Nonprofit seeks to address shortage of preschool spots with free home-based pilot

With limits on the number of available preschool spots, many families are left without options -- especially those who can't afford it.
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 5:29 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 13, 2022 at 6:07 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ask any preschool teacher and they’ll say early learning is vital for a child’s development, especially for kids under 6 years old.

“You see this whole new side of them when they’re with 10, 20 other children,” said Cheryl Cudiamat, president and owner of Keiki Care Center of Hawaii.

“The socialization is something that the parent may not see, the pediatrician may not see you all not see unless they’re in the classroom setting. And they have to learn how to share. They have to learn how to stand in line.”

Despite pay increases to address the shortage of early childhood educators, Cudiamat says it’s difficult to find qualified teachers.

That limits the number of available preschool spots, and many families are left without options. Especially those who can’t afford it.

Enter nonprofit organization Waterford.

It’s bringing a different kind of early childhood program called Upstart to Hawaii.

Unlike a traditional brick and mortar preschool, Upstart is done at home by parents or caregivers. Families can apply now, and 200 will be chosen for a pilot that starts in August.

Participants get a computer, internet access, professional coaching and other tools ― all for free.

“It’s focused on getting a child to kind of learn to start reading. So it’s based on phonics, phonemic awareness, recognizing letters, recognizing the sounds of letters. And so the child will do that 15 minutes a day, five days a week,” said Waterford spokesperson Kim Fischer.

Fischer says research shows spending a little more than an hour a week with young children is enough to create a foundation for literacy.

“Preschools will continue to be vitally important for the families that need that right, their families that work,” Fischer said.

“And they need to drop their children off at a preschool center where they can get that learning. They can get that assistance from a teacher. What I think is most important for early learning is to find what works for the family,”

While programs like Waterford’s can help fill the gaps in early childhood education, it’s not meant to replace in-person learning.

“Having the academic intelligence is only one part,” Cudiamat said.

“But to be well-rounded, to be loving and kind and respectful to your teachers, parents, your peers, that’s important. It’s difficult to get that if you’re not in that kind of a setting.”

Applications are being accepted for Upstart. Preference will be given to the neediest families. You can apply now at or call 888-982-9898.

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