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ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE — “How is the child development center at my new base?”

This is one of the many questions military parents have when they receive orders to make a permanent change of station (PCS) move. Parents want a safe and nurturing learning environment that provides a quality education for their children.

The new Early Learning Matters (ELM) curriculum was created to promote the development of the whole child with learning activities that help children develop specific skills.

“The ELM curriculum is a joint project with the Department of Defense and Purdue University,” said Kristin Houghton, a 28th Force Support Squadron training and curriculum specialist. “The new curriculum was developed specifically for the DOD.”

All Air Force Child Development Centers are implementing the curriculum. This shift has the ability to make PCSing with young children less daunting.

According to Houghton, the CDC is currently using Creative Curriculum resources. The program is an observation-based curriculum, where formal observations of the children take place to determine if there is a need or an interest to learn certain materials.

The new curriculum will continue to encourage social and emotional learning but will also address self-regulation, which plays a factor in helping children to efficiently manage their emotions and behaviors.

Houghton mentioned long-term delayed gratification experiments like the marshmallow test wherein an adult — prior to exiting the room — told the child that they would receive an additional marshmallow only if they agreed to wait until the adult returned. In general, there are correlations between children who had enough self-regulation to wait for a second marshmallow, and better grades, relationships and jobs.

“Self-regulation is one of the key indicators that prepares children for life and school success,” said Houghton. “And it’s teachable.”

Houghton explained that the curriculum includes a plethora of guidance for the teachers. There are varying levels of experience amongst the CDC’s staff and sometimes they don’t have the time or experience to write a curriculum that addresses the individual needs of the children. Having this curriculum will take the guesswork out of it.

“Rather than struggling to come up with a curriculum, [teachers] are now working with a very high-end, structured curriculum, while also becoming experts on the children in their care,” said Houghton. “Each child develops at a different pace. Now [teachers] will know how to individualize each activity as necessary to meet the needs of the child.”

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The ELM curriculum will be broken down into two separate groups. There is an infant/toddler curriculum and a preschool curriculum.

“The infant/toddler curriculum will be further broken down into three age groups — 0 to 12 months, 12 to 24 months and 24 to 36 months,” explained Houghton. “There will be 26 blocks and each block is about two weeks. The preschool curriculum is 50 weeks, with each plan being one week.”

The infant/toddler curriculum prepares the children for the preschool curriculum. The preschool curriculum prepares the children for kindergarten.

Each block prepares the students for the following block. If a child is observed as needing more practice with a topic, the curriculum provides guidance on how to best support the child’s needs.

The curriculum focuses on physical and cognitive development; communication and language skills; self and cultural understanding; as well as social and emotional development; and self-regulation.

“The curriculum teaches things in the natural sequence that children learn in,” said Houghton. “For example, it will teach them preposition words before they start using more complicated language because they need to understand the foundation. This curriculum has all of that built in, it has child-friendly language and definitions.”

One of the major benefits of the ELM curriculum is its focus on the military family. Families are constantly PCSing and this curriculum makes continuity a priority.

“The great thing is that the entire Air Force will begin at the same time,” said Houghton. “So, when you PCS, your children will not only be picking up where they left off, but they’re hearing the same language, the same verbiage and the same lessons [at each base].”

Houghton said that the DOD and Purdue have been working on this curriculum for approximately five years. It has been pilot-tested at several DOD programs to include two Air Force bases and two joint bases.

For more information on the Early Learning Matters curriculum, visit virtuallabschool.org.

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