Born of a firm belief that parents are their children’s first, best teachers, Early Learning Matters (ELM) aims to empower parents to create a language-rich environment at home and make learning fun and effective for their young children starting at birth.

4YearsThe ELM program is the result of tireless work on the part of teachers, curriculum, directors, administrators, parents and community members within the Polson School District. The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation became involved as the primary sponsor of ELM. Their belief in the importance of early learning investments fueled their desire to help facilitate the creation of a best practices – based replicable program for Montana communities.

We do this by providing parents with hands-on interactive workshops (our workshops are too much fun to call them “work”!) in which we demonstrate age appropriate activities and effective techniques for parent-child interaction, as well as giving parents information about child development. Certified teachers lead the workshops in which each parent receives age-appropriate children’s books, educational toys, and ideas for activities to do with their children. After the workshop, parents have access to individualized support to provide encouragement and answer questions.

The first workshops were held in 2008 and 2009 in Polson, Montana. Certified teachers led the sessions.

The first workshops were very successful. Parent feedback was overwhelmingly positive and the school district continues to track the student participants as they enter school.

Our ELM project is designed for parents of children from birth through age four. We intentionally seek out low income parents, teen parents, parents who have not graduated from high school, unemployed parents, pregnant teens, parents in the court system, parents who have limited extended family support or parents who have unhealthy living arrangements. Our teachers, school nurses and community partners help us identify and contact the parents.

Our pilot program launched in the spring of 2009. We began the full program in early fall 2009. During the school year, we will hold at least four different workshops. All the workshops will focus on creating a language/literacy rich home environment, with each workshop focusing on one of four themes; literacy, social development, pre-numeracy or science.

Everything that we create for the ELM project will be freely available for other school and organizations to use. Please note that these resources will be changed and updated as we get feedback from the ELM parents and teachers.

We could not have done this alone! We are very grateful to the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation for their funding and encouragement and for the support of our community partners!