Data-Driven Family Engagement Tools for Head Start and State Preschools

Learning Genie is an app for ECE educators and family service workers for Distant Learning and Family Engagement including tracking in-kind. During the COVID-19 crisis, Learning Genie offers free tools till the end of 2020 under a grant (or in-kind) to support all ECE agencies for Distance Learning and track school readiness outcomes.


Learning Genie also provides a useful application for portfolio-building. The portfolio tracking and tagging systems could be readily applied to DRDP 2015, Florida VPK, Head Start (HS), Early Head Start (EHS), Montessori, and other state or private-backed assessment tools.

Applying Preschool Learning Foundations In A TK Classroom

Applying the Preschool Learning Foundations and assessment data in lesson plans and environment settings for an age appropriate learning environment is essential if you are going to be running an early childhood education program, or teaching in a TK classroom. TK or transitional kindergarten is a new program in California that bridges the gap between preschool and kindergarten. Its rapidly expanding, and will be fully implemented in all school districts by 2024-2025. To be able to offer a classroom that addresses the whole child approach and focuses on play based learning, it is best to be knowledgeable about the Preschool Learning Foundations (PLF), and how to apply them in your developmentally appropriate early education program.

Being knowledgeable on Preschool Learning Foundations and having an understanding of best practices in an early childhood program can really help you as a teacher. The TK implementation guide from CDE states that, “Transitional kindergarten is the first year of a two year program that provides a “modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate” Key words being, age and developmentally appropriate. That defined for a 4 years old, is a play based environment that is intentionally set up to promote education in our youngest learners.

A well set up environment offers the child an opportunity to expand their emotional, social, physical, and cognitive learning throughout their daily schedule. Better put by, “A TK environment, “blends social and emotional experiences with academic learning, so that students not only learn essential pre-literacy, pre-math, and other cognitive skills, but also develop social and self-regulation skills needed to succeed in school and life.” The foundations lay out ways to achieve these goals. Per California Department of Education’s online site,, “The California Preschool Learning Foundations outline key knowledge and skills that most children can achieve when provided with the kinds of interactions, instruction, and environments that research has shown to promote early learning and development. These foundations offer our early childhood educators a clear understanding of what our youngest learners should know before entering kindergarten.” Applying these foundations can easily be achieved in a well-developed program, and a well-educated early child development teacher, will be able to educate and provide children with a whole-child approach, while running a classroom that focuses on play-based learning.

The whole child approach is one that addresses all the needs of a growing and developing child. Using the PLF can help you achieve this. To learn more about the foundations and frameworks, visit the website,, there I found an explanation of each volume and the domains that it covers. The three volumes of Preschool Learning Foundations cover the 8 domains all young children are learning to master, and can be very useful when planning your classroom, the curriculum, environment and daily schedule. You will also want to remember its companion, the frameworks, which offers many strategies to enrich the learning and development for all preschool children.

This is my first year as a TK teacher, but my knowledge from being a preschool teacher for the past 10 plus years has helped my transition to be smoothly. Having worked in the preschool classroom for so many years, I am familiar with the Preschool Learning Foundations and Framework. We use them in lesson planning, making sure to cover all the developmental domains. Running a well-developed, developmentally educational program is not easy without the right education, equipment, curriculum, materials and experience. The same is for running a TK classroom, four-year-old children, are four-year-old children no matter the program they are in, or the name you call it. They need movement to learn, they need repetition and a secure trusting environment and routine in which they feel free to express themselves and soak up the world around them. They need to be given opportunities and offered enriching experiences in many different modalities to learn. For children, playing is learning!

As stated in the TK implementation guide, “Play is an important vehicle for developing self-regulation as well as for promoting language, cognition, and social competence.” As Bev Boss says, “Children learn best through play.” That is confirmed again, in the book dedicated to her, The Powerful Role of Play in Education. As stated in that book’s introduction, “Play is an innate way to learn and explore the world and a meaningful and authentic way for young children to develop and understanding of themselves in relation to their families and communities. Play is an important context in which children learn, experiment with new ideas and make sense of the world around them. Through play, children learn about their individual strengths related to unique cultural, linguistic, and family backgrounds and develop an understanding of other people and of communities that are different from theirs.” That pretty much sums it up, the powerful role of play in early education and all that the children are learning!

A well set up early childhood education environment would include areas to master all of these domains throughout your daily learning setting, routine and uninterrupted free time. Hopefully your schedule will a lot a certain amount of time designated for free play. The TK implementation guide reminds us of the importance of planning play time in our daily schedule. It states, “Even as the year moves on, offering students multiple opportunities for purposeful play will continue to be an important part of the daily routine. A minimum of 45 minutes of uninterrupted choice time is considered best practice.” Children can learn so much through play. As a teacher, it is very difficult preparing lessons that are culturally, age appropriate and inclusive for children in special education, but you will find through play, all of that is possible. TK implementation guide states on page 42, “Purposeful play that invites engagement, promotes peer interactions, and encourages problem solving provides the ideal framework for concrete learning while also setting the stage for future abstract, logical thinking.” Children are learning so much through play, whether it be figuring out their roles in the community, or learning to communicate and problem solve with their peers.

Implementing and apply the Preschool Learning Foundations in lesson plans and environment settings in the early learning environment, can be accomplished in many ways through your daily schedule, and through planned small group, large group activities. A well planned TK environment will be able to offer all of the domains throughout your daily routine, and should include enough time to implement them. That all starts when children and families enter your classroom. You want to be warm and welcoming to the child, you want them to feel secure and form a relationship with you. Children learn best in a routine, well-structured environments, where they feel secure, loved and welcomed. The TK Implementation Guide also states, “Children develop best when they have secure, consistent relationships with responsive adults and opportunities for positive relationships with peers.” We as early educators have the job, and opportunity to provide that love, respect and care. To form that relationship with the child and give them that warm, comfortable secure places where they can learn, thrive and grow to their full potential.

The way you set up your learning environment encourages engagement and learning. Areas such as your block area, your house area, your library area all provide opportunities on a daily basis to engage literacy and language development, and social and emotional practice. As stated in the TK implementation Guide, “TK teachers are instrumental in this process as they plan rich language experiences and provide extended opportunities to learn new vocabulary and to develop oral language skills. As they ease students’ transition into a school setting and help make instruction more comprehensible for English learners, teachers can incorporate various techniques and strategies into classroom routines.” Strategies such as introducing new words through singing, counting and reading at circle time. We are learning numbers, words, sound and letters just through singing simple nursery rhymes or counting the days on the calendar. We even count, sing or read in Spanish. Simple good morning songs or Bueno Dias, counting to 10 in Spanish while we stretch or other simple ways to keep the kids engaged and learning, also offering our bilingual learners ways to feel connected, included and contributing learners.

Fine motor skills, letter and number recognition, patterns, and shapes; all of these skills can be accomplished through simple art or coloring projects. Many color by number pages are fun for the kids all while they are learning fine motor control, letters, numbers and colors at the same time. We offer daily painting projects, where we are talking about colors, working on fine motor exercise, introducing letters and name writing. Science is offered through sensory bins, water tables, measuring activities, magnifying glasses, gardening and planting projects. Where they are also exposed to math. Other math learning opportunities are available through patterns blocks, puzzles, light table actives, books and counting. And Small group time such as playing number shaped bingo or using number locks or games. Even playing with Play-Doh the children are using their imagination, working on fine motor skills, developing hand eye coordination, and it offers many language learning opportunities too.

Large group areas consist of circle time, free time, outside play and dance time. There, the children are exposed to many different domains of learning. Gross and fine motor, social and emotional, problem solving, active and physical play. Outside time they are learning, cooperative play, planning and decision making. They are exercising their gross motor movement and physical development. The children are learning while having fun. Introducing new and exciting words, themes, and concepts all through play. As you can see, you can master all of these domains throughout your daily schedule and routine, in a well-structured, play based environment.

Ways you can make sure you are meeting the needs of the children in your program are through the yearly evaluations or assessments. The DRDP’s (Desired Results developmental profile) is the child’s report card, where the child is rated on their developmental level in each domain. There you can see where each child is lacking and may need some extra supports. We have been using Learning genie for our assessment and DRDP completion for the past 5 years, this year I am continuing to use it for my TK students. When using learning Genie, you are able to input your observations, and add picture or videos of the children completing your planned lesson for the day, you are able to record them and add detailed descriptions that can help you when you go back to complete the DRDP assessment, they are also very helpful as a child portfolio. If you need to meet with the parent, they are great parent resource.

Learning Genie covers all the domains of a developmental appropriate childhood education program, and offers reports once the DRDPs are completed. Reports such as, progress reports, parent reports and class reports so you can easily evaluate a program or individual child’s needs. “Learning Genie is a primary provider of evidence-based assessments, reflective lesson planning, and multilingual family engagement for the California State Preschool (CSPP) and TK programs (UTK).” . These reports are very helpful in planning an appropriate early educational learning environment. They allow you to see where you class is behind in a certain domain, you can then plan ways to incorporate that domain in small or large group activities and give the children multiple ways to practice and acquire the skill.

As you can see, running a well-developed, developmentally educational program for our youngest learners where they feel secure can be quite the challenge, but with the right materials, education and experience, it can be achieved. Using the Preschool Learning Foundations as your guide can greatly benefit you, your classroom and the children. They help you understand the needs and wants of an energetic, fast absorbing minds of a four-year-old and offer ways to present the information in many modalities that are aimed to fit their learning styles. A classroom that is welcoming, safe, and set up for the child to explore and learn as they see fit, with ample amount of time for free play to learn and explore, will immerse them with all the knowledge they need to excel in kindergarten and beyond. They will have had the experiences, and the time to build a strong foundation for future school success.


California Department of Education (CDE). 2010. California Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 1. Sacramento: California Department of Education. California Department of Education (CDE). 2011.

California Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 2. Sacramento: California Department of Education. California Department of Education (CDE). 2012.

California Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 3. Sacramento: California Department of Education. California Department of Education (CDE). 2016

Copple, Carol, Bredekamp, Sue, NAEYC. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8, 4th Edition. 2021

California Department of Education (CDE). 2021. The Powerful Role of Play in Early Education. Sacramento: California Department of Education. California Department of Education (CDE). 2021

California TK Guide. Sacramento: California Department of Education.

Inclusion Works! Creating Child Care Programs That Promote Belonging for Children with Disabilities. Sacramento: California Department of Education. California Department of Education (CDE) and First 5 California. 2011.

Learning Genie. 2022.

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