County Advises Care Providers on Nurturing Kids' Skills

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fairfax County has issued draft guidelines for child-care providers about the "benchmark" skills children need to help them succeed in school.

The skills noted in the draft, which officials expect to become official next month, are aligned with the public schools' curriculum and are an effort to give children -- particularly at-risk kids -- a head start, said Gail Bjorklund, director of the school readiness collaborative in the county's Office for Children.

They "form a bridge between the kinds of things that we expect from children in the early years and what they'll explore when they make the transition to school," Bjorklund said.

Federal initiatives, such as the No Child Left Behind law, require school systems to look closely at what children should be learning. Because recent research has demonstrated a link between preschool development and success in school, Fairfax decided to educate child-care providers on what children should be learning from birth to age 5, county officials said.

The effort is being paid for with a $500,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Social Services' Smart Beginnings initiative and $250,000 from the county.

County officials stressed that the emphasis is not on the ABCs. The guidelines note that younger children learn through play, and the emphasis is less on pushing them to learn their ABCs and more on encouraging them to become more independent and inquisitive.

The guidelines lay out "benchmark" skills for children and suggest ways providers can encourage children to acquire them.

For example, the suggested way to achieve self-control is to encourage children to use words to describe emotions. An indicator that children have reached this benchmark is a child's attempt to solve difficult situations without adult assistance.

Since January, the county has been training child-care providers in four neighborhoods where children entering schools are behind those in other parts of the county. The neighborhood schools are Lake Anne Elementary in Reston, Annandale Terrace, Hollin Meadows in the Fairfax part of Alexandria and Freedom Hill in Vienna.

A free 10-hour training program in the guidelines, which are contained in a 37-page booklet, is available through the county.

Although the guidelines should help parents, Bjorklund said the county is aiming them at child-care providers -- family child-care providers and day-care workers.

The goal is to train at least 100 providers by March. So far, she said, 70 are taking classes in the guidelines.

There are about 1,800 county- or state-approved family child-care providers and about 300 licensed child-care centers in Fairfax County.

Two teachers from the ACCA Child Development Center in Annandale are enrolled in the classes, said ACCA director Judith Falkenrath. Even though both teachers have college degrees in early childhood education, "they are finding it extremely worthwhile," Falkenrath said. "It goes into a great deal of depth."

The guidelines are available through the county Web site, at

© 2006 The Washington Post Company