Under the direction and support of the Helps Education Fund, PASTEL (Parents and Schools Together to Enhance Learning) represents the collaborative work of dozens of educators, parents, literacy researchers, and university students.
Click on each of the links below to learn more about PASTEL!
The primary goals of PASTEL are to:
PASTEL is intended for any person who is invested in developing the emerging and early literacy skills of children from birth to age 12. The primary PASTEL users will include:
Consistent with the mission of the Helps Education Fund, information and activities offered through PASTEL will be available for free.
To maximize access and dissemination of PASTEL, and to offer unique features that promote the use and goals of PASTEL, many parents and educators will use the internet-based version of PASTEL.
For individuals who do not have regular access to the internet or prefer to use the print version of PASTEL, a free, downloadable "book" version of PASTEL will be accessible. A DVD of activity videos/vignettes will also be available to those who prefer DVD over web-integrated video.
All of the PASTEL goals are summarized below. Click on the goal to read a quick illustration of how the web-based features of PASTEL work in achieving that goal. The term “parent” will be used to describe all types of caretakers and others in the community who might use PASTEL (e.g., volunteers at an after-school program who are involved with children’s literacy development).
Goal 1: Provide parents with fun, easy-to-use, and research-based activities they can use at home to improve the literacy and pre-literacy skills of children ages birth to 12.
On the PASTEL website, parents will have access to approximately 50 fun and easy-to-use activities that are derived from the research literature as being most likely to improve children’s literacy skills. To help parents select the most appropriate activity, they will be organized by the students age and/or grade (with activities for children ages birth-12), and by the type of skill the activity should help the child develop, such as language skills, learning the sounds of letters, combining sounds of letters to form words, vocabulary knowledge, comprehension, and more. At least a few activities will be available for each of the critical skills a child must possess to become a successful reader. Each activity will provide parents with straightforward instructions about how to engage the child with the activity, printable materials (if needed), and a brief video demonstration that parents can watch to ensure they understand how to use the activity. To help parents choose among the activities, each description will provide other useful information, such as how long the activity should be carried out with the child.
Goal 2: Increase the positive communication between teachers and parents in a way that is meaningful, time-efficient, and centered around a child’s developing literacy skills.
Within a minute, parents can generate an email message (automatically written) that tells a child’s teacher which PASTEL activities are being used at home and how often they are being used. With this simple method of communication system, parents can also pose questions or comments to the child’s teacher about the literacy activities being used at home. Likewise, within a minute, a child’s teacher can introduce one or more PASTEL activities to a parent. For example, if a child’s teacher is focusing on helping students sound out their letters, the teacher can click a button and suggest that the parent consider using a 5 min PASTEL activity that can be easily used at home and will complement what the child is learning in the classroom.
Goal 3: Motivate parents and children to want to use the literacy activities provided through PASTEL.
Nearly every parent has a busy schedule, and sometimes it is difficult to remember that even 5-10 minutes of home-based literacy activities per day can have a major impact on a child’s literacy development. There are several features of the PASTEL website that should help to motivate parents (and students) to engage in the PASTEL activities. Some of these features include:
Goal 4: Provide parents with helpful information that should enhance their understanding of literacy development, their communication with educators in schools, and their child’s overall success in school.
Important information, summarized from the research and experts in a respective area, will be easily translated for parents who are interested in that information. Informational and “tips” pages will include things like:
Goal 5: Make sure that all parents can benefit from PASTEL, even parents who cannot or do not want to access the web-based version of PASTEL.
To ensure all parents can benefit from PASTEL, and knowing that most schools have access to the internet, the PASTEL website will provide guidance and training modules to help professional educators introduce PASTEL to families in their community, as well as to help show families how to best benefit from PASTEL activities. For parents who do not have access to the web-based version of PASTEL, a free printable book of the PASTEL activities and materials will be available. And for those who can’t access the demonstration videos online, a DVD of the activities will be accessible absolutely free (for schools serving large percentages of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds) or at a very low cost.
Click the example to read a brief illustration of what PASTEL might look like in practice.
Diana (a parent) wants to find new and fun activities she can use with her son, Jordan, a kindergartener who is just starting to learn how each of the letters in the alphabet is connected with one or more sounds. Diana logs into her free PASTEL account and easily finds 5 different research-based activities that help children learn the sounds of the letters.
With Jordan’s assistance in looking at the fun activity options, they first select the “Bingo” activity. Diana is quickly able to print the needed materials and learn how to use the activity from the step-by-step instructions and brief video demonstration. Although she has had only minimal contact with Jordan’s new Kindergarten teacher, Diana decides to click the button and send Jordan’s teacher an automatically generated message to let her know they are using this PASTEL activity to support Jordan’s literacy development at home.
In the first week of using PASTEL, Diana and Jordan use the Bingo activity four different days, each for 10 minutes per day. Diana can already notice improvements in Jordan’s learning of several letter-sounds, and at the end of the week Diana uses the on-line PASTEL communication system to send a quick note to Jordan’s teacher. Diana tells the teacher that they used the Bingo activity 4 times this week, Jordan really likes the activity, and that she sees him making great progress in his early literacy skills.
Each day of using the PASTEL activity, Diana also clicks the button on the PASTEL website that records the day and amount of time she spent with Jordan using the Bingo activity. At the end of the first week she clicks the button to display this information and is impressed by seeing that she found the time in her otherwise hectic schedule to use the PASTEL activity four times this week!
Diana also lets Jordan interact with the website each day they use PASTEL. For Jordan, he is able to click his “reading success” button and then watch his self-made avatar (a unique-looking space creature) change in appearance and activities. Jordan finds it very rewarding to watch his avatar do silly things (a small incentive for working so well with his mom on the reading activities).
As the weeks, months, and years pass, Diana and Jordan continue to use new and fun PASTEL activities that are each aligned with the specific and most important literacy skills Jordan should be learning. Observing all of the benefits of using the PASTEL activities—such as Jordan’s success in reading, the set-aside literacy time that Diana and Jordan regularly enjoy together, and the positive relationship Diana has created with Jordan’s school and teachers—Diana regularly encourages her friends and family to use PASTEL. In fact, she even uses the suggestions on the website to host an annual information and “training” event in Jordan’s school to introduce PASTEL to other families in their community. Overall, PASTEL meaningfully fostered fun, home-based reading activities that helped Jordan along his path to becoming a successful reader.
Ms. Davis, a 2nd grade classroom teacher, is working to ensure that her students are fluent readers—that is, they are able to read with proper speed, accuracy, and expression. She knows that a few of her students could benefit from a little more practice with their reading fluency at home. Overall, Ms. Davis has a good relationship with the parents of these three students, and she decides to go to the PASTEL website to look for activities.
There are 4 fluency activities to choose from and Ms. Davis finds one that she thinks her students will particularly like and be successful with at home. She enters the email address of the respective parents, and a message is automatically generated and asks the parents, on Ms. Davis’ behalf, to click the link provided in the email and consider doing the fluency activity at home 3 times per week, 10 minutes per day. The auto message also helps the parent to understand the purpose of the PASTEL website and how to benefit from the activities. And with the specific fluency activity suggested by Ms. Davis, the link in the email takes the parent directly to a page that provides the needed materials and clearly explains how to use the activity (including step-by-step directions and a simple video demonstration).
All parents agree to use the suggested reading activity, and through the online communication system, one parent contacts Ms. Davis with a great question about her child’s reading fluency. Ms. Davis is easily able to answer this question but this communication fosters an even stronger relationship between the parent and Ms. Davis, all centered around how to help the child be most successful in school.
Ultimately, because the activity suggested by Ms. Davis has research evidence of being effective for most children, each of the three students benefit from the PASTEL activity and Ms. Davis better assures that all students in her classroom will be fluent and successful readers!
Jarrett is a university undergraduate student and a volunteer at a YMCA after-school program in his community. During this time, Jarrett works as a mentor (one-on-one) with 3 different students, each two days per week. Jarrett works with a kindergarten student, a first grade student, and a fifth grade student. The YMCA provides Jarrett with some structured activities to improve the students’ literacy, but he knows each student could benefit from a little more practice. Jarrett also realizes that after using the YMCA literacy activities, he still has at least 20 extra minutes to work with each student.
Jarrett logs into his free PASTEL account and finds 3 fun activities, one each that is age- and ability-appropriate for the students he is working with. Using the simple instructions, pre-made materials for the activity, and demonstration videos, Jarrett easily learns the activities and begins using them the next time he meets with his YMCA mentees. Not surprising (because Jarrett knows his mentees well!), each student loves the activity Jarrett selects and they have fun working with Jarrett during the activity and improve their literacy skills while doing so.
There are many reasons that PASTEL will serve as an important resource for parents and educators. For example:
There is a critical need for PASTEL and we want to finalize this project and get it into the hands of parents and educators as soon as possible. Most of PASTEL is currently complete, but we need your help to finish getting our selected activities, on-line tools, and video demonstrations into the web-based platform.
Please consider helping to launch PASTEL by: