Friday, December 17, 2021

Early Childhood Education Increases Academic and Professional Success

Today we are concluding our series on early childhood learning by former Yellin Center Learning Specialist Renée Jordan.

In the 1960’s, a pilot project, called the Perry Preschool Project, was conducted that gave children access to a preschool experience and supplemental home learning using high-quality programming that was designed to develop their cognitive, motor and social-emotional skills.  

Initial participants in the Perry Preschool Project showed greater academic achievement, as well as higher income earning later in life when compared to a control group (those who hadn’t had access to early learning). Participants also had higher graduation rates and IQ scores, as well as reduced incarceration rates and a higher likelihood to own their own homes.

Recently, researchers followed up with participants (now in their 50s) to see if these significant positive outcomes held -and they did. Not only that, but when researchers looked at the participants' children, they saw generational gains in terms of academic achievement and income. 

One interesting element of the Perry Preschool Project is that it included home learning support using the same rich educational programming. When parents and childcare providers provide developmentally appropriate materials and time for children to play with them, children reap immeasurable benefits that set them up for success in school and in life. 

However, it can be tricky as a parent or care provider to know what early childhood skills your child should be developing. Thankfully, there are resources, like Earlybird, that give you the information you need about child development, and the no-prep activities and materials you need to apply that learning. 

Photo by Andrew Ebrahim on Unsplash

Monday, December 6, 2021

The School Readiness Skills Your Child Needs

We are continuing our series on early childhood learning by former Yellin Center Learning Specialist Renée Jordan.

If you have a child under the age of five you may be wondering what skills you need to be working on to ensure they are school ready and set up for success upon starting kindergarten.

School readiness skills are the cognitive, social-emotional, motor, and attentional skills that lay the foundation for future school success. The thinking used to be that all your child needed was to recognize a few letters and numbers. However, current research shows that school readiness goes beyond just the basic literacy and numeracy skills. Motor and social-emotional skills are critical. Higher thinking skills such as creativity, problem solving, and imagination are of equal importance to academic skills (Pan, Trang, Love & Templin, 2019).

Sesame Workshop, the educational research organization behind Sesame Street, commissioned the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to examine school readiness skills in today’s children. Their findings were released in the Kindergartners’ Skills at School Entry report. The study found  that 44% of children enter school with one or more developmental risk factors that have the potential to impact their success in school.

The good news is that you can develop these skills at home or childcare while your child plays, using the materials you already have around. Children are "hands-on" learners. They acquire knowledge through playful interactions with quality materials and meaningful interactions with their caregivers (Hedges, 2000; Whitebread et. Al., 2009).

Painting, play dough, and coloring build motor skills. Letters, colors, numbers and shapes can be reinforced while children play with their toys. Dramatic play is grounds for rich social-emotional learning. Higher thinking skills are cultivated as a child builds puzzles, solves mazes and engineering towers out of their blocks.

One great resource that makes sense of the early years for parents and caregivers is Earlybird. Beyond providing fun, engaging play-based learning activities, Earlybird will also teach you what developmental skills each activity is targeting, giving you the knowledge, confidence and resources to ensure your child is school ready. 


Monday, November 29, 2021

Making Sense of Early Learning for Parents and Childcare roviders

Today we welcome back blogger Renée Jordan, who last wrote for us in 2016. We are delighted to have her contributing to our blog once again. Read about her story and hear about the exciting learning resources she has helped create.

I used to be a learning specialist at The Yellin Center. I eagerly joined the incredibly talented team as soon as I finished grad school at Columbia. My years at the Yellin Center are where I grew my knowledge of child development and how a child’s brain learns and grows. Working alongside Dr. Yellin deepened my understanding of the neurodevelopmental constructs that are fundamental to the work of The Yellin Center and my commitment to helping families and children make sense of their cognitive strengths and challenges to ensure they find success in school and beyond.

I left the team in 2016 to return to my hometown to focus on fertility treatments in hopes of starting a family. Leaving NYC and The Yellin Center was one of the hardest decisions we have made to date. But finally, in 2018, we welcomed our son Anderson. While on maternity leave, I began creating and doing easy activities with Anderson that targeted the core neurodevelopmental domains. When I began sharing them on Instagram I generated a following of fellow parents and childcare providers who were looking to make sense of the early years for their own kids.

It was during this time that I met Sarah, the other half of Earlybird. Sarah is an entrepreneur with a robust business knowledge and incredible sense of design. After we both had our second children, we decided now was the time to partner and build a platform outside of social media where parents and childcare providers could come to find the information they needed to know about child development, as well as the evidence-based activities and materials they needed to apply that knowledge. So in the middle of the pandemic, with four kids under three-years-old between us, we launched Earlybird.

Earlybird’s goal is to nurture every child’s intellectual, physical and social-emotional development to ensure they are ready for school and life. Anyone caring for children will find that Earlybird equips them with the confidence, knowledge and resources they need to create child-centered and developmentally appropriate play-based learning experiences that build a child’s literacy, numeracy, motor, social-emotional and creative thinking skills.

We keep it simple for you by using everyday items in our little to no prep activity ideas. On the platform you can filter resources by subject, specific skills, and ages. Then do the activities now, or save your favorites to your saved folder for later. We take the guesswork out of the early years for you.

Stay tuned for more posts looking at the research behind the early childhood tools we have developed. 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

ACT Exam to Use IEP/504 Accommodations

 Last week, the ACT Exam announced a change to how they would offer accommodations to students with learning, attention, and other disabilities. They now align with the College Board, which administers the SAT, AP, and other exams, and which implemented changes at the beginning of 2017. The College Board uses a "two question" inquiry for students seeking disability accommodations: 1) does the student's IEP or 504 Plan contain the accommodation they are seeking and 2) has the student used the requested accommodation for school exams?

 As the ACT noted in a press release, "Beginning with the 2021-22 testing year, students who already receive accommodations at their school under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act will automatically be eligible to receive the allowable testing accommodations when they register for the ACT with accommodations."

This means that students no longer need to go through a separate process of providing evidence of their need for accommodations, such as extended time, to the ACT. If a student's school has approved accommodations as part of an IEP or 504 Plan, the ACT will simply require that for "examinees who have a valid, current Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan (504 Plan) a copy of the IEP or 504 Plan will be sufficient to demonstrate eligibility and need for the same allowable accommodations on the ACT test." 

Note that the ACT still will exercise some oversight into which accommodations they will allow; they discuss certain Guiding Principles, which require that any accommodation should be reasonable and not fundamentally alter what the test is designed to measure. 

This is a welcome change, but it raises some questions. Among these are:

  • What about students who don't have an IEP or 504 Plan?

The ACT still will consider the needs of such students for accommodations. The "shortcut" they have announced doesn't change that and they will continue to apply the "reasonable accommodation" standard of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that they have always used. 

  • What about students who  have "informal" accommodations?
If students are enrolled in a public school, we urge them to formalize their accommodations via a 504 Plan or even an IEP, if appropriate. For most private schools, a 504 Plan is not an option, but private schools should consider creating a more formalized plan memorializing accommodations they provide. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Getting Ready for the New School Year - A Webinar

Last week, Dr. Paul Yellin and Susan Yellin, Esq. presented a webinar for ADDitude Magazine on “9 Ways to Prime Your Child for a Positive School Year." The discussion, with slides and a Q&A session at the end, focused on using the remainder of the summer to prepare for a return to what for most students will be in-person learning this fall. More than 700 attendees watched live and over 6,000 more  signed up to watch it later

The Yellins' recommendations included both steps that parents should take and those that were more focused on student readiness - all keeping in mind that it's been a rough year and a half and that students and their families need a chance to engage in summer activities that are enjoyable and that build social as well as educational skills.

Parents were reminded that this summer would be a good time to review their child's IEP or 504 Plan, and seek to make changes to it, if needed, before school begins in the fall. For children who are taking ADHD medication, Dr. Yellin discussed the importance of working with your child's doctor to monitor the effectiveness and side effects, if any, of medication and to keep a "medication diary" to share with your child's prescribing physician. Dr. Yellin spoke about the importance of frontloading and having a "growth mindset'" as discussed by Dr. Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset.

Both speakers mentioned a number of tools, apps, and websites that could build skills that may be needed to begin the next school year primed for success. These included those that were free and fun, like Bedtime Math to others that are more focused in their approach, such as IXL 

You can access this presentation as a video replay, listen to the podcast episode (#363), and download the slide presentation, with numerous slides and suggestions, from ADDitude, all at no charge.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Back to Basics - Tuition Reimbursement

When we began this blog back in the summer of 2009, we wrote a number of posts about the basics of special education law and how families could navigate the laws that would provide services and support for their children. We addressed all sorts of topics -- How to get your district to pay for an evaluation, How federal disability laws differ from each other , What are Related Services? and many others. 

Parents sometimes have questions about these or other subjects related to special education and we often find that the best way to answer their query is to share our blog(s) on the subject. But, as you might imagine, our readership has grown and changed over the past 12 years and parents' questions have made us realize that it might be time to address some old and new topics that are fundamental to understanding students' rights in special education. 

One question that has cropped up recently is whether a Committee on Special Education (CSE), the team that creates the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a student with disabilities under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) can place a student in a non-approved school and order payment for the tuition at such school. Parents have heard about getting their tuition paid at a private school and some assumed that this was how the process worked. Nope, it's much more complex than that. Let's look at the process, understanding that it can differ a bit from state to state.

First, parents can always place their child in a private school, whether a specialized school or one that offers a general curriculum and no significant supports. This discussion is about whether payment for a private school will be made by the public district.

The first step in that process is for a school district to be unwilling or unable to offer a child who is classified under the IDEA an appropriate IEP -- school setting, services, accommodations. This can be in the child's regular school or a non-public school that is "approved" by the state (a subject for another discussion). But here we are assuming that the parents do not find the proposed setting appropriate. 

The CSE, even if it finds that the school that the parents want is an excellent setting, does not have the authority to pay tuition at such school. The parents have to give the district notice that they are unilaterally placing their child in the private school, and then file for a hearing before a state hearing officer, who will look at several criteria, including whether the IEP was really not appropriate and whether the placement the parents have selected is, indeed, an appropriate setting. At a minimum, the parent's choice must offer the special education services the child needs (so not just any private school will do).

The process takes months to complete and in almost all cases requires the parents to pay the tuition to the school and then get reimbursed if they are successful at a hearing. And the process must be repeated for each school year. 

Many parents are successful and have worked out a system so that their child can attend a specialized private school offering special educational services. But it is not a simple process and success is not guaranteed. We recommend working with a special education attorney to make sure all the 'i's' are dotted and the 't's' are crossed. 




Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Summer Tools to Prepare for School in the Fall

 As the age for vaccine eligibility falls and COVID rates decline, schools throughout the U.S. are moving away from remote instruction to in-person learning this fall. Here in New York City, all public schools will be fully in-person in September and there will be no remote learning options.

A year and more of online instruction has made it difficult for many students to make the kind of progress they would have made if they were attending school in-person every day. Some students were able to thrive during online instruction, but for those who struggled, we have some suggestions for tools that can be used during the summer to build skills in math and writing and get ready for the fall.


We often recommend two software programs to help children build math skills. 

Dreambox, for grades K-8  adapts to your child's skill level. Using your child's answers to different kinds of problems, DreamBox detects which skills a student has mastered and which need more work, then provides instruction and practice in the form of games. Parents can use the Dashboard feature to monitor their child's progress. Note that the lessons in Dreambox may not align exactly with what your child is doing in school, but can help prepare your child for math lessons when school begins in the fall.

IXL, for students from pre-K through high school helps students master individual math concepts and lets parents track student progress. Students learn at their own pace and can prepare for the math skills they will need once back in school.


The best way for students to improve their writing is to write more. By using creative formats, supported by artwork, younger students will be motivated to express themselves in writing and be better prepared for the writing assignments they will face in the fall. We recommend:

Storybird - grade 1 and up
This beautifully crafted, aesthetically pleasing website-based app provides support for writing and an avenue for self-publishing.

Comic Creator - grades 3 - 8
Students can design and save or print comic strips with this user-friendly site. In addition to creating stories, it is an inviting tool for summarizing books to help improve reading comprehension. Comic Creator keeps it simple with very basic graphics and pared down options, making it great for students who may find flashy extras distracting.

 Story Jumper - grades 1 - 5

Younger students can choose between a seemingly limitless array of formats and pictures to supplement the stories they write. Books can be saved, shared, or purchased in hardcover form.

It hasn't escaped us that after more than a year, we are recommending more online instruction. But limited screen time and targeted lessons can be worth the "sitting still" time these programs require. We hope you and your student find them fun and helpful.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Moving Towards Normal

The announcement this week that New York City schools will be open for in-person instruction in September, with no remote learning options, is one more step towards a post-pandemic world. But make no mistake - things aren't going to be the same. Even without the heartbreaking loss of life, this pandemic changed us all, in ways large and small, and it is unlikely that our families, our city, our country, and the world will go back to what some have called "the before times" any time soon.

Even as more of us are vaccinated, there still remain many Americans who cannot or will not get vaccinated, at least in the near future. The ages at which the vaccines are deemed safe and effective keep dropping, but young children still cannot receive the vaccine, which means that in families in which everyone 12 and up has received their shots, there may still be younger children who are not protected by these scientific miracles. And there are still folks who haven't gotten the vaccine and who may not be planning to. Some may have medical conditions that make a vaccination problematic. Others are skeptical for a wide array of reasons. We'll leave the reasons for this aside, but note that reaching "herd immunity" is going to be a stretch in many areas.

Our workplaces, too, have changed and it is not clear whether people will return to their offices on a regular basis, or whether a large number will continue to work remotely either full or part-time. Here at The Yellin Center we are thinking about what our offices will look like in the months to come. At some point, but certainly not yet, we won't need the plastic screens between our clinicians and our students. We will be able to take down the signs reminding everyone to keep their masks on. And we will even be able to put the magazines back in the reception area and the toys back in the family rooms. But not yet...

Students have missed so many of the learning opportunities and social rituals that being together in a classroom, in a school building, or in a school community provide. Goofing around in the hallway, lunchroom, or playground; graduation and proms; and creative classroom play for the youngest of students all have been lost for more than a year and it will take time for students and teachers to get used to them again. Learning loss over the past year and more has been significant. While some children (often those in private schools) had a good deal of in-person instruction, most students dealt with remote schooling most or all of the time. Students with learning or emotional difficulties were often especially challenged by sitting in front of their computer all day, lacking the level of support they had been used to receiving before the pandemic hit.  

Your blogger, too, temporarily lost her writing muse and is just now emerging from a pandemic funk to look around and see things she wants to share with readers. As we spend time with family and friends and start to share hugs with those we have missed, as families send children off to summer camp, and as students think about buying school supplies for in-person education in the fall, things will slowly, slowly head back towards a new kind of normal. We look forward to plotting the way forward to post-pandemic life and learning with you.

Photo credit: Steven Cornfield on Unsplash

Monday, March 22, 2021

New Data Confirms Emotional Toll of Virtual Learning

There has been much conversation over the past year about the impact that virtual learning has had on children and families. The ways that virtual learning has been used during the pandemic have varied -- sometimes abruptly -- as school systems and families have reacted to infection rates, clusters of outbreaks, and the availability of vaccinations for faculty and staff. But almost all students have faced reduced class time and many have dealt with the unavailability of effective online learning as well, when families lack computers or efficient high speed internet connections.

A new study released by the CDC has examined the impact of virtual learning on the mental health and well-being of children aged 5-12 by looking at almost 1300 families. Of those families, approximately 46% had children receiving only virtual instruction. Another 31% received in-person instruction and approximately 23% received hybrid instruction, both virtual and in-person.

The study looked at 17 indicators of child mental health and found that children who were getting virtual instruction scored worse on 11 of the 17 mental health indicators. In addition, children learning virtually full or part time spent less time outdoors, spent less time with friends (both in person and online), and reported decreased physical activity. And it wasn't only the children who were affected by virtual learning. The study noted,

"Parents of children receiving virtual instruction more frequently reported their own emotional distress, difficulty sleeping, loss of work, concern about job stability, child care challenges, and conflict between working and providing child care than did parents whose children were receiving in-person instruction."  

None of the statistical findings of the CDC study will come as a surprise. Hopefully, with increased vaccination of teachers and school staff and lower Covid rates as more of the general population gets vaccinated, in person instruction will increase and families and schools can turn to addressing the academic and emotional challenges that have affected children and families during the past year. Making up for the impact of the pandemic will not be easy.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Watch Dr. Yellin Discuss How to Help Struggling Learners

In case you missed a terrific discussion with Dr. Yellin, you can catch the video below. In a conversation with Laura Hart of Robofun, Dr. Yellin gives a clear explanation of the evaluation process and how it can help students of all ages. 

The "call in hour" Dr. Yellin mentions in this video is scheduled for every Thursday morning (EST) from 8-9 am. Our office telephone number is 646-775-6646. If you can't get through, just leave a message and someone will get back to you.