military children and families.

The ELM curriculum is grounded in the latest research and will be implemented at every DoD CDC worldwide. It was refined by recent highly successful pilot testing in several DoD CDCs across the globe, and is aligned with our accrediting body National Association for the Education of Young Children’s early learning program standards.

In January 2021, ELM was officially launched in the preschool classrooms, ages 3-5 years, at both Hill AFB’s CDC East and CDC West. ELM gives our military children a strong foundation by promoting skills linked to school-readiness, well-being and life success. The ELM curriculum offers developmentally appropriate activities for different age groups and individual children.

For infants, pre-toddlers, and toddlers, the curriculum focuses on five developmental areas including communication/language, cognitive development, self-regulation, social-emotional, and physical development/health. With school readiness in mind, preschool-aged children focus on more complex concepts in the developmental domains of language/literacy, mathematics, self-regulation, social-emotional development, social studies, creative expression, science and physical development/health.

Additionally, by investing in ELM and mandating its implementation at all DoD CDCs, some of the stressors facing transient families will be dramatically reduced. All DoD CDCs are operating on the same timeline for implementation, meaning on any given day, every CDC classroom across the globe is working on the same curriculum activities and lessons. Military families can find comfort in knowing that their child’s development will be consistently supported and prioritized wherever the Air Force sends them.

The ELM curriculum includes a balance of staff-guided and child-initiated learning experiences. Children’s learning is reinforced with a range of materials such as observation and assessment plans for individualized learning, parenting tips for families to extend learning at home and materials like picture cards, letter cards and number cards.

Paired with the existing materials and environments, children benefit from the best of both worlds. Teachers provide intentional learning experiences while also ensuring there is ample time and opportunity for children to be the architects of their own learning through play, exploration and discovery.

With the overwhelming success of the preschool launch of ELM here at Hill AFB, the CDC staff are excited to begin implementing this curriculum for our infant, pre-toddler, and toddler rooms beginning June 1, 2021. Here’s some feedback on experiences with ELM:

“The ELM program gives our children lots of opportunities to learn. In three months of ELM, they have learned to be creative, math skills, literacy skills, and are really improved. They love ELM activities!”-- N.M., Hill AFB preschool teacher

“The ELM program has helped create structure and a solid schedule throughout the day while helping the children learn many different things. The activities are very fun and engaging for the kids!” -- M.H., Hill AFB preschool teacher

“ELM has been a drastic change in the child development culture in the best possible way. The kids are learning more than I ever expected and they enjoy it as well.” -- C.H., Hill AFB preschool teacher

“I like that I feel that we are really teaching and preparing children for Kindergarten.” -- H.H., Hill AFB preschool teacher

“I am grateful for the ELM curriculum and appreciate that my child is learning skills that will help him in Kindergarten.” -- C.H., Hill AFB parent

“My daughter comes home every day excited to share the new things that she has learned during the day! She knows more and more shapes and can count higher than ever before!” J.R., Hill AFB parent

“ELM gives us a chance to see what the children know and where we can build on their individualized skills. We love being able to celebrate the cognitive developmental milestones and see the children's progression as months go.” -- J.P., Hill AFB preschool teacher

“I like the fact that if a child moves from one CDC to another, whether it be near or far, they will potentially be at the same educational level as they were before. This, I believe, will help a tough transition be a little easier.” -- C.K., Hill AFB preschool teacher

“I like that ELM has a large variety of subjects and how they are spread out throughout the whole year giving the children an all-around understanding of life skills.” -- S.A., Hill AFB preschool teacher