Early Learning Program (ELP)

Image: ELP Pre-School

Welcome to the Early Learning Program at Darien Public Schools.

The Early Learning Program is a integrated preschool where children with special needs and children with typically developing skills learn from each other in a nurturing environment.  It has been part of the Darien Public School system since 1996. 

Class for Darien residents

The 16 hour a week program for 3 year olds and 4 year olds follows a modified Darien Public Schools calendar.  The classrooms are at Tokeneke, Royle and Ox Ridge Elementary Schools, and Monday through Thursday, from 9:30am to 1:30pm.

Mission Statement

The goal of the Early Learning Program is to enhance each child’s cognitive understanding, emotional development, social skills, language and physical motor development through structured and facilitated language and play based experiences.

 ELP Applications for 2017-18  

Parents are notified of acceptance into ELP or wait list numbers.  Deposit of $600 for the 2017-2018 school year is due by February 15, 2017.  Please make checks out to Darien Public Schools: (memo: your child's name 2017-2018). Please mail to Gladys Didia, Darien Board of Education 35 Leroy Avenue, Darien, CT. 06820

Click the link to download the credit card authorization form.

Laura Straiton, Program Director Early Childhood, SESS, 203-656-7472

General Early Learning Program Information

ELP Calendars 2016-2017

ELP Handbook- Information specifically regarding ELP students

Newly Accepted Students Registration Form

Photograph Permission Form- For ELP students

Health Services- Health Assessments

Food Services- Information about menu and payments

Early Dismissal – Delays- Early Releases

Delayed Opening   (2 hour and 10 minute delay)

ELP Tokeneke Royle School and Ox Ridge School’s Start times:

8:30 arrivals will start at 10:40 a.m.

9:30 arrivals will start at 11:40 a.m.

**There are two start times for students. **

*Any morning PPTs, or scheduled meetings are canceled.

Emergency Early Dismissal Due to Weather 

Students will be dismissed at 10:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m.

*Afternoon team meetings and PPTs are canceled.

Scheduled Early Dismissal 2016-2017 School Year

Please review the early dismissal times and dates for ELP:

Early Dismissal for ELP Tokeneke, ELP Royle and ELP Ox Ridge is at 12:00 p.m.

  • Early Dismissal for Only ELP: (9/6-9/8)
  • NO School for Only ELP (9/15, 10/18, 12/7-12/9, 2/10, 3/15-3/17, 5/25, 5/26, & 5/30).
  •  No School for ELP students: Fridays, Holidays and Vacations and ELP conferences

Darien is now using ASPEN, a secure, Web-based school information management system to collect contact and medical emergency information for your children.

1.  Create an ASPEN account if you don’t have one.  Accounts are issued for your whole family.  Click Here: this is the link for the form to complete and submit the form to get your account started.  Allow at least 2 weeks for processing.  You will receive your username/password at your registered home address.

2.  When you receive your login information, visit the site and review the contact and emergency medical information for each of your children to assure that it is complete and accurate.  Please fill out all tabs for each child.  Your initials are required on the final tab in order for the information to process. Follow this link for step-by-step information http://www.darienps.org/uploaded/content/district/resources/parent_resources/Instructions_for_updating_information_in_Aspen_Updated_1.pdf.

3.  You can update emergency information at anytime.  It takes 24 hours for new or updated information to be posted Aspen. If you have any questions or issues with your Aspen account, please email aspen@darienps.org .

4.  Your Aspen account will give you access to School Messenger for email and text alerts related to school closings and changes is school schedules (will replace EdAlert).

Curriculum and Goals


The Early Learning Program uses Toni Linder’s Read, Play, Learn.   This is a play-based approach to learning, in conjunction with Connecticut’s Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS).  Read, Play, Learn provides the thematic components of the Preschool Curriculum which are derived from a collection of children’s literature.  The Connecticut’s Early Learning and Development Standards provide the concepts and skills that are being addressed through the thematic lessons.  Through play, children learn to negotiate their understanding of the world and how things work.  It also provides them with the opportunities to practice “being people” and how to interact with each other.  Play-based curriculum is used to strengthen developmental processes and increase functional skills across the cognitive, social emotional, communication and sensorimotor domains.


“It is through everyday experiences filled with talking, reading, and writing that children gain the oral language they need to be strong readers and learners in the future.  In language filled activity and play they learn more words, more concepts and information, and more about books and how print works…It is not enough for children to “pick up” language on their own.  It is important that they learn language in structured activities, such as shared reading, and in guided play.  Children need time, resources, and ample learning opportunities to develop oral language comprehension skills they need for school.  For this to happen, adults need to be planful, purposeful, and playful.”

Roskos, K.A., Tabors, P.O., & Lenhart, L.A. (2005)

“In achieving literacy, young children need writing to help them learn about reading, they need reading to help them learn about writing, and they need oral language to help them learn about both.  Before they go to school, children need to develop oral language comprehension for listening and speaking, vocabulary for building background knowledge, phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge to attend to structure and sounds of language, and print knowledge to develop concepts about books and printed words.”

Roskos, K.A., Tabors, P.O., & Lenhart, L.A. (2009)

In the early childhood years, children develop strong foundations for the formal learning of reading and writing that will occur as they move through their schooling. Much of this learning occurs within the context of play as children learn the socio-cultural discourses needed to effectively use language (that is oral language, written language, and reading) in a variety of situations.  This being said, it’d be a strong misstatement to say that emergent literacy is gained only through the child’s initiation of play.  The early childhood educator plays a key role in creating literacy-rich environments in which children engage in well-planned and purposeful exploration of the literate world, be it through play as well as key elements of a balanced literacy classroom such as the read aloud, shared reading, and writing workshop. 

Effective instruction includes portions of:

  • explicit instruction in the various socio-cultural discourses;
  • time engaged in authentic reading and writing practice;
  • playful exploration of literary themes and real-world literacy practices;
  • and on-going assessment to monitor progress and participation in such instruction and activities.

From classroom to classroom, literacy instruction will look different and it will take time to establish all these practices so not all may be present at any given time.  However, the following components of well-balanced, developmentally appropriate practices should exist:

  • Real-life literacy opportunities such as signing in and making snack or lunch choices;
  • Environmental print created for, with, and by children
  • Explicit instruction in discourse such as how to access the daily schedule
  • Singing of familiar songs
  • Opportunities for conversations amongst children and adults
  • Shared reading
  • The read-aloud
  • The writing workshop
  • The incorporation of literacy enhanced play centers
  • And interactive and shared writing

Certainly, preschool-aged children should spend the majority of their time engaged in play.  It is how and where they gain insight into real-world literacy practices.  However, brief explicit instruction in “thinking like a reader” (Owocki, 2011), various comprehension strategies, and the purposes of writing, for example, are essential in maximizing the benefit of play centers infused with real-life literacy activities.  Furthermore, assessment must drive both the explicit and the play-based instruction.  Pencil and paper assessments such as letter knowledge will help to drive the instruction of the alphabet lessons, for example, but observation or kidwatching as Owocki has coined it, is an invaluable tool that helps teacher plan purposefully and differentiate instruction.  Observation should be used to gather information on the play schemes present in the classroom so they might be enhanced with further real-world literacy play.  Observation should be used to monitor how children are engaging with books and how they are progressing in the development of book handling and print knowledge.  Observation should be used to gain information about how all learners are participating in the various components of balanced instruction.  Assessment information should guide instruction and determine how to scaffold the learning of young students.



Through the implementation of balanced literacy in preschool, it is the districts goal that students will:

  • Establish literacy habits, including the ability to sustain attention and interest in reading and writing texts and the structure of the workshop model;
  • Develop oral language skills through conversation and vocabulary development;
  • Develop language/story comprehension skills through read-alouds;
  • Develop awareness of print concepts through interactions with texts in print-rich environments, shared reading and writing, and interactive reading and writing;
  • Develop phonetic and phonemic awareness skills such as rhyming, alliteration, blending and segmenting sounds/words, and letter-sound correspondence;
  • Understand the role of various text media as it exists in real world experiences.

It is also the goal that teachers will:

  • Establish daily literacy-based routines within the classroom;
  • Conduct daily interactive read-alouds;
  • Provide explicit instruction in the discourse of literacy-based activities;
  • Promote oral language development through the interactive read-aloud, conversation during “down times”, vocabulary instruction, and supported play;
  • Enhance play with infused real-world, literacy activities;
  • Incorporate shared reading activities daily;
  • Regularly incorporate shared writing activities into storybook modules or other instruction;
  • Introduce and regularly hold a writing workshop.


Our staff includes special education teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, para educators, a physical therapist, and a school psychologist. All of our teachers and professionals are certified.


  • A higher staff to student ratio (enables teachers to individualize learning opportunities)
  • Curriculum aligned with the State of Connecticut’s Early Learning and Development Standards.
  • Utilizes continues to use the Preschool Framework Assessment,  which is a curriculum-embedded tool for assessing ALL 3 & 4 year old children in the program  (helps document areas of growth as well as areas of concern and enables teachers to plan and implement curriculum that addresses student progress towards specific learning standards, rather than planning curriculum around activities)
  • Trans-disciplinary approach
  • Participation in elementary school wide activities that are deemed appropriate

ELP Teacher Websites

Tokeneke ELP

Miss. Whitney Mullins

Miss. Kristin Iorio

Miss. Emily Cowen


Royle ELP

Mrs. Jo-Ann Epstein

Mrs. Laurie Wigglesworth

Ms. Linda Philipcik

Ox Ridge ELP

Mrs. Tara Lanese

Mrs. Ann Marie Appel

Concerns about your child's development?

If you have a concern about your child's development between the (ages of 0 months to 2 years 9 months) please contact Connecticut's Birth to Three System.  www.birth23.org or call  800-505-7000

If you have concerns regarding the development of your child, between the ages 2 years 9 months and 6 years old, and a Darien resident, please reach out to Darien Public Schools Program Director for Early Childhood, SESS as well as fill out and return the pre-referral form.

Laura Straiton, Program Director of Early Childhood, SESS

Email: lstraiton@darienps.org

Office 203-656-7472

Please click the link pre-referral link to download the form.

ELP Calendar 

    • ThuAug24 New Staff Orientation
    • FriAug25 New Staff Orientation
    • MonAug28 Professional Development
    • TueAug29 Professional Development
    • WedAug30 Teacher Work Day
    • ThuAug31 First Day of School

35 Leroy Avenue Darien, CT 06820     Phone: 203.656.7400     Fax: 203.656.3052
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Darien Public Schools
35 Leroy Avenue
Darien, CT 06801

Phone 203.656.7400
Fax 203.656.3052

Employment Opportunities

Learn about and apply for available jobs at Darien Public Schools.


Health Forms

Please visit the Health Services page for information and required student health and athletics forms.


Darien is now using ASPEN, a secure Web-based information management system to collect contact and medical emergency information and for parents to request non-disclosure of directory information for students.

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