A New Chicago Model: Preschool Services for Children Cared for in At-Home Settings
Findings from early childhood research have demonstrated the importance of high-quality preschool experiences in preparing children for school success. As a result, many states are seeking to develop and expand early education services. Though enrollment in pre-K programs is increasing (The State of Preschool 2010), these programs are typically offered in part-day school-based programs or full-day center-based programs. However, many of the young children most at risk, including those from low-income families or with parents who work non-standard hours, are often cared for in licensed and license-exempt home-based settings and miss the opportunity to participate in pre-K.
The Community Connections Preschool program created by Illinois Action for Children in 2005, represents a new early education model that
- transports three to four-year-old children in home-based care to a part-day, center-based pre-K program four days a week,
- provides activities, materials, and support to the children’s home-based care providers through regular home visits by pre-K teachers, and
- offers activities to engage parents and support collaboration and communication between center directors, center teachers, home-based providers, and parents.
A recent implementation evaluation of the Community Connections Preschool program conducted by Child Trends and partners at the National Center for Children in Poverty found that participation in Community Connections Preschool was associated with several benefits for children. The evaluation noted that additional materials and learning activities which aligned with lessons being taught in the pre-K program were regularly delivered to home-based settings by pre-K teachers. Children from home-based settings participating in the program gained access to the resources of center-based classrooms, such as credentialed teachers, books and material resources, screenings for health and developmental progress, structured curriculum, and social interaction. Finally, parents and home-based providers reported gains in children’s development in areas such as social skills, language use, writing skills, number and letter knowledge, and interest in learning. Program participants reported being appreciative of the program and the opportunities it provided children and their care providers.
The Community Connections Preschool model is an innovative approach to help increase access to high-quality preschool in underserved neighborhoods, while supporting home-based providers and families. The multi-faceted Community Connections Preschool model offers a new way to reach and support vulnerable young children.