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.

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Click on each of the links below to learn more about PASTEL!

Primary Goals of PASTEL

The primary goals of PASTEL are to:

  1. Improve children’s emerging and early literacy skills by offering parents/caregivers fun, easy-to-use, and research-based literacy activities that can be used at home;
  2. Increase positive communication between teachers and families in a way that is meaningful, time-efficient, and centered around a child’s developing literacy skills.

Who is PASTEL Intended For?

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:

  1. Parents and other caregivers (including, for example, grandparents, babysitters, older siblings, and really any person who has the opportunity to interact with developing readers).
  2. Educators working in schools (for professional educators, PASTEL provides simple but research-based activities they can easily suggest to parents and caregivers).
  3. Volunteers and staff who work in school-based settings such as after-school programs or pre-schools. 

Access, Dissemination, and Usability

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.


How does the web-based version of PASTEL work?

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:

  • Providing activities that are well-organized on the website, easy to locate, fun for kids, effective, and easy to use. And during holidays, some activities will be themed to match the holiday!
  • Optional methods for parents to easily track the time they spend with PASTEL activities and then view all of their work in a visually motivating chart/display. This form of tracking should encourage parents to continue using PASTEL activities daily, weekly, and monthly. This tracking also allows parents to print their tracking chart and (if desired) show the child’s teacher the frequency and type of PASTEL activities being used at home (such as during a parent-teacher meeting).
  • Age appropriate and easy to understand suggestions connected to each activity that, when needed, helps a parent to motivate the child to engage in the literacy activities.
  • Optional systems that parents can choose to set up in order to receive simple reminders (sent to their email or phone) about using the PASTEL activities on a regular basis.
  • The option for parents to initiate interactive and fun features on the website that helps to motivate and reward the child when he or she participates in a certain number of PASTEL activities. For example, children may be able to create an age-appropriate avatar that increases in complexity and/or engages in more visually entertaining experiences the more the child engages in PASTEL activities with the parent. As the parent and child complete PASTEL activities, a click of the mouse “unlocks” the new visual and interactive experiences with the avatar.
  • The option for parents to write and read ratings and comments about each activity. Like someone might do regarding a restaurant, a new pair of shoes, or a recipe found online, PASTEL activities will allow parents to provide ratings and feedback. This information will allow parents to learn from other parents about which activities may be most suitable for their child, and will allow PASTEL developers to continually receive important feedback from parents about the activities provided.

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:

  • When, where, and how to best engage a child with literacy activities.
  • The kinds of questions a parent might ask during parent-teacher conferences.
  • How to be a successful advocate of a child’s learning in school (including information about advocating for a child with a disability and understanding how to best support a child with a disability).
  • How literacy develops and the sometimes important terminology a parent might hear about literacy from educators in a school.
  • How to build collaborative relationships with other parents in the community as means of getting even more families to actively promote literacy in the home and to possibly use activities like those found through PASTEL.

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.


Examples of PASTEL in Action

Click the example to read a brief illustration of what PASTEL might look like in practice.

An example of how a parent of a kindergarten-aged child might use PASTEL.

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.

An example of how a 2nd grade teacher might use PASTEL.

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!

An example of how a community volunteer might use PASTEL at an after-school program.

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.


Why is there a Critical Need for PASTEL?

There are many reasons that PASTEL will serve as an important resource for parents and educators. For example:

  1. Too many children do not have appropriate literacy skills, and their struggles with learning to read have a long-lasting impact on their schooling and life. In the U.S., for example, 66% of fourth grade students read below a Proficient level and 33% read below even a Basic level. For related statistics, click here.
  2. Although many parents are involved with literacy activities in the home, many parents do not know the specific types of home-based activities that will best support their child’s literacy development. For example, many parents read to their child; but did you know there are very specific shared book-reading activities a parent can easily use to make that book-reading time even more meaningful for a child? Literacy activities between a parent and child is almost never a bad thing, but through PASTEL we want all parents to know about a range of fun activities that are also the activities that research suggests should be most successful.
  3. For many important reasons, some parents do not currently engage their child with literacy activities. PASTEL helps these parents (and in some cases assists the child’s school to help the parents) identify fun reading activities. PASTEL also helps to motivate these parents and shows how even 5 minutes per day can meaningfully benefit a child’s literacy development.
  4. In many communities, positive communication between a child’s teacher and parent is non-existent or too infrequent. This is important because positive home-school communication is very important to a child’s success in school. Through PASTEL, we help to foster positive and meaningful communication between home and school in a way that is also time-efficient. Through these initial methods of communication through the PASTEL email system, this increases the likelihood of even more home-school communication in the future.
  5. There are many literacy activities available on the web, but most of these activities are limited because (a) very few are specifically designed with parents in mind, (b) many are not specifically linked to what research would suggest to be most effective, (c) most do not provide clear descriptions, materials, or video demonstrations related to using the activity, and/or (d) the website does not clarify for the parent which activities are most appropriate for a child’s age or ability level. Through PASTEL we address each of these limitations of existing resources.

Help Us Launch PASTEL in 2017!

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:

  1. Joining one of our upcoming events.
  2. Making a quick online donation
  3. Sharing this page with your friends and colleagues and ask them to also help us launch PASTEL in 2017.