A smarter kind of kid

by Staff Sgt. Jessica H. Smith
Kadena Air Base

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- The Department of Defense and Purdue University have partnered together to create a new curriculum set to be implemented DoD wide. The Air Force will be the first service branch to incorporate the 50-week curriculum in the Child Development Centers.

After years of study, the partnership has resulted in the Early Learning Matters curriculum. The previous creative curriculum emphasized children learning through play, whereas ELM focuses on the development of the child as a whole.

It encourages and strengthens the academic skills of children even in the infancy stage, explained Esther Brown-Robinson, 18th Force Support Squadron child and youth programs Wakaba CDC director.

For the birth to 36 months age group, the curriculum has 14 foundational skills broken down into five areas: communication and language, cognitive, self-regulation, social-emotional and physical health. For the three to five age group, there are 27 foundational skills broken down into eight areas: language and literacy, math, self-regulation, social-emotional, social studies, creative expression, science and physical health.

The curriculum is based on developmentally appropriate teaching strategies and is a mixture of teacher-guided and child-initiated activities, said Yvette Walker, 18th FSS child and youth programs lead training and curriculum specialist.

Previously, teachers often created lesson plans based on their own determination of what they thought the best teaching approach was. Now, there’s clear guidance for all lessons. From what to teach to when to teach it, everything will be inclusive in the ELM curriculum.

“No longer are we just learning through play; now with this new curriculum, the teachers actually have a structured guide and we use that guidance to create lesson plans in every individual classroom still understanding children are individuals, still understanding the developmental milestones from a baby to a toddler to a preschooler to ‘you’re off to kindergarten,’” Brown-Robinson said.

With a focus on development, the structure of ELM allows for better preparation and the necessary growth needed for school, she explained.

Although it has very specific guidance on how to do things, the curriculum still allows teachers to make adaptations to ensure no child is left behind, Walker further explained, whether it’s tying their shoe or writing their name.

Having everything clearly laid out also allows for more continuity for educators, students, and parents alike. It ensures children are provided quality education and enables CDC’s across the DoD to provide an in-sync learning curve no matter where a permanent change of station may take a family.

“I think it’s going to be something everybody benefits from,” Walker said. “We’re hoping that parents are happy about it and know their children are being prepared for school readiness.”

As the director – and a military parent herself – Brown-Robinson believes focusing on the child as a whole with ELM improves the quality of care and takes children to the next level – not only preparing them for school, but for life as well.

“I think the parents will be extremely happy knowing the [DoD] is building an academically consistent curriculum that can be applicable wherever they go,” Brown-Robinson said. “The Air Force realized we’re ready for something new, something innovative – but most importantly – something that’s going to work for the children, for the teachers and for the families.”

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