Early Learning Partners Reveal Resources, Funding to Support Oregon’s Early Literacy Plan

Early Learning Partners Reveal Resources, Funding to Support Oregon’s Early Literacy Plan

Oregon will soon disburse funds for early childhood literacy, as part of the Early Literacy Success Initiative. In 2023, lawmakers passed this legislation to help young children access more early literacy learning opportunities. The initiative also aims to increase early literacy from birth through third grade, reduce literacy academic disparities, and increase support to parents and guardians so they can be partners in the development of their child’s early literacy skills and knowledge.

This week, Children’s Institute (CI) hosted a webinar to elevate the importance of an intentional focus on early literacy strategies for early child care providers, educators, and families; and share funding updates.



In the coming months, new funding will make its way to Early Learning Hubs and the Early Childhood Equity fund. Oregon school districts have also applied for grant funding through the Oregon Department of Education and can expect to see those grants soon.

The webinar also revealed a new library of curated early literacy resources for parents and caregivers; early learning educators, providers, and practitioners; and policymakers to use to support children in developing early literacy skills and knowledge.

The majority of webinar participants reported that they will apply the information they learned in the webinar to their work, and we hope that you will find something useful here, too!

For more information about early literacy or help navigating the resources, please contact Marina Merrill, director of research and strategy, at marina@childinst.org.

Children’s Institute Launches Early Literacy Resources

Children’s Institute Launches Early Literacy Resources

We know that a child’s earliest experiences set the foundation for all future learning and that 90 percent of brain development happens before age 5. When young children develop language skills and learn to read, they are better equipped to engage in learning and become empowered to learn.

Recently, Children’s Institute partnered with the Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest (REL NW) to collect existing, readily accessible resources on evidence-based literacy practices for children ages birth through grade 3.

We are excited to share this compilation of resources with families and caregivers, early childhood educators and practitioners, and policymakers who want to support young children in developing the literacy and language skills they need to thrive.

For questions or help navigating these resources, please contact Marina Merrill, director of research and strategy, at marina@childinst.org


Youth Organized and United to Help: A Conversation with Y.O.U.TH Founder, Imani Muhammad

Youth Organized and United to Help: A Conversation with Y.O.U.TH Founder, Imani Muhammad



In this episode of the Early Link Podcast, host Rafael Otto speaks with Imani Muhammad, a longtime youth advocate and community organizer in Portland, Oregon. She is the executive director of Y.O.U.TH, which stands for Youth Organized and United to Help, a nonprofit organization that she founded in 2010 after the death of Davonte Lightfoot in North Portland in 2007.

Y.O.U.TH exists to dismantle the school to prison pipeline, by challenging existing systems and structures. That includes programs like Books not Bars, that links literacy education with advocacy, mentoring, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training.  

Imani has worked with Children’s Institute for some time now, and she conducts training for educators, including those who are involved with our Early Learning Academy. 

“When you look at the root word of education…it’s not that someone’s coming in to teach you something. It’s more that whoever is around you as the educator is bringing something out of you. You are providing an environment that all children can thrive and learn and experiment in a safe way so that they can figure out their own gifts and talents within themselves. That’s the beauty of education.” – Imani Muhammad 


More about The Early Link Podcast

The Early Link Podcast highlights national, regional, and local voices working in early childhood education and the nonprofit sector. The podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Rafael Otto, Children’s Institute’s director of communications.

Listen to more episodes of the Early Link Podcast here or stream on Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, TuneIn, and Apple Podcasts. 

State Partners Celebrate Early Childhood Inclusion

State Partners Celebrate Early Childhood Inclusion

Oregon Early Childhood Inclusion (OECI) partners convened at Oregon State University for an annual celebration of statewide work to bring high‐quality, inclusive preschool policies and practices to all levels of Oregon’s early care and education system.

The OECI celebration is a culmination of decades of dedication from people engaging in early childhood inclusion work from many perspectives including at the provider level, at the community level, and in school districts and classrooms.

Families, early learning and care providers, and special education practitioners have said that supporting children aged birth-to-five experiencing disability is a core equity priority in Oregon.



To address this, multiple organizations, state agencies, family advocacy networks and policy change makers have come together as part of the Oregon Early Childhood Inclusion Initiative to develop a state team that helps to guide implementation across communities and elevate the voices of the people they serve.

“It looks at the core needs of children, families, providers and educators, and it brings us together under a comprehensive framework at every level of the system, so that we’re all working and walking in the same direction toward belonging, towards wellness, towards true access and meaningful participation,” said Meredith Villines, early childhood coherent strategies specialist at the Oregon Department of Education.

The initiative is also an important step in Oregon’s plan to eliminate suspension and expulsion practices in preschool by providing educators with tools and support, including coaching and professional learning, to support children with higher needs.

“It has been wonderful to attend this celebration and hear from teams who are using these strategies to build inclusive classrooms in their communities,” said Marina Merrill, director of research and strategy at Children’s Institute.


Merrill sits on the OECI state leadership team. She says that high-quality preschool education is powerful for young children’s learning and development, but that conversations about equitable and inclusive preschool are overdue and OECI is working to change that.

“The Oregon Early Childhood Inclusion Initiative is working to remove the barriers at all levels of the early education system to ensure that children with disabilities can access and fully experience high-quality preschool education in the same classrooms as their typically developing peers,” said Merrill. “I look forward to continuing to work with the OECI state leadership team to expand this work to more communities across Oregon.”

LIFTing Kids to Success: How One Oregon School is Preparing Kids for Kindergarten

LIFTing Kids to Success: How One Oregon School is Preparing Kids for Kindergarten

The school season is upon us once more, carrying with it the usual back-to-school hustle and bustle of drop-offs and pick-ups, prepping school lunches, homework, and a whirlwind of after-school activities.  

While some of us may not feel entirely prepared for the return to this familiar routine, it’s a different story for young learners at Oceanlake Elementary School. They are ready and eager to embark on their next adventure – kindergarten!  

Little learners proudly shared some of the arts and crafts they completed during the LIFT summer camp.

For the better part of August, soon-to-be kindergartners at Oceanlake Elementary attended the LIFT Super Kind Kids Summer Camp, a no-cost, half-day summer learning program available to children within the Lincoln County School District.  

At the heart of LIFT, an acronym for “Learning is Fun Together,” is a commitment to empower children to feel good about themselves and find the goodness, strengths, and resilience that are already within them. This comprehensive approach involves crafting a secure, supportive, and immersive classroom setting, nurturing caring relationships between students and teachers, and cultivating a sense of belonging within the school community. 

Kathy Cleaver started the LIFT program 12 years ago, as a volunteer with the Lincoln County School District. Cleaver assists in coordinating the LIFT summer camp and also teaches a bilingual parent-child kindergarten readiness class for 3- to 5-year-olds and their parents, from October through June. 

She explained that one of the best ways children learn is through play, which is a cornerstone of the LIFT curriculum. Through play, children learn and practice friendship and social skills, develop supportive relationships with adults, and build positive self-concept.  

“We focus on teaching them social-emotional skills. We call them SEEC learning skills—social, emotional, ethical, and cognitive development skills,” said Cleaver.  

“It’s an expansion of the social emotional learning movement because it incorporates the concept of the innates goodness of the child, connected with the intellectual capacity and executive functions of the brain. So, they learn to open their heart and activate the learning and thinking parts of their brain.” 

A young child sits at a desk with a marker in hand, near their mouth. A coloring sheet sits in front of the child, and a box of markers is nearby.
Three incoming kindergartners sit together at a table, covered with coloring pages. They are participaing in an activity together. One child is playing with what appears to be blocks, the other two children are coloring.

A typical day at the LIFT summer camp serves as a valuable foundation, establishing a structured routine that familiarizes children with what lies ahead when they step back into the classroom come September.  

The daily agenda unfolds with a morning community circle, offering a sense of togetherness, followed by opportunities to engage with peers at “free play” centers around the room. Circle time lessons provide intentional social-emotional development, while artistic expression finds its place in arts and crafts activities. In the later part of the morning, the playground is a beacon for outdoor play and the day concludes with a special closing ritual where children joyfully celebrate the kind choices they’ve made throughout their day. 

Incoming kindergartners at Oceanlake Elementary School in Lincoln City share about kind things they did, to close out the day.

Crista Adovnik is a kindergarten teacher at Oceanlake Elementary and has been teaching with the LIFT summer program for five years. Adovnik is a big proponent of the program because it gives children the chance to practice skills before making the leap into the classroom. 

“The LIFT program is a really good introduction to kindergarten,” Adovnik said. “It gives students a chance to come in and get a feel for the school and meet some of the other classmates. They can come in and play more and share with their peers and see how it is to be with other kids.” 

Orion is an Oceanlake student starting kindergarten this year. Orion’s mom, Shannon Reboh, teaches preschool and knows that the transition from preschool to kindergarten is a big change for many kids. She and Orion feel much more confident about his transition to kindergarten, after his participation in the LIFT program. 

“Orion is now much more familiar with his school and the way it is run,” she said. “He has gotten to learn about the daily routines, lunchroom, playground, expectations, bathrooms, and school activities before the long school days officially begin. I highly recommend this program to help parents support their children have a successful transition into the upcoming school year.” 

LIFT paves the way for a smoother transition into the classroom, instilling confidence, familiarity, and a readiness to embrace the exciting journey of kindergarten for the young learners at Oceanlake Elementary.