Early childhood providers in Virginia will now have access to a comprehensive birth-to-5-years-old educational curriculum, developed by researchers at the University of Virginia, that combines social smarts with academic ones.
The option will be made available as a low- to no-cost option to publicly supported early childhood programs.
Through a grant from the Virginia Department of Education, a team at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning developed the new curriculum, known as STREAMin3. The center worked in partnership with Elevate Early Education and The New E3 School, both of which also provided funding for the effort.
The team designed its STREAM: Integrated, Intentional, Interactions curriculum to blend academic and social-emotional learning. The curriculum combines core skills – such as learning to relate to peers, regulating emotions and behavior, thinking, communicating and movement –with introductory academic subjects: science, technology, reading, engineering, art and mathematics.
“An effective birth-to-5 curriculum helps teachers provide infants, toddlers and preschoolers the opportunities, experiences and interactions to engage deeply within their world and to build skills for lifelong learning,” said Amanda Williford, Batten Bicentennial Professor of Early Childhood Education at the UVA School of Education and Human Development.
“When fully implemented, a curriculum makes it easier and more efficient for teachers to engage in and facilitate sensitive, responsive and cognitively stimulating interactions with young children.”
Williford and Kate Matthew, a senior manager at the center and co-author of the curriculum, led the team that developed the educational approach. The full curriculum includes daily activities and routines that support teacher-child and peer interactions, coaching and professional development for teachers and leaders, as well as assessment tools.
STREAMin3 is one of a number of curricula identified by the Virginia Department of Education as meeting the standards set by their Unified Virginia Quality Birth to Five System. The curriculum was selected through a competitive process. Child care programs that are not currently using an approved curriculum and choose STREAMin3 will be given first priority to receive the curriculum.
“Our youngest learners in Virginia thrive when teachers and child care providers use high-quality early education resources, like StreamIn3, to teach the foundational skills needed for kindergarten,” Jillian Balow, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, said.
Instead of having to piece together separate curricula for math, literacy, science and social-emotional skills, STREAMin3 integrates these learning domains into one comprehensive curriculum that teachers can use without supplemental curricula. Beyond the benefits that come from the ease and consistency of using one complete model, this integration allows for real-life applications where these skills naturally blend.
“For example, an activity about a class pet is excellent for teaching science skills,” Matthew said. “But it’s also a natural extension to use that opportunity to discuss empathy skills, like considering the pet’s needs and providing care to others.
“Or a math game is clearly great for supporting skills like numeracy, but it’s also a natural opportunity to intentionally focus on social skills, such as taking turns.”
A body of research shows that the interactions teachers have with children matter more than an activity itself. Based on this evidence, all STREAMin3 curriculum resources focus on effective ways to interact with children.
“Each activity provides a flexible base of what the children will do, but the focus is on how the teacher will interact with them during the activity and ways to adapt it to meet the unique needs of every child,” Matthew said.
The activities promote active engagement and direct experiences for children. The also prioritize child interest and experiences, and encourage problem-solving and curiosity.
“For the youngest learners, instead of formal activities there are types of play, such as sensory, tummy time, or songs or book readings,” Matthew said. “A 4-year-old may find themselves navigating their way through a maze built in the classroom, while building their math skills and spatial sense alongside engineering or problem-solving skills.”
Collaborations in Development and Testing
The education experts developed and tested the curriculum between 2015 and 2018 in partnership with Elevate Early Education, a bipartisan, statewide, issue-advocacy organization focused on supporting children in Virginia. It was initially piloted in The New E3 School, a preschool in Norfolk.
During the initial development, researchers learned that using a single curriculum model across infant, toddler and preschool classrooms increases continuity between classrooms and teachers serving children of different ages.
It also builds connections and relationships between educators who come together as a single unit for some aspects of professional development.
Consistency across the years allows families to build a deeper understanding, familiarity and trust in the curriculum – which increases engagement, the educators said.
“It makes classroom transitions easier for both children and teachers and can help reduce the disruption resulting from the high teacher turnover rate in the early childhood education field,” Williford said.
With a combination of funding and partnerships with the Virginia Department of Social Services, the Alleghany Foundation in Southwest Virginia and the Obici Healthcare Foundation in western Tidewater, the STREAMin3 curriculum was further piloted across the commonwealth from 2018 to 2021. This expanded use of the curriculum provided the research portion of the team, led by CASTL Assistant Professor Ginny Vitiello, an opportunity to conduct an implementation evaluation.
The COVID-19 pandemic began in midst of the implementation pilot, which caused unprecedented challenges. During the pandemic, teacher turnover occurred in 83% of classrooms, and yet all program leaders or remaining teachers continued to use the curriculum. Teachers continued to engage in professional development by attending virtual coaching 91% of the time.
STREAMin3 pivoted from helping teachers with in-person implementation to supporting virtual or hybrid instruction and creating weekly activities to share with families. At the end of the evaluation period, 87% of program leaders said they would recommend STREAMin3, with nobody rating it as unfavorable.
According to Williford, these important discoveries were the result of a series of partners collaborating on what Virginia’s early childhood system needs and how to can bring evidence-based solutions to meet those needs.
“STREAMin3 increased the quality of interactions between the children, teachers and their peers, as well the level of knowledge to help them succeed well beyond school and into adulthood,” said Luz Padilla, director of Children's Learning Paradise, a partner early childhood education program in Virginia Beach. “The support our staff received through observation, feedback and coaching has allowed STREAMin3 to be sustainable within our school, as it helped our teachers feel better prepared and more confident when implementing the curriculum.
“We have witnessed such an impactful change in the behavior of our children, as well as their knowledge, self-confidence and ability to work through conflicts.”
“We are grateful for all the educators and our coaches and team members supporting them who have helped us improve the model and inform our plans for expansion,” Matthew said. the team is grateful to everyone who helped test and improve the model.
Expanding Statewide Access
As access to STREAMin3 expands statewide, the grant from the VDOE will allow the team at CASTL to provide opportunities to connect to, train and support educators and trainers through a series of tailored professional development and curriculum resources. They will also provide printed materials and age-appropriate books for classrooms who need them.
“Virginia is currently developing an innovative statewide system to measure quality and support improvement across 9000 early childhood classrooms in schools, Head Start, child care centers and family day homes that take public funds,” said Jenna Conway, Deputy Superintendent of Early Childhood Care and Education at the Virginia Department of Education. “We are partnering closely with UVA to ensure that programs not only have access to an affordable, quality option but also extensive tools and resources that meet the unique needs and preferences of Virginia educators at scale.”
As the project continues, the team is developing a website and online portal that allows educators to use the full suite of curriculum assets. Included online will also be a set of certifications, videos and other activities designed to support educators and program directors to better understand the program and how best to use it.
“We are excited to have this opportunity to partner with the Virginia Department of Education to help ensure every child, family, teacher, and program has access to high-quality curriculum resources and supports,” Williford said. “We will continue to embrace continuous improvement through an iterative design model so that STREAMin3 empowers educators, leaders, children, and families to be active agents in their own teaching and learning.”