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How to Create High-Quality Head Start Preschools for Early Learning

Do high-quality preschools exist? Yes, but mostly for higher-income families. 

According to Emily Griffey, Policy Director of Voices for Virginia’s Children, there is a 19-point disparity between the percentages of high-income and low-income families that can afford preschool for their children.

There are many initiatives to expand accessibility to public Head Start preschools, but such accessibility has to be matched with quality, or there is a risk of perpetuating the cycle of inequity.

In this blog, Sprig argues the case for high-quality preschools, addresses the issue of accessibility, and then gives the indications and characteristics that would be required to create a high-quality public or private early learning program.


The Case for High-Quality Preschools

In her essay for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Taryn Morrissey narrows down the major reasons that warrant greater policy attention to early education.

To summarize, high-quality education:

  • promotes child development and learning, and reduces inequities for those in disadvantaged communities. 
  • helps parental employment by providing a safe and quality environment for learning for their kids. 
  • forms the necessary backbone of the economic infrastructure.


Thus, high-quality preschools have both a short-term and long-term impact on school children and their communities. 

The community is able to thrive knowing that the child is growing in a safe and excellent setting that is favourable to learning. 

As the child grows older, there is a net spillover effect, where they contribute to the larger economy.

A study of 22 longitudinal studies, conducted between 1960 and 2016, showed that the attendees of early childhood education programs were:

  • less likely to be placed in special education
  • less likely to be held back a grade
  • more likely to graduate from high school 


These positive outcomes demonstrate that, when available, high-quality preschools make a huge difference in early learning.


Are There Enough High-Quality Preschools?

It’s tough to say if there is a shortage of preschools. Invariably, every preschool classroom does not fill the capacity of the maximum of 20 children per two trained adults, as recommended by the Office of Child Care in the US. However, even when this happens, quality can be impacted as more children require increased teacher attention. 

In the US, state-funded preschool and Head Start programs serve less than 1 in 3 eligible early learners. 

The National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER) says that the quality standards remain “far too low” for these programs, and were only exacerbated by the pandemic. As low-income families weigh their options, homeschooling or daycare may seem like better alternatives if the quality of preschools garners a bad reputation. 

Which prompts the question….


What Does High-Quality Early Childhood Education Look Like?

High-quality preschools are both academic and play-based. A high-quality curriculum is specifically designed to present skills and concepts to schoolchildren in an order that matches their level of development.

In the process, formative assessments are used to address achievement gaps in underperforming students. It increases student engagement and leads to greater teacher satisfaction.

Hence, high-quality preschools do not merely focus on providing the best early childhood education experience, but also have innate differentiated instruction to cater to the needs of every child in the classroom. 


High-Quality Indicators

There are scales available to measure the quality of preschools such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS).

The ECERS contains 35 items organized into 6 categories of Space and Furnishings, Personal Care Routines, Language and Literacy, Learning Activities, Interaction and Program Structure.

The focus is on building oral language as foundational literacy concepts and moving to reading when appropriate. 

The Language and Literacy category includes “helping children expand vocabulary”, “encouraging children to use language”, “encouraging children’s use of books” and  “becoming familiar with print”. 

Also, under Learning Activities, the promotion of diversity and the appropriate use of technology are suggested. Tools like Sprig Library combine these recommendations into one effective and culturally responsive learning experience.  The app offers interactive story books that support oral language development, while introducing Indigenous themes, illuminating diversity.

An equal mix of self-learning and group learning is ideal for high-quality preschool programs. 

As seen in the ECERS scale: to address self-learning, “space for privacy” appears under the Space and Furnishings category, and “individualized teaching and learning” appears under Interaction. 

To address group-learning, peer learning is recommended under Interaction, and “whole-group activities” is listed under Program Structure.


The High-Quality Checklist

The NIEER recommends the following considerations when building a high-quality preschool program. A high-quality preschool Head Start program must:

  • cultivate positive relationships between teachers and children.
  • adequately equip the classroom with sufficient materials and toys. 
  • ensure regular communication that involves mutual listening, responding and encouragement to use reasoning and problem solving.
  • offer opportunities for multiple kinds of play.
  • provide materials and activities to promote understanding of diversity.
  • nurture parental involvement in the program.


Additionally, The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends a staff to child ratio of 1:10 for preschools, with a maximum class size of 20 students. 

Furthermore, the fair compensation and professional development for all teachers and staff are very important components of administering and maintaining a high-quality preschool program. 

Wherever they are not compensated adequately and on equal terms with K-12 educators, there is a higher risk of turnover


Need for Consistency and Assurance


Consistency of Early Educational Experience

Literacy assessment data from the US show that almost half of kindergartners were falling below grade-level benchmarks partway through the 2020-2021 year. The setbacks were more pronounced in marginalized communities. 

This is a case where the quality of preschools fell short of expectations. The data shows that preschoolers need consistent in-person interaction with educators.

Whenever this consistent learning environment is uprooted (due to any natural calamities or a global pandemic), it’s important to have a contingency plan in place that uses hybrid or remote learning, depending on how soon it’s safe to go back to school. 


Assurance of High-Quality

The rate of return on human capital investment is at its highest from birth to age 5. When children attend any sort of structural school system for the first time, it’s important that they receive the best education and are assured of continuing in the program.

There can be a trade-off sometimes between targeting skills and the whole child. While it’s true that targeting specific skills such as literacy and numeracy increases achievement in those areas, a whole child curriculum is often better at ensuring quality of classroom processes.

It doesn’t have to be either-or. With holistic learning, you tend to the whole child by involving their teachers, parents and the community to support their needs and safety. But you also focus on particular academic skills by offering leveled activities that are fun to do. 


Looking Ahead

There is help available to build high-quality Head Start preschools or transform existing preschools into a high-quality Head Start program. However, while there is more funding to increase accessibility, it must be matched with increased quality. 

Sprig believes that the indications, checklist, and considerations described in this article can be used to establish both new and upgraded high-quality preschools and head start programs.

Early Literacy: Academic Return on Investment (ROI) For Schools

There are different types of returns when it comes to investing in early childhood education (ECE), which includes the early primary grades. A large part of ECE consists of teaching literacy in language and math, as they are fundamental subjects crucial for academic success. 

First, there is the societal return on investment (ROI).

ECE investment benefits the society at large. Professor Heckman, a Nobel Laureate and expert in the economics of human development, found that high-quality early learning investments can yield a 13% annual ROI per child, through better education, economic, health and social outcomes. 

After considering all benefits to health, education and development of young students, and the positive spillover effects to the society, such as increased employment and safety in the future, there is a 4 to 9 times ROI over the lifetime of the student. 

Almost 80% of prekindergarten and elementary schools in the US are public. By educating early learners, they do a lot of good for society.

But these schools are still compared against each other in student success metrics such as attendance, proficiency scores in assessments, and graduation rates. 

This is because, other than societal ROI, there is also the all important school ROI, which increases accountability on the part of publicly funded institutions. 

Education leaders do not seek a monetary return on their investments, but they do seek greater student learning and cost-efficiency. This is called the academic return on investment for schools. This article is about increasing the academic return on investment through early literacy initiatives. 


Correct Approach to Academic Return on Investment (ROI)

Correct Approach to Academic Return on Investment

It’s important to understand the expected return from any investment, because there is a limited budget and great opportunity cost for funds which could be used elsewhere to improve the school.

The academic ROI focuses ultimately on student and teacher benefit. 

Teachers instruct and manage students while they are at school, which is a huge factor in affecting academic performance.

Other major contributing factors to academic performance are the student’s learning environment and situation at home, and their unique characteristics as early learners. 

But even these two things can be shaped by teachers, by collaborating with parents and fairly assessing them at school respectively. 

Simply said, for high academic ROI, every dollar spent has to either benefit the student or teacher. 

Academic ROI seeks to maximize achievement for the greatest number of students. It is formulated by multiplying the learning gains for each student by the total number of students helped, and dividing this sum by the investment, or the total amount spent for the result. 

By calculating the academic rate of investment in this way, the former superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, reduced the number of K-5 students reading below grade level by 65%, and increased the proficiency rate of students with special needs by almost 25%.

When used correctly, the academic ROI equation leads to positive results. It makes school administrators take the following into account:

  1. The total academic gains by all students (gains maximization). 
  2. The total cost of such gains (cost-efficiency)


Adopting a Student-centered Viewpoint for Academic ROI by Improving Early Literacy Performance

Adopting a Student-Centered Viewpoint for Academic ROI by Impoving Early Literacy Performance

Often during ROI analysis, the district will evaluate and compare different initiatives such as professional development programs, investment in technology (e.g., iPads), and after school tutoring, etc.

This approach makes sense as administrators look to add and cut items from the budget at the end of the fiscal year. 

But it does not address the issue of academic return head-on. 

In order to do that, there needs to be a student-centered viewpoint which considers the overall impact on student academic gains and the associated costs. 

ER Strategies (ERS), the MA based non-profit partner to hundreds of school systems, recommends asking “which resources will meet this need”, instead of “which program is better”? 

The first step is the identification of the core need. 

In this case, because this article is about early literacy, the need is to improve student proficiency scores in language and math. These scores took a hit after the pandemic and are still in recovery mode. 

ERS encourages system-wide thinking that spans departmental boundaries.

By solely focusing on what will improve early literacy performance and its associated cost drivers, it is possible to come up with cost-efficient solutions that will maximize academic gains. 


Thinking About a Healthy Academic ROI

Healthy Academic ROI

In a study from small school districts, 7 superintendents unanimously said that the acceptance of out-of-district transfers was a strategy for maintaining the district’s financial well-being. 

Increasing the efficiency in personnel was another strategy everyone agreed upon. This was achieved via cutting and combining staff positions and recruiting and retaining high-quality employees. 

Adopting the student-centered view to ROI, and looking at the goals these initiatives are trying to achieve, we can come to the following conclusions.

  1. There is a need for enrolling more students. 
  2. There is a need for maintaining an efficient roster of teachers and staff that will deliver high-quality education to students. 


Having understood these goals, it’s now possible to think of alternate solutions, instead of only focusing on line items in the budget.

For example, the two goals can be summed up to ask, how can each teacher, staff and administrator be better equipped so they can handle the intake, management, instruction, assessment, and personalization of education for every student, old and new, that comes to the district?

There are many answers to the question, of course. 

This type of thinking allows the decision maker to consider the maximum benefit that can be achieved for the students with the smallest input. In other words, it’s very conducive for a healthy academic ROI. 


How to Increase Early Literacy Academic ROI

Increase Early Literacy Academic ROI

It helps when the core need of students is identified from the start. 

In the following case, one big public school district had already set out to improve academic ROI by increasing early literacy performance for their students. 

Philadelphia’s public school system posted among the largest gains in English and Math proficiency scores out of all the big urban school districts. 

They achieved this by standardizing the curriculum. All students would learn what was agreed to be the best curriculum at the time for early literacy success. 

Such wide-implementation of a standard curriculum also led to greater collaboration practices, whereby knowledge could be easily transferred between schools. 

Elementary school students doubled their time spent on English and Math, two hours on English and 90 minutes on math respectively. 

Benchmark testing was performed every six weeks to help teachers identify what subjects required more instruction time, or more advanced instruction. 

Class sizes were reduced in over 2,000 classrooms and over 200 academic coaches were added to the roster to handle deficiencies in literacy and numeracy.

Thus, by focusing on early literacy from the beginning, they were able to cost-efficiently invest in:

  1. standardizing the curriculum.
  2. increasing instruction time.
  3. instituting more benchmark testing.
  4. reducing class sizes.
  5. employing reading specialists.


Challenge question to you (the reader) to inspire student-centered academic ROI: Working with a tight budget, and having narrowed down these 5 investment items, is there a way to be more cost-efficient? 


Early Literacy Performance for Increasing Budget

Thus far, we have focused on cost-efficiency, and rightly so, as it’s one half of the academic ROI equation and is more short-term oriented. Schools have to work within the framework of budgets, which makes them super mindful about maximizing the benefit of every expense. 

When trying to seek the best improvements with a limited budget however, the question has to be asked, what type of investment will best yield long-term returns, such as expanding the size of the budget altogether? 

Improving student academic gains early on, such as raising the early literacy performance, is one of the ways to ensure both short-term and long-term gains to the school. 

The budget can be increased for a school district if there are more students, or if more people buy properties in that school district. But this influx of population into the area will not happen unless people see that the school is in fact renowned for delivering student success.

We already know that early literacy is the single biggest driver of student success in the early grades, but also throughout kindergarten to Grade 12. 

So it’s a matter of prioritizing early literacy initiatives in the budget.

Even for schools in low-income districts that receive federal grants, the goal should be to attract new residents in the community, because only 8% of a public school’s funding comes from federal programs like Title 1.   


Investing. Not Spending.

Investing.Not Spending.


To recap, there are many superintendents who favor an academic ROI approach to make decisions about spending. The three most important metrics stated are effects on student learning, number of students served, and cost per student. 

A study of 50 school districts showed that the dual goal of increasing student learning while also increasing cost-effectiveness is achievable. 

In early childhood and elementary education, calculating ROI is an essential step to increasing accountability for student success.

For private schools which are funded by tuition fees, there is a greater impetus to track where the money is being spent. In the public sector, however, there are many streams of funds at both the state and federal levels. So it can be overwhelming to do a proper ROI analysis that forecasts what results are to be expected.

At times, it can feel like just spending money, and not investing it for an expected return. But when the funds are invested specifically for a certain return, such as raising early literacy performances, it’s good for both short- and long-term student success as well as the district’s financial well-being.

Sprig Learning is a purpose-built company that develops holistic and inclusive early learning programs. Sprig Reading is currently being developed for teachers, which streamlines a Science of Reading based curriculum for easy teacher application. 

To discuss the cost-effectiveness and return potential of such a solution, please get in touch with us. 

The ABCs of Supporting Reading Specialists

Reading specialists, or literacy specialists, undergo specialized training that enables them to help struggling readers. They work with classroom teachers in the early grades to support and supplement reading instruction. 

They also have the added responsibility of assessing students and analyzing data. This is to identify students who may need further help and to monitor their progress. 

Reading specialists work on specific skills that are essential on the path towards reading mastery. They help reinforce these skills which the general curriculum may or may not cover. 

In the US, there are approximately 19,000 reading specialists. 

Approximately 4 million students are enrolled in Grade 3 in the US in 2022. We regularly read reports from different states about the percentage of Grade 3 and Grade 4 students scoring below the state assessment level for reading proficiency. It ranges from 20% to as much as 60%. 

Even if the lower quartile is considered, that means 1 million students are struggling to read in the US. It’s quite a daunting task for reading specialists, with each reading specialist, on average ,responsible for supporting 52 students!

In this article, we look at the nature of the job that is done by reading/literacy specialists, evidence of their effectiveness, and put forward ways in which we can better support them. 


Understanding The Role of Reading Specialists

Understanding The Role of Reading Specialists

In order to support reading specialists, it’s important to understand their role.

Though at times used interchangeably, the reading/literacy specialist, the reading teacher, and the reading/literacy coach are different roles. 

The reading teacher is the primary classroom teacher in the early elementary grades. They are responsible for teaching the language arts curriculum. 

The literacy coach role has many overlaps with the reading specialist, but one important differentiator is that the literacy coach provides in-class literacy coaching to the teachers. They are often involved in the planning process of how to raise the literacy achievement for a whole classroom. As such, they are more involved with teachers.

The reading specialist works more closely with students, and acts as a resource for teachers. They assess and instruct students, provide personalized instruction as required, and create literacy activities for the teachers. 

Due to their close proximity to students and knowledge of early literacy instruction, they have a special significance in any pre-K to 3 education team. 


Success of Reading Specialists

Success of Reading Specialists

​​Reading specialists are well versed in structured literacy approaches. 

As more schools are shifting towards the Science of Reading in their early literacy strategies, the knowledge and training the reading specialist possesses has become a valuable commodity. 

Literacy specialists are able to combine their skillset with assessment tools to provide science-based reading instruction to the whole classroom, but also work on specific skills for those students that need the extra help. Thus, they are an ideal fit for early literacy intervention programs in schools. 

There is evidence to suggest that early reading interventions work best when facilitated by technology. In a study of seven schools in southwestern US in rural low-income communities, groups of students who received technologically facilitated early reading intervention outperformed their peers in all reading outcomes.

The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy think tank, recommends the U.S. Department of Education give competitive preference to educational programs that provide teachers opportunities to work with certified reading specialists. 

This highlights the invaluable position of reading/literacy specialists in their ability to positively influence outcomes in early reading programs. 


Reading Specialists’ Principles That Unlock Student Potential

Reading Specialist Principles That Unlock Student Potential

Sprig Learning aims to provide every child a fair shot at success. 

To maximize every early learner’s reading potential, it’s imperative we support our reading/literacy specialists. 

Reading specialists follow these four principles to raise literacy performance. These four important conditions have to be met in order to support our reading specialists.

1) Provision of resources and professional development opportunities that focus on the latest evidence based approaches.

Reading specialists need to use the right content and practices to teach reading to their students. 

Proven practices and educational materials should be chosen in order to empower reading specialists. With support from administrators, the most accurate and effective instruction can be provided to the students that is conducive to literacy achievement.

Professional Development should also focus on science-backed content and instruction. It can include grade-level meetings, workshops, professional learning communities, teacher collaboration, and conference attendance. 


2) Student assessments throughout the year for implementing effective differentiated instruction.

Reading specialists benefit from assessments that are formative, reliable and efficient. It’s best when these assessments are easy to implement and are paired with a progress monitoring mechanism. 

With an intuitive assessment and monitoring system, reading specialists have more time to adapt instruction and deliver it to students. 

Taking the dual administrative burden of assessment and tracking off their shoulders, allows them more time to spend with early learners and work on those critical early literacy skills and concepts.

3) Immediate adjustments when interventions fail.

Every student is unique. It’s possible that they fail to understand the instruction that is provided to them based on initial assessment. The reading specialist should be ready to adjust the:

  • number of learning activities in daily lessons (too many or too few).
  • level of direct and explicit instruction (more direct).
  • pace of instruction (slowing down the rate).
  • duration of each lesson (more or less minutes).
  • frequency of lessons (more or less in one week).
  • level of difficulty (appropriateness of the instruction level).
  • number of students in a learning group (more or less students).
  • educational materials used (appropriateness of the educational material).


4)  Setting comprehension as the ultimate goal.

There are two main goals at play here. First, the student needs to be able to read. Second, the student must be able to understand what they read. 

The Science of Reading takes a systematic approach to this, tackling the most fundamental reading skills first such as phonological awareness and phonics, eventually reaching fluency, and ultimately working all the way up to comprehension. 

Everything is done sequentially and systematically, so the basic building blocks of literacy are covered and no child gets left behind. It puts reading specialists in a strong position where they do not have to remediate years or months worth of missed learning. Rather they can work to unblock whatever difficulty the early learner is facing at present.


Supporting The Whole Early Literacy Team

Supporting The Whole Early Literacy Team

It’s not only literacy specialists that need support, but other members of the early literacy team as well. This includes the primary classroom teacher, the literacy coach, the literacy coordinator, speech language pathologist, and others. 

Literacy inequity is a challenge big enough to warrant the joint efforts of all. Sprig hopes to do its part.

By understanding the fine details and principles of success for each role, it’s possible to bring everyone together for optimum collaboration. 

This is the beginning of our early literacy team series.The series will be continued next week, where the focus will be on literacy coaches.

If you have any questions about using technology for assessments and early literacy science-based instruction, do not hesitate to contact us. 

The Undeniable Case for Early Literacy Intervention

Literacy gaps that emerge in the earlier grades tend to widen in the later elementary years. To address educational inequity immediately, it’s necessary to intervene at the right time. 

Early literacy interventions provide additional literacy instruction to those K-3 students who require it. 

Sprig Learning builds early learning programs that build foundational literacy skills. 

It’s better to create an education system that assesses everyone early on for learning strengths and deficits, and provides appropriate instructions. 

Such an education culture is inclusive towards all and mitigates the need for interventions.

Often the word “literacy intervention” conjures up thoughts that relate to cost-inefficiencies and doubts over its overall efficiency. 

But with hundreds of reading intervention programs being used by thousands of schools, we are past the point of debating the usability of interventions. 

Rather, the focus should be on how to best implement literacy interventions in schools. 

In this article, Sprig makes a case for early literacy interventions.


How Early Should Interventions Start?

How Early Should Interventions Start

The question of when to introduce intervention implies that supplemental reading instruction should only be an afterthought to initial reading performance. 

But it’s known that early learners arrive in kindergarten with a wide range of skill levels in phonological awareness, alphabet recognition, print awareness and other essential literacy skills. 

Students at this stage who lag behind often have difficulty catching up with their peers once they begin to receive instruction. 

Thus, early literacy intervention should be implemented in accordance with identified skill deficits as soon as possible. This can occur as early as preschool or kindergarten. 

Early literacy interventions in kindergarten have produced significant results in multiple language domains for students who are linguistically diverse learners.

Results from multiple studies show that a higher percentage of Grade 1 students tend to reach grade-level proficiency with the help of interventions than Grade 2 students. Thus, intervening at Grade 2 is sometimes too late.

Early literacy intervention should begin as early as possible. 

If literacy skills fade-out is a concern, then it must be noted that early literacy intervention participants have consistently shown to read at or above their grade level as far as three years beyond their intervention.

We all know that Grade 3 reading performance is one of the most reliable predictors of lifelong academic and social success. 

Thus, we can say that in order for the early learner to sharpen all their reading skills, leading to mastery by Grade 3, they should be properly assessed by kindergarten or Grade 1. 

Doing so will not only boost their literacy achievement performance in the short run, but establish a runway for them to become confident readers by Grade 3.


Prevention of Reading Failure

Prevention of Reading Failure

​​One of the main advocacy points of early literacy intervention is its ability to prevent reading failure.

While it’s important to maximize the learning potential of every child, it’s just as important to help those children who are at risk of falling through the cracks of the current education system.

The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development reports that 74% of children entering Grade 1 at risk for reading failure have reading challenges later as adults. This further corroborates the urgency of early interventions.

Research shows that children who have difficulty acquiring phonemic awareness and phonics skills generally fail to read, or read poorly, and that those poor reading skills are perpetuated without proper interventions. 

Thus we see that when it comes to interventions, it’s not just about intervening early, but making sure those interventions are informed by instruction that is backed by the Science of Reading.

Intervening very early on by creating a culture of assessments for all types of learners may help increase the size of the safety net. 

But the type of explicit and systematic instruction that goes into addressing some of these skill gaps speaks to the quality of the safety net. Interventions should also be a part of structured literacy. 


Lessons from Popular Literacy Intervention Approaches

Lessons from Popular Literacy Intervention Approaches

​​Literacy interventions are best when they are:

  1. applied early. 
  2. part of the education system where everybody is assessed for their current skill levels.
  3. backed by the Science of Reading, or structured literacy.

Now, let’s look at some examples of current literacy interventions. Lessons can be borrowed from them and applied to early literacy interventions. 


Structured Literacy Intervention

Structured Literacy Intervention is based on structured literacy instruction, which is a comprehensive and evidence-based system of explicit, systematic and sequential instruction. It provides sample intervention activities. 

The term was first popularized by the International Dyslexia Association, but now is widely recognized as the application of the science of reading method. It not only helps those with Dyslexia, but all students in general. 

Is it fit for an early literacy intervention? 

Absolutely. It supports point #3 above, in that it is based on the science of reading. Dyslexia has been receiving a lot of attention lately, and it explains why certain students are prone to being underachievers in reading. 


Short-term interventions

Short-term interventions consist of one-to-one teaching for the lowest performing grade one students. Students receive 30-minute lessons each day for 12 to 20 weeks from a trained literacy specialist. 

There is evidence to support that such targeted interventions work to raise the performance levels of the lowest performing Grade 1 students. 

Is it fit for an early literacy intervention? 

It’s nice that it begins in Grade 1, but it would be even better if it started in kindergarten. Also, it leaves out other students who may or may not have been identified as needing intervention in Grade 1. Furthermore, this approach does not follow through in the later grades to ensure that there is no fade out of skills. 

It’s one of the most popular reading intervention approaches used today. It would be further strengthened if it was more inclusive, integrated into daily reading instructional practices and followed up in the later grades. 


Intensive Reading

Intensive Reading teaches small groups of students various reading techniques for 40 minutes a day. Parents are also asked to commit to do their own homework, which includes reading to their child every night.

Teachers have also noticed that these students in this approach are more engaged with reading and are excited to participate in the reading lessons. They are benefited from the continuous reading reinforcements that happen both at home and at school. 

Is it fit for an early literacy intervention? 

It’s a good program with fantastic books, best used in group instruction methodology. It’s a fast-paced system designed to move students along quickly. But in the early years, individualized instruction is just as important, and certain skills may need to be worked over and over until they are perfected.


The Ideal Early Literacy Intervention Program

The Ideal Early Literacy Intervention Program

It’s time to look at new solutions to the old issue of struggling readers. The recent Right to Read report released by the The Ontario Human Rights Commission was an eye-opener for many. What can be done differently? 

It’s our hope that this article presents some new ideas to you about how to ensure that more early interventions are inclusive towards all. Current approaches can be improved to ensure that there is sufficient planning and foresight for every young learner.

We have written more on this topic. If you liked reading this piece, you may also want to check out Building Early Literacy Skills in Schools. Thoughtful Considerations.

Interested in an inclusive early intervention framework case study? Let us know. 

Design a Summer Reading Program for Early Literacy

Anytime early learners are away from school for an extended period of time, there is a risk of their literacy skills deteriorating. It’s easy to see why.

  • A school provides young students with regular, structured lessons. 
  • Students have access to experienced teachers who know how to support early learners.
  • Students also have a consistent learning environment to practice reading, with access to numerous books and other educational materials.

The concept of the summer slide or summer learning loss is very real.  This is where there is a loss of knowledge that students gained from the previous school year following  the summer break.  

Sprig highlighted the summer slide phenomenon in a previous blog, where it was mentioned what learning recovery looks like for school children.

Indeed, schools should be well equipped to manage returning students that had varied summer experiences and were exposed to diverse learning opportunities.  Some students may require more help than others in the form of one-on-one or group support. 

But how can we mitigate the summer slide? 

Or looking at it from a more positive angle, what if more learning opportunities were available during the summer so all students could continue to maintain and build their early literacy skills?

Summer reading programs provide opportunities to both retain and grow literacy skills. Not all summer reading programs are the same in how they go about doing this. 

This article focuses on designing a summer reading program for early literacy. 

Some very important questions are first answered to understand the heart of summer reading programs, followed by some thoughtful considerations on the best way forward for early literacy.


What is a Summer Literacy Program?

Summer Literacy Program

​​A summer learning program centered around language or reading is called a Summer Literacy Program. 


It is intended for students who: 

  • are struggling to read at grade level. 
  • have socioeconomic or other identified challenges to literacy achievement. 


There is often no fixed age range for students who are selected for the program. 

They can be early learners in kindergarten, elementary and middle schools, depending on the local education board. The 3 to 12 age group is a common participation criteria for a lot of these summer programs. 

The summer literacy program encourages students to read during their summer break so they retain the literacy skills they have gained throughout the school year. 

Many literacy activities are offered according to the age group and reading level of the student. The duration of the program is often flexible. It can range from three weeks to the whole summer.

Reading knowledge and skills are not only retained in Summer Literacy Programs, but are often added as well. Students can make literacy gains during the summer break, which they can carry back to school in the fall. 

Summer Literacy Programs are especially pertinent for young learners as there is a short window of opportunity to maximize learning at this formative stage of learning. This includes:

  • Correcting wrong learnings
  • Recovering lost learnings
  • Adding new learnings


Every single day in the early childhood stage of learning is important. 

The learning students acquire at this crucial juncture of their lives helps develop and establish the necessary and foundational skills. These skills, when learned properly, serve students well in their learning journey for the rest of their lives.

Summer is one quarter of the year and provides a helpful boost to early learning when this time is well used.


What is a Summer Literacy Camp?

A Summer Literacy Camp is very similar to the Summer Literacy Program, if not identical.  

Some school districts call it a Summer Literacy Camp and make it available to their students who are struggling. 

The students enrolled in the program are recommended by the teacher and/or principal.


Is There One Model of Summer Literacy Program?

There are in fact many examples of what a Summer Literacy Program can look like. 


Some programs are directed at groups of students from multiple school districts. They are part of a study. 

Harvard funded the Reading Enhances Achievement During Summer program where children from low-income families were mailed books to read that matched their interests and abilities. 

The findings from this study showed that the children who received these books did better than their peers who did not receive them.


Some programs are multimodal. They have in-person, virtual and hybrid options. 

The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge allows kids to log their reading milestones and unlock weekly milestones, thus creating an incentive to continue reading. 

It definitely helps to have such an interactive learning program which motivates children to pursue reading.


Some programs are completely resource based. 

Any principal, teacher or parent can benefit from a resource package that is designed specifically for early literacy. By using videos, books and other resources, they are able to create their own summer literacy programs, even if the official infrastructure for it does not exist. 


Is It An Early Literacy Intervention?

In some summer literacy programs, kids receive individual and small group literacy instruction. So the students who are already struggling are further differentiated to understand what would help them become better readers.

So yes, it can be thought of as an early literacy intervention during the summer break. But as discussed before, some summer literacy camps also see it as an opportunity to enrich learning. 

Usually, when schools have intervention in mind, they will explicitly create intensive summer intervention programs for a particular group of struggling students. Most reading research points to the success of such programs, showing a significant relationship between the hours of intervention and improvement of reading ability. 


The One Common Theme: Books

Sprig Storybooks

                                                                                                Sprig’s Storybooks

Whether it’s taking part in a reading challenge, doing a book review, participating in book giveaways, or maintaining reading logs, the one common theme in all Summer Literacy Programs is books. 

As such, it’s important to involve people who are knowledgeable about and have access to books.

Some school libraries stay open for the summer for this very reason, and the school librarian plays a key role in summer reading programs.

Even without a librarian, at the very least, kids should have access to fun books which appeal to them. These books can be accompanied by animations or other effects like augmented reality. 

Anything that encourages early learners to read should be favoured.


The Involvement of Parents

Involvement of Parents

The involvement of parents in summer literacy programs is not only recommended, it is actually imperative to student success! 

Yes, the literacy programs and camps are a way to keep kids engaged in a productive way during the summer. But just as it is during the school year, it’s important for parents to actively participate in their child’s learning. 

Active parental involvement makes a big difference when it comes to making literacy gains.

Nearly half of parents are not even aware of the summer slide. So summer literacy programs have the responsibility to make families aware of the opportunity that exists to make use of the programs, and also support families in their own efforts to work on literacy. 

The Sprig Home app has supported parents both during and post-pandemic to provide easy, accessible learning activities that turn those everyday moments into learning opportunities. 


Summer Literacy Is Both Fun and Serious

Summer Literacy is Both Fun and Serious

​​While summer literacy programs are meant to be fun, it’s also serious enough that many different types of organizations (school districts, colleges, societies, and educational organizations) are now offering some version of summer literacy instruction.

In a recent study of 580 public and private elementary schools in the US, 65% of them held summer literacy programs, despite not being required or funded to do so. 

Regardless of the type of organization, it’s clear that to provide an enriching learning experience to kids that truly excites them to pursue reading, educational resources are required that are specifically created for summer literacy. 

The Family Summer Literacy Boost bundle from Joyful Literacy helps parents and summer schools teach students who are in kindergarten to Grade 2.

This fully digital video series contains downloadable books, videos from topmost experts in the field of literacy, and instructional materials geared towards reading mastery.

Sprig fully endorses the video bundle, given its equal emphasis on both teachers and parents, the collaboration of whom is absolutely essential for a successful summer literacy program. 


Using What Works in Summer Literacy

The group of students you select for a summer literacy program, the modes you use to teach them, and the roles you involve to coordinate the program are all important decisions. 

But it’s most important is to use an evidence-based literacy strategy that works. 

The number of literacy activities one can do are endless.







But to do it all in a structured setting, supervised by literacy specialists and parents, is the real difference maker. 

Teachers know their students. When teachers are given the opportunity to modify program components for their students, the effectiveness of summer literacy programs is further enhanced.

When prior assessments are conducted to understand the student’s areas of strength and growth, reading instruction is adjusted accordingly for the student. 

From that point onwards, teachers can follow an evidence-based framework to monitor student progress until full literacy has been achieved. 

Achieving early literacy for all is Sprig’s passion! If you can’t get enough of early literacy improvement articles, please also be sure to check out:

The 4 Golden Rules of Early Literacy Development

Building Early Literacy Skills in Schools. Thoughtful Considerations

Have any questions about summer reading or summer literacy programs? Contact us.

The 20 Best Strategies for Teaching Early Math Skills

Learning math is a fundamental part of early childhood education. It’s why Sprig offers the Sprig Math program, to pair Sprig Language in teaching early numeracy and literacy respectively.

To ensure every child has a fair shot at success, both core subjects of language and math are fundamental and must be taught well. They complement each other. 

Making sense of oral language helps to learn math concepts by understanding what is being said or instructed.

Math also builds reasoning, which increases comprehension, including language comprehension.

The two subjects are so interconnected that language and math learning difficulties tend to coincide in primary school. There is also evidence to show that it’s more difficult to overcome a math learning gap than it is to overcome a language learning gap. 

In a study on school readiness and later achievement, it’s said that early math skills have even greater predictive power than reading and attention skills, when it comes to determining success.

Given math is such an integral part of early childhood education, we wanted to do a comprehensive roundup of all strategies written on this topic. 

We present them in this article. 


The Many Strategies for Teaching Early Math Skills 

Many Strategies for Teaching Early Math Skills

There are numerous strategies for teaching early math, and they have varying degrees of shared characteristics. 

We reviewed many different strategies (from multiple sources) to arrive at this list of 20 math strategies. Their overlaps are minimized. 


From Many to The Best



  1. Use Repetition to Build Familiarity: Although the most basic strategy in this list, it is still very popular in teaching students early math. Through repeated practice, early learners get to practice skills such as anticipation, prediction, and cause and effect.


Start by Counting

  1. Start by Counting: Counting is one of the most common activities in teaching early math skills. Due to its prevalence, it can be thought of as a strategy. Instead of counting by rote, it’s better to develop quantity sense. Counting is reinforced in many literacy lessons, as well as everyday life situations.


Hands on activities

  1. Do Hands-on activities: Abstract concepts in math can be difficult to absorb for early learners. Doing activities with manipulatives, blocks, relational rods or clay are helpful to visualize these concepts. These methods of learning math are the first step of the concrete, pictorial, abstract approach to learning math. 


Graphics to engage and explore

  1. Use Graphics To Engage and Explore: Using colourful moving images, catchy sound effects and songs engages students in learning. Static images are good for demonstrating math concepts, but moving visuals accompanied by audio are even better. They support deeper thinking about the mathematical concepts in which they are engaged.


Differentiate using technology

  1. Differentiate Learning via Technology: Most teachers use some sort of differentiation tactic to teach their students. Technology amplifies this differentiation capability, by 1) keeping track of student profiles to see what they have completed 2) offering a chance to those students who are more adept at learning on-screen.

Early Learners will explain concepts

  1. Ask Early Learners To Explain Concepts: It’s good to ask students how they want to solve a problem or what strategies they are thinking about. It develops meta-cognition, which is an important aspect of learning early math.



    Implement Storytelling

  2. Implement Storytelling: Stories capture the imagination and keep kids engaged. Real-life scenario problems told through stories help kids understand the practicality of math. Fictional stories also grab their attention to look at a problem closely, and the use of characters engages them to solve a problem.


Provide Feedback

  1. Provide Feedback: Addressing learning gaps also involves fixing errors so they don’t turn into bad habits in the learning process. While a strength-based approach helps students to learn in their preferred styles, it’s equally important to correct mistakes when they do happen. 


Positive Attitude

  1. Develop a Positive Attitude: It’s easier and more enjoyable to learn math if the students believe that they can succeed. It’s beneficial for students if they develop a positive identity and attitude when it comes to learning math. It’s important to reward and praise students when they do well, so they are encouraged to learn more. 


Play Games

  1. Play Games: Playing games is one of the ways to make math learning fun. Research shows that playing with puzzles, blocks, and cards all enhance math skills in the early years. Interactive digital games take it one step further in engaging students and increasing learning gains.


Schema and Patterns

  1. Use Schema and Patterns: Recognizing patterns, making connections, and predicting sequences are all things that occur when children learn from recurring designs, or patterns. Once kids at an early age figure out the schema, or the underlying pattern behind a math concept, it’s easier for them to learn.

Developmental Progression

12. Use Developmental Progression: Children have some innate abilities to recognize patterns and to count at an early stage. Developmental progression uses such abilities to build a platform from which more advanced mathematical operations can be taught.


Formatively Assess

13. Formatively Assess: Monitor progress of what every student has learned. Determine their current level of math knowledge and differentiate instruction accordingly. A formative assessment tool can inform instruction by monitoring progress for each student. It’s helpful for pacing instruction according to the curricular outcomes at the end of the year.


Connect Math

  1. Connect Math to Other Learning Areas: Encourage students who see and explain their world in mathematical terms. Introduce general concepts informally, before formally connecting those concepts to formal math vocabulary. Students become more invested in learning math when they see how it is connected to the world around them.


Encourage Math talk

15. Encourage Math Talk: Bring up math in every situation, so students can practice applying the learned knowledge and concepts. Verbalizing mathematical thinking gives students greater understanding and awareness of their own problem-solving skills.


Time for Math

16. Set Time Aside For Math: Schools have learning blocks dedicated to math, so this strategy is well practiced. But it is extremely important nonetheless to reserve time for teaching math. It should be something that kids look forward to and not dread.


Cooperative Learning

17. Set Up Cooperative Learning: It’s possible to learn math alone, but working together in a pair, or in a group with many other students are also great options. Students get to learn from each other and  brainstorm problem solving ideas as a group. Teaching others leads to high retention of a math skill. It’s best to pick groups that are of mixed ability.


Teacher Collaboration

18. Promote Teacher Collaboration: Teacher collaboration, or collaborative planning, is one of the major markers of high-quality differentiated instruction. It’s no different in teaching math. Collaborating with other teachers, coaches or specialists improves instruction skills and helps to plan more effective lessons.Furthermore, teacher collaboration helps to build the right math culture in early learning, where math ideas are made fun, and are treated as concepts to be discussed and reasoned through.


Support Independent Practice

  1. Support Independent Practice: Scaffolding can be used to teach math, but not to the extent where it hampers independent learning of a certain skill or concept. There should be enough opportunities provided to the student to demonstrate their understanding. 


Foundational Skills

  1. Work on the Foundational Skills: Early math foundation includes number sense, representation, spatial sense, measurement, estimation and patterns and problem solving. There are many early childhood math activities for each of these learning areas. There are tools available that map such activities to their respective learning outcome. Sprig Math goes one step beyond this, and maps activities to the underlying math learning processes as well. 


Teaching Early Math Strategy Takeaways 

Teaching Early Math Strategy Takeaways

Going over the 20 strategies mentioned above, there are some themes that can be observed. 


  • Focus on existing math ability
  • Sense of belonging in the classroom
  • Math’s connection to the world around us
  • Maximization of potential according to math interests


Math teachers do a lot when it comes to achieving these objectives! 

They meet students at the level they are in, show them how math can be fun and relevant, and provide ample opportunities for them to develop as early math learners.

With technology specifically meant for early math, it acts as a force multiplier to the work teachers already do.

Students who take part in technology-based adaptive math programs score higher on all math strands in assessment, compared to those students who do not take part. There is a clear advantage to be gained in tailoring math instruction with the help of technology.

If there is any strategy in this article that you need help with ideating, implementing or measuring, feel free to reach out to us. Sprig Learning built Sprig Math specifically for early math learners.