Early Learning

We support children and families by teaching and keeping children safe through our Early Learning Program. This allows parents to work, interview, or build job skills.

Our Early Learning Program provides children (ages birth to twelve years) from low-income families including those who are homeless, with a safe, nurturing environment where they can learn, socialize, and thrive. We offer nutritious meals, high-quality curriculum, and targeted therapeutic interventions for children who have experienced trauma. We also support their development at home by educating parents on the latest early childhood development techniques.

To achieve our goal of securing the right to opportunity for every child in our community, we concentrate our early learning efforts on the neighborhoods and populations that need it most. Our eight Early Learning Centers are located between Menlo Park and Daly City, with two centers dedicated to children living in transitional or emergency housing.

Our programs focus on children ages birth to twelve years old, a critical growth stage when more than 80 percent of their brain development occurs. We fuel that growth by providing nutritious meals—a healthy morning and afternoon snack, and lunch—connecting families to physical and behavioral health resources, and working one-on-one with parents to ensure their needs as a family-unit are met.

The result? Confident parents eager to take an active role in their children’s education and young boys and girls ready to take kindergarten—and life—by storm.

Partners: First5 San Mateo,  Big Lift

To learn more about our Build Midway Campaign, please click the button below to be taken to our website.

Build Midway

STEM from the START


What is STEM from the Start?

STEM from the Start is a signature PFS Early Learning initiative to bring Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math into the curriculum of our students ages birth to twelve years. STEM from the Start first began as a pilot program in 2017 to provide innovative STEM education to the eight Early Learning Centers PFS operates in San Mateo County. This pilot project was wholeheartedly embraced by PFS teachers, families, and students alike and has expanded significantly since then.

This visionary program was created in collaboration with our partners at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Throughout our eight Early Learning Centers, over two-thirds of our teachers are specially trained in STEM-based instruction and we continue to recruit more. Our STEM teachers are equipped with specialized training and they use an extensive online STEM training library with lesson plans, photos, and videos to support STEM lessons in their classrooms. Tablets are utilized for virtual field trips and online videos to pique the children’s interest in science, and to supplement STEM activities the children are doing in the classroom. PFS has two STEM Program Coordinators who bring inspiring STEM-based lesson plans, projects, and activities to all PFS classrooms for students of all ages tailored to their age and developmental milestones. Our Early Learning Centers have dedicated STEM learning areas with multiple sensory tools and toys. STEM activity kits are provided for children to take home. We work closely with parents and family members so they can support their child in learning STEM and can also learn about STEM themselves.

Why STEM from the Start?

San Mateo County boasts great wealth, academics, arts and industry, and yet gaps keep growing when it comes to equity in education and the promise of a successful future. Still there are more than 21,000 children that live in poverty today in San Mateo County. Each year at our eight Early Learning Centers, PFS provides support for over 600 children ages birth to twelve years and their hard-working families through a safe environment, nutritious meals, targeted therapeutic interventions, and high-quality curriculum. At PFS, 100% of the children we serve are from families who live at low-income or poverty level.

Children of low-income families often have an even harder time obtaining the high-quality early learning they need. Our STEM from the Start program provides the learning children need to build a foundation for success in their lives. Our STEM educational techniques prepare children for kindergarten and beyond, increasing the likelihood of a child’s chances to graduate from high school, college, and be career ready.

Studies Show

Equity demands that we address this systemic issue and provide equal opportunities for all children to engage in STEM learning, starting from their earliest years. Recent studies have shown that the foundation for success and a lifetime of thriving is laid in the first five years of a child’s life, and access to high-quality early learning environments is essential for this foundation.

It has become clear that the opportunity gap, which disproportionately affects low-income and poverty-level families, has its roots in early childhood. Early STEM learning, particularly in math, has been found to be directly linked to success in school and in life.

It is imperative that we prioritize providing all children with access to high-quality early STEM learning, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. By doing so, we can disrupt the opportunity gap and give every child the opportunity to reach their full potential and thrive.

What is STEM?

STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, encompasses not only academic subjects but also a problem-solving mindset that encourages exploration and questioning. Children naturally have a curiosity about the world, and by guiding their investigations, parents and teachers can help them develop a scientific way of thinking. Even infants and toddlers develop math skills through everyday interactions with trusted adults.

In Silicon Valley’s science and tech industry, we focus on introducing STEM concepts to young children through play, exploration, and multisensory experiences. STEM learning can happen anytime, anywhere, and the skills developed through STEM education can enhance problem-solving abilities and overall learning potential. Teachers and families play an essential role in fostering a love of STEM and creating a foundation for future success.

Sample projects:
Exploring plant growth by planting seeds, watering them, and observing their growth over time.

Building simple machines, such as pulleys and levers, using household items like spoons, rubber bands, and cardboard.

Conducting simple chemistry experiments, such as mixing baking soda and vinegar to create a chemical reaction.

Designing and building simple structures, such as forts or towers, using blocks, cardboard, or other materials.

By engaging in these types of hands-on projects, young children are exposed to STEM concepts in a fun and engaging way. They learn problem-solving skills, develop critical thinking abilities, and build a foundation for future academic and career success. Moreover, STEM projects help children better understand the world around them and inspire a lifelong love of learning.

To qualify, parents should be working, actively seeking employment, or unable to maintain employment due to illness or disability. Families should also demonstrate a gross monthly household income that falls within our guidelines (e.g., less than $1,400 for a family of two or $2,208 for a family of four).

Fees for full and part-time care are based on household income levels (e.g., fees for a family of two range between $0 and $362 per month).

Priority is given to:
  • Families who are homeless, enrolled in SSI, CalWORKS or TANF
  • Families with household incomes at or below poverty level
  • Children in the foster care system
  • Children with an IFSP or IEP

Need help applying? Contact Us.

Enroll Today

Our eight early learning centers are located throughout San Mateo County. Click on the name of the center to learn more about it.

The Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential is the most widely recognized credential in early childhood education (ECE), and it is a key steppingstone on the path of career advancement in ECE. The CDA Credential is based on a core set of competency standards that guide early childhood professionals toward becoming qualified educators of young children. It is nationally transferable and recognized by the profession as a vital part of professional development. The purpose of the CDA program is to increase the teacher pipeline for Peninsula Family Service (PFS) and for the wider community. In January 2022, PFS began this auspicious new program to train potential employees as an Early Learning Child Development Associate. Fifteen individuals comprise the first cohort of the PFS CDA credential training program. Our CDA students are all new to Early Learning, and excited to be embarking on a career in this field. Candidates who earn a CDA credential are well prepared to foster the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth of young children. Not only does having a CDA help educators bring out the best in children, but it also advances their careers and contributes to the status of the education profession. Eight core modules (120 hours) are taught full-time over eight weeks; the equivalent of twelve teaching units. The curriculum includes courses—taught in English and Spanish—on the following subject areas:

  • Planning a safe, healthy learning environment
  • Steps to advance children’s physical and intellectual development
  • Positive ways to support children’s social and emotional development
  • Strategies to establish productive relationships with families
  • Strategies to manage an effective program operation
  • Maintaining a commitment to professionalism
  • Observing and recording children’s behavior
  • Principles of child development and learning

Once coursework is completed, cohorts need to obtain 480 hours of work experience in a center-based setting with children ages birth to 36 months, including experience in all three sub-age groups—young infants (birth to 8 months), mobile infants (9-17 months), and toddlers (18-36 months). Participants will also need to prepare a CDA professional portfolio that includes a collection of reference materials related to work with children and families. A CDA Professional Development Specialist will conduct a verification visit, observing the cohort’s work. After passing a 65-question examination, credentials are submitted to the State of California and if a passing grade is achieved, the individual receives a 5-year permit. Participants receive all training and coursework materials for free, are provided with a loaner laptop, and are paid weekly $750 for their participation and work. In just eight weeks, graduates will earn a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate and will then be eligible for an Associate Teacher position within the PFS Early Learning program with pay for certificate holders at $23 per hour—a marked increase in what most had been earning. Through CDA and through the PFS Teacher Lift program, giant strides are being made to professionalize the education career for individuals—including parents and single mothers—who would otherwise not have a solid career. PFS is providing hope for a better future for our eight classrooms, and for all classrooms in the Bay Area. PFS is Opening Doors, Changing Lives.