What high-quality curriculum looks like: An Interview with Beth Ehlis, VP of Educational Content at HiMama and President of FunShine Express

With many childcare centers looking to take their curriculum to the next level and elevate the quality of learning experiences happening in the classroom, looking for the right curriculum provider has become a priority, but one that can feel daunting or complicated. Choosing the right curriculum for your center is a critical decision as it lays the foundation for how educators will teach and what children will learn. When making this decision, directors want to make sure they are implementing an intentional and high-quality curriculum that is designed with flexibility and adaptability for the realities of the classroom and tailored to nurture the uniqueness of each child.

Below is a conversation with Beth Ehlis, the founder and president of FunShine Express. FunShine Express partnered with HiMama in 2021. Together our mission is to deliver more meaningful classroom experiences and enhance learning outcomes for children aged 0-5. FunShine Express offers digital and print curricula subscriptions for childcare programs, with adaptable lesson plans that are connected to each state’s early learning standards. Their goal is to provide a high quality curriculum that saves educators time and improves the classroom experience through more meaningful interactions. 

In this conversation, Beth shares exclusive insight into how FunShine develops curricula, what makes their packages unique, and how the company has continued to make an impact in the early childhood community for nearly 30 years.

Conversation with Beth Ehlis 

Maddie Hutchison: Welcome, Beth! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what led you to create FunShine Express? 

Beth Ehlis: Hi! I am the founder of FunShine Express and I started the company with my mother and sister almost 30 years ago. I have my Bachelor’s degree in business and a Master’s in education. I used to own and operate my own home childcare, and during this time I was also very involved in the local child care association and the Childcare Resource and Referral program where I offered training for other early childhood professionals.

Maddie Hutchison: What made you decide to create your own curriculum? 

Beth Ehlis: When I was running my home childcare, I had tried a couple different types of boxed curricula and I was not happy with any of them. It did not feel like they were designed with the child in mind which is really important to me. I started to feel like I was doing the bulk of the activity and the children were missing out on critical learning opportunities. I just knew from my educational background that it had to be different and there had to be a better way. So I started to supplement some of the curriculum I had purchased with my own. That was my ‘a-ha’ moment. I realized there might be an opportunity for me to create something better, something that meets the needs of both educators and children.  

Maddie Hutchison: What is the mission behind FunShine Express? What inspired you to create this product?

Beth Ehlis: Our mission is to support educators and children with high-quality early learning experiences. What inspired me to create FunShine express was my own experience as an early childhood educator and my respect for the field. Being a childcare provider was the hardest job I have ever done and I wanted to make the lives of early childhood educators better in any way I could. I was striving to make the classroom experience easier while supporting the positive learning outcomes of children. I felt that by providing appropriate material, I could offer all of that to the early childhood community. 

Maddie Hutchison: What type of curriculum does FunShine Express offer today? 

Beth Ehlis: We offer a thematic curriculum that also encompasses elements of emergent curriculum. All of our curriculum can be used alongside other pedagogy types as we build a lot of learning flexibility into each lesson. We chose this approach so that each month the digital and physical curriculum kits stay relevant to the times, the season and the interests we are currently noticing in the field. 

We offer 4 different types of curricula. 

Buttercup babies is a curriculum kit for children aged 3-12 months, Buttercups is a 2-month subscription for children ages 0-3 and Fireflies is a monthly subscription for children aged 3-5. All these curriculum subscriptions come with a physical kit of learning materials (curriculum guide, lesson plan materials for each child in your class, activity cards, books, enrichment materials and more). We also offer a digital curriculum option which provides all the same lesson plans as above, though in digital form and without the physical kit of learning materials. With the digital curriculum we modify the lessons slightly and we support educators in creative ways so they can use pre-existing classroom items to complete the lessons. With the digital curriculum they do still have the option to download and print some of the available materials. 

Maddie Hutchison: How do you build flexibility into all your curricula?

Beth Ehlis: All the curriculum writers at FunShine Express have a background in early childhood education and do professional development on a regular basis to stay current with the field. With this background and knowledge on our team, we build flexibility into all of our curriculum and learning materials in a few ways. One, we pay attention to the time of year. What is going to be meaningful to children varies depending on the season. We then pay attention to different skill types. Knowing that skills build on top of each other, we start by writing for that middle ability group and then offering lesson modifications for children with different skill levels. We always include activity extensions and ways to adjust and individualize the material. Instead of just providing one way to do an activity or a lesson plan, we are giving educators a number of options so that a teacher can adjust it on the go depending on the children’s interests and skill levels. 

Maddie Hutchison: What would you say is the greatest reward you have experienced since launching FunShine Express? 

Beth Ehlis: For me, it is that communication and appreciation with the early childhood professionals we serve. Hearing a customer say “Thank you so much, your product is so helpful – the children and parents love it” or having a customer of 25 years come up to me to thank me at a conference. Those moments mean a lot to me. In my line of work, taking care of our customers is taking care of children, and that is critical. Having this type of appreciation over the years and knowing that we’ve had a real impact on early childhood professionals and children is really the most rewarding thing.

I will add, a close second for me is my employees and the contribution we have been able to make to our local business community. 

Beth Ehlis is the Founder and President of FunShine Express! Founded in 1995 with her mother and sister. 

Maddie Hutchison

Maddie is a Registered Early Childhood Educator with a Master's in Early Childhood Studies. Her specialty is in Children's Rights and she is currently a Content Strategist for HiMama!

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