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Benchmarks focus on birth-K development

Published on: October 01, 2005

Between the ages of 18 to 36 months of age, you can expect your child
to show enthusiasm about being around others, begin to share and take
turns, participate in group games and follow family routines.

At least that's what the myriad of experts conclude in a compilation of
early childhood development goals that took the team over two years to

What they came up with is a 200-page book (its PDF form is available
online) called Washington State Early Learning and Development
Benchmarks. The federally funded manual -- its creators like to think
of it as a guide -- was generated by the Governor's office and the
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The benchmarks describe reasonable expectations of what children should
know and be able to do within specific age groups: birth to 18 months,
18 to 36 months, 36 to 60 months, and 60 months to kindergarten.

Development goals detailed in the document include social and emotional
development, physical development, cognition, language and literacy,
approaches toward learning and general knowledge.

Benchmarks planners gathered an impressive array of contributors from
the education and child development arenas to work on the project.
Advisors (there were 30 on the panel) included pediatricians, child
care providers and representatives from organizations such as Head
Start, the University of Washington, the Foundation for Early Learning
and the Talaris Research Institute.

The advisory panel connected with more experts and reviewers.
Ultimately, over 1,000 people provided input for what became the
ultimate everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know, birth-to-kindergarten
development guide for educators, caregivers, parents and state agencies
that focus on children and anyone else interested in early learning.

The plethora of information within these pages might easily overwhelm
some parents. That's why the benchmarks team hopes to eventually issue
simplified, user-friendly versions in smaller, easy-to-use forms.

In the current version, published last June, each topic splits into
sections, which are divided yet again into subtopics. Under the
subtopics are "strategies for caregivers," perhaps the most valuable
component of the benchmarks.

For example, under "measurement " in the cognition and general
knowledge section, readers are advised that children age birth to 18
months should be able to play with toys and objects with different
sizes and shapes, and order a few objects by size, with assistance.

Strategies caregivers can use to help a child reach these goals
include: "provide opportunities to develop an understanding of volume
(filling and emptying); describe the size, volume, weight and length of
people, toys and objects; provide child with toys that have incremental
sizes (nesting cups, stackable rings) from own and other cultural

Use as a resource

The benchmarks creators view the document as a resource -- not a mandatory curriculum or measuring stick.

"We want to get more people in Washington state focused on common
expectations of what children know and can do," says Garrison Kurtz,
director of programs for the Foundation for Early Learning. Kurtz
served on the benchmarks advisory panel. "People should look at these
guidelines and learn from them. They should be the beginning of a rich
dialogue on child development."

Don't think of the benchmarks as "gospel," Kurtz notes. "It's the best
we can do to depict what's commonly accepted by multiple disciplinary
approaches," he says. "We consider this an opportunity to focus
attention in a common direction."

Preschool administrators, for instance, might examine the guide's 75
goals and decide how these components fit into their programs. "A
director or teacher could figure out ways to add to the curriculum and
update, extend and enrich it, using the benchmarks as guidelines,"
explains Sangree Froelicher, director of the Governor's Head
Start-State Collaboration Office. Froelicher wrote the original grant
to fund the benchmarks project.

It's also important, Froelicher notes, that K-12 educators understand
what's reasonable to expect from birth to age 5 -- and what's important
in child development.

Bridgett Chandler, deputy program director at Seattle's Talaris
Institute, hopes the benchmarks will help parents feel more competent.
"In many ways, the benchmarks emphasize the importance of what we do by
instinct -- for example, the way we talk to a baby," says Chandler, who
was also a benchmarks advisor. "The benchmarks should reinforce the
good things parents are already doing for their kids."

Linda Morgan writes frequently on education issues for ParentMap.

Here is an excerpt from the Washington State Early Learning and
Development Benchmarks.
The topic is "Language, Communication and
Literacy." The age category is 36-60 months.

Vocabulary goal:

  • Children use receptive vocabulary

Some indicators for children:

  • Responds appropriately to a request (e.g., "Bring me the green towel.")
  • Has a receptive vocabulary of several hundred words in home language
  • Distinguishes between real and made-up words

Some strategies for caregivers:

  • Use increasingly complex words, in context, and explain their meaning when talking with child.
  • Provide opportunities for child to listen for new words in the environment and identify them when heard.
  • Play "placing games" with child to show understanding of prepositions (e.g., "Put the ball under/on top of/beside the table.").
  • Converse naturally with child about what he/she is doing, listening to and seeing.

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