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October 23, 2013

Department of Early Learning, scientists partner on early education professional development

Executive Function Learning Communities will embark on 15-week training

Starting this week, the Washington Department of Early Learning (DEL) is piloting a program in partnership with Frontiers of Innovation (FOI), an initiative of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, that will provide professional development about executive function in adults and young children to approximately 70 teachers, child care professionals and practitioners who support children and families.

Since 2011, DEL has been working with FOI to explore how training about executive function for early learning professionals can help young children’s development. Executive function is the brain’s “air traffic control system” that allows us to manage multiple streams of information at the same time, control impulses and revise tasks as necessary. Acquiring the early building blocks of these skills is critical to school readiness and social development through middle childhood, adolescence, and into early adult life.

"This partnership is very exciting for Washington early learning,” said DEL Director Dr. Bette Hyde. “Executive function is the biological foundation for school readiness. Children are not born with these skills, but they are born with the capacity to develop them. It’s crucial that we prepare the adults who care for and work with young children to be able to help children develop the skills they need to make good decisions, participate in school, and adapt flexibly to new situations."

Facilitators who lead each training group were selected based on their expertise with adult learners, interest in early brain development and ability to reach their local communities. They are:

  • Amber Havens, Educational Training Partners, Thurston/Pierce County
  • Kerry Beymer, Encompass Northwest, East King County
  • Renee Rinderknecht, GRE Consulting, Spokane
  • Maggie Mendoza, ESD 105, Yakima
  • Corina McEntire, ESD 112, Vancouver
  • Darcie Donegan, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham

Groups will meet for 15 weeks following a framework designed in partnership with leading executive function researchers from across the nation. Group facilitators will help participants build awareness and knowledge of executive function, and deeply explore how to support executive function in early learning settings. Participants will receive early learning continuing education credit and a certificate of completion from DEL and FOI.

Early learning advocate and Washington Rep. Ruth Kagi said, "Science and research provide the foundation of early learning policy in Washington. Our partnership with the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard is helping Washington find new ways to use the science at the practice and program levels, using innovative strategies to serve children and families more effectively."

Some examples of activities that support the development of executive function in young children include:

  • Back-and-forth, “serve-and-return” interaction between young children and adults, in which adults notice and respond to children’s efforts to vocalize and engage in playful activities.
  • Play in which children are able to take on roles and “play out” a developed scenario that is supported by teachers.
  • Structuring a daily schedule that allows time for children to use their developing skills, and allowing children to practice these skills with adult supervision but without adult intrusion.
  • Ensuring that early learning settings are arranged so that children have time to work individually with adults who have carefully observed their potential and capacities.
  • Creating a safe emotional climate in early learning settings that creates opportunities for children to practice their social skills with each other and with adult support to reduce conflict and promote problem-solving.
  • Meditative or mindfulness-based practices for both adults and children.
  • Ensuring that children and adults have enough sleep and exercise to support healthy brain development.
  • Playing games that allow children to learn rules and then switch them, called cognitive flexibility. A good example is Simon Says.

DEL is partnering with The University of Washington to evaluate the impact of the learning communities and with researchers at the University of Minnesota to collect data about the development of the children who participate in the trainees’ early learning environments.

View more information about FOI.

View more information about executive function.


Media contact:


Kara Klotz

360.725.4392 (office)

360.515.8699 (cell)