Book and a Bite Grant Opportunity

Wyoming Kids First received a $25,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to support and expand the Book and a Bite program model in Wyoming. Book and a Bite started in 2011 by the faith-based community in Casper for the purpose of helping the community, promoting literacy, and strengthening family relationships. Book and a Bite consists of several components that support children and families through a structured evening that engages them in healthful family activities. At each event, families participate in child-centered conversation, share a hot meal together, learn about support provided by community organizations, engage in hands-on literacy based activities, select a children’s book to build their home library, and receive take home food bags that will supplement the family’s nutritional needs. The ultimate goal of the program is to impact what happens in the home environment as research has shown that how children spend their time at home is the strongest predictor of school success.

As a result of strong community leadership and the help and support of the First Lady, the John P. Ellbogen Foundation, and Wyoming Kids First, this program has been replicated in eight other communities under the Book and a Bite title or a community-specific name: Gillette, Rock Springs, Cody, Goshen County, Wheatland, Laramie (Dine & Discover), Cheyenne (Eat. Read. Grow), and Douglas (Care, Share, Prepare).

As part of her children’s issues initiative, First Lady Carol Mead has traveled to communities all over the state to encourage and support them in replicating the program in their towns. She launched Eat. Read. Grow. in Cheyenne in 2013 and has worked with folks in Gillette, Rock Springs, Cody, Goshen County, Laramie, and Douglas to serve families in those communities. “We have worked with a coalition of folks from all over the state on this effort, and these programs truly exist because of the commitment and enthusiasm of people and organizations within our towns and cities,” said First Lady Carol Mead. ““I am delighted that the Walmart Foundation has joined us in bringing families together to enjoy a meal and books and thank them for their generosity. Experts have told us that parental involvement is a key element in helping kids succeed in school and in life. I commend Wyoming Kids First and the Walmart Foundation for supporting Wyoming parents in engaging with their children.”

Mary Ellbogen Garland also expressed her gratitude for the Walmart Foundation’s support: “I’m very appreciative of Walmart’s investment in Wyoming communities. This grant allows for broader impact as families gather for loads of fun and learning! The events provide opportunities for families to grow together, to enhance literacy, and to create greater awareness of community resources.” Mary was instrumental in launching Laramie’s Dine & Discover program in 2012 and continues to dedicate countless hours planning, implementing and garnering support for the program along with dozens of other community volunteers. Mary is the President and Board Chair of the John P. Ellbogen Foundation, which generously funds the work of Wyoming Kids First and countless programs in Wyoming that improve outcomes for young children and families

Wyoming Kids First will distribute these funds through a competitive grant process to support existing programs and to help communities in launching new programs. Each community can request up to $5,000. Grant funds can be used for books, food pantry supplies, and event meals and must be completely expended by October 15, 2016. Grant applications will be due by COB on February 29, 2016, and grantees will be notified no later than March 14, 2016. Wyoming Kids First has been supporting this program model in communities across the state since the founding program got its start and will be available to grantees for technical support and will share resources and templates to support all programs. Click here to access application materials or contact for more information.

School Readiness: Why Everyone Is Talking About It and Why It Matters

School Readiness: Why Everyone Is Talking About It and Why It Matters

There is a lot of momentum and discussion surrounding school readiness. It’s not that those first years of life leading up to school entry are less important. To the contrary: school readiness is a rallying point around which early childhood stakeholders can gather to discuss anything and everything that happens in the first five years, knowing full well that what happens during this crucial window of growth and development directly impacts a child’s readiness for success in school. The focus is a logical one that speaks to supporters and skeptics alike. With research clearly tying school readiness to success in the K-12 system, graduation rates, and overall health and well-being, it just makes sense to use school readiness as a unifying and leveraging argument in support of early childhood.

And yet, there’s often a crucial piece missing for achieving school readiness: a shared understanding of why it’s important and what it looks like. Wyoming Kids First gets to work with communities across the state to identify their shared school readiness definition and framework and then share it broadly within their communities. Check out some of the frameworks that have been developed here.

While school readiness certainly looks a little different in each community, there are some basic information and suggestions relevant to parents, care givers, early care and education professionals, and stakeholders at large. First of all, as one kindergarten teacher from Sheridan County School District #1 (SCSD #1) emphasizes, today’s kindergarten is truly yesterday’s first grade. That kindergarten is the same as it was even a decade ago is a widespread misconception that impacts the preparation young children today receive for entering school.

One such message emphasized by kindergarten teachers across the nation is that school readiness is a concept that captures much more than a child’s cognitive skills. In fact, most kindergarten teachers report a lack of social-emotional skills and behaviors as the biggest challenge. A SCSD #1 kindergarten teacher explained that parents tend to focus on “academics”—their ABC’s and 123’s—and neglect the more basic social-emotional and fine motor skills. Another SCSD #1 teacher explained it this way: “Academics are the gravy on top of the social/emotional/behavioral mashed potatoes. If a child has self-regulation and is ready to be at school, he or she will learn. When behavioral/immaturity/social-emotional struggles are present, they impede learning.”

Children who enter school with experience participating in a structured program or who have at least practiced for it generally do better simply because they are familiar with structure, routines, and transitions. For many children, it’s a huge challenge to suddenly be faced with having to wear shoes all day or eat in a given timeframe. These challenges can easily be overcome with a little practice, which is why Albany County put together a document with advice for parents on how to practice for some of the new routines and activities experienced kindergarten.

Finally, kindergarten teachers encourage parents and care givers to engage with their children through reading, talking, playing, and even daily activities. Children are constantly learning, which means parents and care givers have an opportunity through the environment they create for children to learn the positive and necessary skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will ensure their success in school and in life. It’s more important for children to enter school with certain traits that promote learning—executive functioning skills –than already have learned certain basic academic concepts.

Wyoming Kids First would be happy to facilitate a dialogue about school readiness in your community. Contact us at to learn more about our process.

1 Before 2 Development Screenings

1 Before 2 Development Screenings

–Information compiled by Sue Sharp, CDS of Wyoming ED

Ninety percent of a child’s brain develops early in life. Studies show this is our window of opportunity to make all the difference in the life of a young child. Ideally, your child needs at least one developmental screening before the age of two, and certainly one before the age of five is essential

Child development centers offer free screenings for children from birth through age five. They are quick check-ups to make sure your child is on track. Most children are, but if they’re not, your local center will help develop a plan to get your child where he or she needs to be

Many parents wait until their children enter school to have them screened. That may be too late. By then, a lot of learning may have already been missed

So, find the number of the nearest center and make an appointment for your child today. The screening is a painless procedure that could improve your child’s life forever. All developmental services are free, so the only thing you cannot afford to do is wait

What Can I expect when my child is screened?
A team of friendly, highly qualified staff trained in eligibility testing for very young children will meet with you and your child

How do parents know to have their child screened for delays and disabilities?
The State of Wyoming and the Federal Government provide a limited amount of funding for an annual “Child Find” public education campaign; however advertising isn’t as effective as word of mouth. Grandparents, Pediatricians, and local school districts can ask for or have information on screenings. In 2014 the fourteen regional preschools screened over 9,392 children in WY

About the Staff Who Screen and Teach Your Children:
All staff in Early Intervention Education Programs (EIEP) must meet Department of Education Certification. Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists are licensed. School districts require professionals just like ours to work with children after they enter kindergarten. Our intent is to prepare children for kindergarten using the best staff and educational tools. Some no longer need services by then, others need less help.

Go to CDS’s website here and click on the blue button to find one of the 46 developmental preschools nearest you.

From the Director

From the Director

Dear Partners,

I know there are elected officials in our state who care deeply about our youngest children and families. Right now, our Governor and legislators are adjusting the state’s budget and crafting a vision for the upcoming legislative session. I would prefer that young children and families – especially those most vulnerable – be at the core of any complete vision for our state.
It seems obvious to me that they should be at the core when we know:

  • 90 percent of brain growth occurs by the age of 5.
  • More than half of Wyoming kindergartners are not prepared for success in their first year of school. All children can and will improve, but around 75 percent of those who enter kindergarten behind will never catch up to their classmates.
  • 61% of Wyoming third grade students scored proficient or advanced in reading in 2014-2015. Students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers.
  • High school dropouts make up 75 percent of citizens receiving food stamps and 90 percent of Americans on welfare.
  • Children who are nurtured and grow in high quality early learning environments are less likely to engage in criminal activity as juveniles and adults, are less likely to need social welfare support services as adults, and generally have higher incomes when they enter the labor force.
  • The easiest place to change a child’s trajectory is from birth to age five.
  • Investments in early child yield a return of $2 — $17 for every dollar invested.

What’s at stake? Good jobs, a productive workforce, contributing adults and the very future of Wyoming.

Our state has a major role to play in all this. This is not taking anything away from families, who must be their child’s first and best teacher. This is a challenge to legislators, state agencies, and others to make difficult decisions: to thoughtfully consider what really works, what truly moves the needle, and which investments matter most.

I hope you will insist that those chosen to represent us make children a real priority in our state. They are not now.

Becca Steinhoff Executive Director

To locate your Representative, visit this site and click “Find Your District.” To locate your Senator, visit this site and click “Find Your District.” If you know who your legislators are and simply need their contact information, please click here.

Natrona County’s Ready League

Natrona County’s Ready League

The Natrona County School District #1 (NCSD #1) received a $50,000 Early Childhood Community Partnership Grant to support the efforts of the Natrona County Early Childhood Alliance (NCECA) to improve school readiness. The NCECA is comprised of local stakeholders from across the early childhood system who have been working to align and coordinate efforts between their various organizations in serving local families and young children

The grant consists of three priorities: to create a shared definition of school readiness and share it broadly; to create and distribute kits containing materials and activities that support school readiness; and to raise the community’s awareness of the importance of early childhood and its capacity to support young children. This initiative has been named the “Ready League.

The grant work started at the end of February when NCSD #1 contracted with Cammy Rowley to serve as the Grant Coordinator for the duration of the grant cycle. Cammy has been an invaluable asset to the effort, doing everything from manning Ready League booths to cutting out materials for kits to coordinating committee members and initiative events. While Cammy has certainly led the way, the success of the collaboration is due to the broad participation and contribution of NCECA members.

The group has been busy since receiving the grant funds earlier this year. The group first worked on and developed a shared definition of school readiness. Using this framework, NCECA members authored a parent handbook that expands upon school readiness expectations and provides information and suggestions for parents on how they can support their children’s development. Meanwhile, Cammy and other NCECA members were working with the Bark Firm to publish the parent handbook and launch the Ready League’s online presence through a website and Facebook page.

The grant team has also been busy spreading the word about the Ready League. While working on the above activities in preparation for the Ready League launch, NCECA members attended several community events to promote the upcoming Ready League initiative, including Family Day in the Park and the Back-to-School Bash. During those events, 200 foam masks and accompanying activity suggestions were distributed. Representatives also attended the Science Zone Trick or Treat Trail where 50 Readiness Kits were distributed in just one hour!

The official kick-off event for the Ready League was held on September 21, 2015. Families with children, ages 4-5, were invited to attend this fun-filled, superhero themed event. Bob McLeod, author and illustrator of “Superhero ABC,” was the invited speaker for this event. Participants listened as he shared his drawings and then led children in drawing of picture of Spiderman! Children in attendance took the “Ready League Pledge” led by Mr. Incredible. Bob also made visits to two NCSD #1 schools during the day. In total, Bob connected with over 140 young children in Natrona County

The NCECA is currently planning and looking forward to future community events for the Ready League to share the power of early learning with families and young children. Make sure you stay connected to learn about future opportunities and events by going to the Ready League website and liking the Ready League’s Facebook page!

(Pictured: Almost 40 children attended the Natrona County Ready League’s superhero-themed kickoff event and took a Readiness Pledge.)

Featured Research

Featured Research

Oral Health Starts at Birth

From the moment a baby is born, bacteria is introduced into a baby’s mouth through breathing and eating. Thus, taking care of young children’s teeth and oral health should start at birth and become part of their healthy habits and healthy choices. Below are some tips for how parents and care givers can help keep children healthy.

  • Do daily oral care for your infant starting at birth using a terry cloth finger wipe or clean, damp wash cloth.
  • Brush at the gumline and floss daily when teeth first appear.
  • A sip of water after eating or drinking can help to rinse the food and bacteria off of the teeth.
  • Your child should see the dentist by age one. This is a time for you to meet the dentist and hygienist and for them to explain how you can best to care for your child’s teeth.
  • When your child first wants to brush, model for him/her and let him/her brush with a “smear” of toothpaste 4399181_mltwice a day. You should continue brushing all gum line areas at least once per day.
  • Healthy food habits are essential for a healthy mouth. Whole unprocessed foods and healthy snacks are best when hungry. Finish each meal or snack with a drink of water.
  • Drink water throughout the day to hydrate the body and rinse acidity off of teeth.
  • Sweet foods and drinks (except plain water) are naturally acidic and feed the bacteria. This acidity actually causes cavities. Sucking and sipping on sweets and drinks throughout the day increases the risk for cavities.
  • Sugar-free drinks, flavored waters, and 100% natural juice have the same acidity as sugar or corn syrup sweetened drinks. Candies, breath mints, cough drops (even sugar-free) are all very acidic and harmful if used frequently.

Starting early with good home habits and check-ups at the dentist will ensure good habits as youngsters grow up and make choices for themselves. Healthy teeth are an important part of total health for all ages. For more information and resources, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics website on Children Oral Health here.

Another Year of Fun With WY Quality Counts!

Another Year of Fun With WY Quality Counts!

–From WY Quality Counts

2016 is here! Make sure you’re set for another year of exciting developments in your child’s brain and body with more than 100 easy and engaging activities in the 2016 WYQC calendar!

This year’s theme, “When I Grow Up”, explores a different career every month and offers targeted activities for you and your child to enjoy. Even more exciting is how we’ve enhanced the format and the activities thanks to feedback from parents and child care providers like you.

What’s brand new?

  • On-The-Go calendar format – Life with children can be hectic, so we made the calendar adaptable to your on-the-go lifestyle—hang it on the wall or put it in your diaper bag or backpack and take it with you.
  • Domain-specific activities – Simplified activities related to a monthly career focus on one Domain of Development each, making it easier than ever to work on specific Domains with your child
What’s even better?
  • More space to write – We made the day squares a little larger so you have more room for all your reminders, appointments, and plans.
  • More jokes – Who doesn’t love a good joke? We’ve given you even more reasons to chuckle, chortle and laugh with your child.
  • More engaging math activities – You asked for a variety of math activities, so we’ve created more math-specific activities.
  • More convenient weekend challenges – Weekends can get so busy! Now you can do weekend challenges on Saturday or Sunday

If you haven’t ordered a calendar yet, it’s not too late! Go to WY Quality Counts' Website and order it now! You can also join in the fun by following us on Facebook at WY Quality Counts is an investment in the future of Wyoming’s children.

WY Quality Counts is brought to you by the Department of Workforce Services and exists to provide training, grants and awareness to increase the quality of child care in Wyoming. WY Quality Counts is pleased to contribute to the quarterly WY Kids First Newsletter; however, the views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of WY Quality Counts, the Department of Workforce Services, or any of the employees thereof.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Events

PIC’s 2016 Parent Conference
Feb 26-28 in Casper

The Parent Information Center is hosting a parent conference that will focus on learning disabilities and increasing independence and employment opportunities for all our children. This conference offers STARS credit, and providers are encouraged to attend. Registration for parents of children with disabilities is $50 each (parent stipends available), and $100 for educators and service providers. (Registration includes 1 ticket to PIC’s 25th Anniversary Banquet Saturday Night). Click here to register or see agenda details.