By Cate Heroman, Kerry Sheldon, and Sarah West
What happens when you give a young child a cardboard box? They turn it into a car, a robot, a doghouse, or a spaceship. Children are natural makers. In recent years, the “maker movement”--marked by enthusiasm for using your hands to invent, create, and use new tools and technologies--has bubbled up in schools, libraries, and communities across the globe. Fortunately, making and tinkering overlap with what early childhood educators have known all along: children learn by doing.
Prior to the beginning of this school year, the staff from the LSU Child Development Laboratory Preschool discussed the maker movement, what it means, and how they might weave it into their daily experiences. They decided to start small and yet be very intentional in looking for opportunities for making and tinkering during their everyday classroom experiences with three- and four-year-olds.
Getting Started With Making and Tinkering
Figure 1 Computer Take Apart
A parent donated an old computer to the class, and although they were a bit apprehensive, the teachers decided to invite the children to take it apart. They gathered real tools, goggles, and containers to hold small parts, and then set up a take-apart area for exploration.
Squeals of excitement could be heard as children made discoveries:
- Look, it’s a little fan!
- There are so many wires!
- This looks like a piece of ribbon.
- What’s that?
Figure 2 Keyboard Take Apart
They especially enjoyed popping the keys off of the keyboard using a screwdriver as a lever! Once they deconstructed the computer and keyboard, the children sorted the pieces and parts and took them to the art area for repurposing. The children felt very empowered when they learned to use a low-temp glue gun and experienced instant success in putting parts together to create something new! The keyboard keys, screws, ribbons, and wires were transformed into works of art.
Figure 3 Learning to Use a Low-Temp Glue Gun
Figure 4 Repurposing Computer Parts into Art
Making and Tinkering to Solve Problems
One day a child dropped a small metal car in a tiny space between the loft and the wall. It would have been easy for the teachers to retrieve it, but instead, they challenged the children to solve the problem. First, they brainstormed ways they might retrieve the car. Then, the children went to work gathering string, magnets, and other materials to create a solution. They tested out their ideas and revised their inventions. Did the string need to be longer? Was the magnet too big to fit in the space? After days of creating and testing different ideas, one group of children successfully retrieved the car. The process the children followed is similar to what engineers do:identify a problem; plan; build or create; try it out; revise or make it better; and share their ideas with others.*
Figure 5 Tinkering to Solve Real-World Problems
The Toy Store Project Unfolds
The new interest in making and tinkering continued to evolve, and the children began inventing many toys, such as jet packs, space helmets, toy birds, and dollhouses, in the classroom maker space. During a class meeting, the children decided they would create a toy store where people could buy and use the toys they made.
Figure 6 Organizing and Displaying Our Toys
On a site visit to a nearby bookstore, the children observed and investigated the inner workings of a store. They studied how the merchandise was organized and learned about the jobs of the people who worked in the store. They were especially intrigued and interested to find out how technology was used in the store--the barcodes and scanners, cash registers, security cameras, and control room monitors.
Figure 7 Naming Our Toy Categories
Upon returning to the classroom, the children applied what they had learned by organizing their toys into categories and labeling them: cars, musical instruments, babies, or small toys. They made price tags and created their own barcodes to add to their toys. They set up security for their toy store with cameras, monitors, and headsets created in their maker space. This dramatic play continued for weeks as children created and assigned roles for all who participated in the store: customers, salespeople, cashiers, baggers, carpenters, and control room workers.
Figure 8 Toy Store Security Camera
Figure 9 Working Together on the Security Monitor for the Control Room
The Grand Opening
After much planning and preparation, it was time to open the doors of the toy store to the public. All stores need a marketing plan, and the toy store was no different! A video commercial advertising the toy store helped spread the word about the grand opening. The children created a toy catalog for customers to browse before shopping. They set the date for the grand opening and made signs, flyers, and posters to advertise the event.
Figure 10 "Toy Shop Boxes Commercial" by Sarah West and The LSU Child Development Laboratory Preschool.
Figure 11 Toy Shop Catalog
On the big day, each child had a responsibility in the toy store: to hand out flyers, greet customers, demonstrate and sell merchandise, observe from the control room, work the checkout, or bag purchases. The customers (families and special guests) redeemed tickets the children had created to purchase the toys at the checkout register. It was a successful day of shopping and selling for all!
Figure 12 Toys for Sale with Price Tags
Figure 13 A Happy Customer Tries Out a Toy
Figure 14 Toy Inventor Demonstrates Proper Use
Figure 15 Customer Using Self-Checkout
This project shows how involving children in authentic, child-initiated activities provides opportunities for them to explore across a variety of learning domains. The children practiced how to ask questions and solve problems--everything from figuring out the parts inside the computer to how to retrieve a toy car that was stuck--using their own inquisitiveness. Once the children started to create toys(each the product of the children’s curiosity and creativity),the idea of setting up a store to share their work opened up new areas for children to practice solving problems and working together to come up with solutions. Plus, it was fun for everybody!
*For more on using the engineering design process with young children, see Cate Heroman and Paige Zittrauer’s blog, “Scribbling Machines”.
Cate Heroman is an author, early childhood consultant, and volunteer education chair at Knock Knock Children’s Museum, a museum designed for children birth to age 8.
Kerry Sheldon has been an early childhood educator since 1997, working in a variety of programs. She recently joined the faculty of LSU as the Lead Instructor at the Laboratory Preschool and an instructor in the PK-3 Program in the College of Human Sciences and Education.
Sarah West is in her first year of teaching as a teaching associate at the LSU Child Development Laboratory Preschool. She is a recent graduate from the PK-3 program at LSU.
By: Teresa Narey
As a first-time institute attendee, I did not know what to expect at NAEYC’s 2016 National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development (PDI), June 5–8, in Baltimore. I left this year’s PDI feeling empowered. I left with the tools necessary to help make the future of early childhood education (ECE) brighter—in my own corner as well as in the larger society.
Let’s backtrack a little. I started my career in ECE a decade ago, while also working on my MFA in creative writing. A few years ago, I decided to take some time away from the field to write professionally and teach as a college writing instructor. As 2016 approached, I started to miss teaching young children. More important, the movement to professionalize the ECE field was palpable, and I wanted to be a part of it. January 2016 was a big month for me: I returned to the field as an assistant pre-K teacher and enrolled in Champlain College’s low-residency MEd program in early childhood education. Attending PDI fulfills the program’s residency requirement.
During PDI, I met my Champlain cohort for the first time at the Pratt Street Ale House, our designated meeting spot. The warm presence of the program director and my classmates quickly soothed any nerves I had. As we immersed ourselves in discussion about the PDI experience, I was reminded that ECE professionals are among our nation’s smartest, most innovative workers.
The best part of PDI is that the sessions are as applicable as they are informative. Here are my top three takeaways:
1. Loose parts play promotes open-ended learning. In a panel session on the play experience, I learned for the first time about the advantages of loose parts play. Using random materials, we engaged in solo and cooperative play. For most, this experience was calm and focusing. Loose parts play allows children to imagine, create, explore, and problem solve, and we felt this firsthand at PDI.
For more information on loose parts play, see this article and video entitled "Look Again!" from Teaching Young Children.
2. Make technology experiences interactive. The latest research on children and screens explains that the screens themselves aren’t bad, it’s what we do with them. In a session about their book Tap, Click, Read: Readers in a World of Screens, Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine explained that many apps have features that can be advantageous to children’s learning. It is important to look for apps that have interactive features like narration and dynamic visuals. Most important, technology truly supports children’s learning when adults are there to play along with them.
Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine’s recent article in Young Children, “Getting Smarter About E-Books for Young Children” offers more ideas from their book.
3. Families want to understand play. Laurel Bongiorno, Champlain College’s Division Dean of Education and Human Studies, explained that families often share educators’ beliefs about the benefits of play but need more information to support this understanding. Laurel recommended explaining child development terms like cognitive development and symbolic play to parents and other family members and giving them pictures that demonstrate each. When we help families understand the language of child development, they are better able to see that play is learning.
Interested in helping the families of children in your program understand play? See this model memo on the value of play from NAEYC’s book Spotlight on Young Children: Exploring Play, “Memo to: All Families of Young Children: Advocating for Play at School and at Home”. Another great idea would be to direct family members to Lisa Guernsey's article, "10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play," on NAEYC's For Families site.
I can’t wait for next year’s PDI!
Teresa Narey is an assistant teacher at Beth Shalom Early Learning Center in Pittsburgh, PA, and a first-year student in Champlain College’s low-residency graduate program, working toward a master’s in education in early childhood.
By: Lauren Hogan
“For young children, the language of the home is the language they have used since birth, the language they use to make and establish meaningful communicative relationships, and the language they use to begin to construct their knowledge and test their learning...Each child’s way of learning a new language should be viewed as acceptable, logical, and part of the ongoing development and learning of any new language.”
--NAEYC Position Statement on Linguistic and Cultural Diversity, 1995
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) celebrates and supports the joint policy statement and recommendations, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED), on supporting the development of children who are dual language learners in early childhood programs. From the cognitive benefits it promotes to the future professional advantages it confers, the scientific consensus confirms that bilingualism is a strength and an asset. Yet our early childhood education systems, policies and practices - from professional preparation to career pathways to child assessment - are not structured to support dual language learners, nor are they adapting quickly enough to respond to the long-anticipated demographic shifts that herald a generation in which over one of every four children under age 6 live in a home where a parent speaks a language other than English.
As we collectively move to define and advance the early childhood profession, NAEYC is animated by our core values and beliefs, and we are committed to achieving a vision in which early childhood professionals are diverse, effective educators and leaders working within a compensation and recognition system that supports their excellence. We commend the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education for elevating the focus on dual language learners’ access to high-quality early childhood education that supports their specific needs and strengths starting from birth. We look forward to working with educators, families, policymakers and partners to invest in and transform our early childhood settings and systems so that they reflect the science, respond to the research and deliver on the promise of early learning for all children.
See our list of resources for dual language learners here.
Lauren Hogan is Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at NAEYC.
By: Joan Lombardi
Every morning, dedicated staff around the world go off to work with young children and families. Throughout their day they have the opportunity to support young children in building a foundation for lifelong learning. NAEYC is committed to achieving a vision in which the early childhood profession exemplifies excellence and is recognized as vital and performing a critical role in society. This commitment extends to early childhood educators throughout the world. We are honored to feature a blog by Joan Lombardi, who provides an update on the global efforts to support early learning—including an exciting new initiative devoted to the global early childhood workforce.
–Stephanie Olmore, Senior Director, Global Engagement, NAEYC
There is ample evidence that the key to quality in early childhood programs are the interactions between children and the important adults in their lives, including the teachers and other caregivers who work with children every day. Yet we know that around the world, as is the case in the United States, the early childhood workforce has not received the recognition or support it deserves.
A recent review of research on early childhood care and education in low- and middle-income countries reveals some of the main issues and trends, including limited and inconsistent data on the early childhood workforce, the wide variation in required qualifications, and the lack of adequate resources and recognition (Neuman, Josephson, & Chua 2015). For example, as we have seen in the United States, the pay and status of early childhood teachers is poor relative to other teachers, leading to low satisfaction and high turnover (Whitebook, Phillips, & Howes 2014)—this and many other challenges are true also in the global context.
While there is a very long road ahead, in September 2015 the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) and Results for Development Institute (R4D), with support from the Bernard van Leer Foundation, hosted a meeting of experts from around the world to discuss the need to strengthen the early childhood workforce globally. Building on this meeting, the two partnering organizations recently launched an initiative focusing on those who work with children from birth through age 8 and their families around the world.
The new Early Childhood Workforce Initiative will take a holistic multisector approach, with a focus on a variety of roles, including teachers, home visitors, mentors, coaches, supervisors, trainers, and program managers. Through specific country studies and cross-country dialogue on topics such as competencies and standards, training and professional development, and support for improvement and recognition, this new initiative intends to shine a light on a topic that has been too long in the shadows of public policy. We are able to see a growing understanding of the need for high-quality early childhood education and development, and with that comes the hope that things might change. The importance of the early years to long-term health, behavior, and learning was reflected in several of the United Nations Goals for Sustainable Development agreed to by countries around the world in 2015. Specifically, Goal 4, on education, included the following important target:
By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.
To fulfill our obligation to children worldwide requires a renewed commitment to building and supporting an early childhood workforce that has sufficient professional preparation, recognition, and working conditions; increased compensation; and ongoing support. These dedicated teachers are the heart and soul of a quality early childhood program. They deserve the support and working conditions that lead to effective programs and assure that all children learn and thrive.
Join us at NAEYC’s 2016 National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, where a panel of global experts will discuss current research and innovative approaches in low- and middle-income countries.
Neuman, M.J., K. Josephson, & P.G. Chua. 2015. A Review of the Literature: Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Personnel in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Part of the Early Childhood Care and Education Working Papers Series. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
Whitebook, M., D. Phillips, & C. Howes. 2014. Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Early Childhood Workforce 25 Years After the National Child Care Staffing Study. Report. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California.
Joan Lombardi is a senior advisor to the Bernard van Leer Foundation on global child development strategies and to the Buffett Early Childhood Fund on national initiatives. She also directs Early Opportunities LLC, focusing on innovation, policy, and philanthropy.
By: Susan Friedman
“We’re a nation of tinkerers, and dreamers, and believers in a better tomorrow.” - President Obama, White House Science Fair, 2012
Although it might sound small, tinkering couldn’t be more important. It is one of the ways children learn about the world. The STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) offer many opportunities for children to use their minds and hands to play, explore, and learn. Research shows that giving children exposure to quality, hands-on STEM learning opportunities is so important and familiarity with STEM concepts early on is a key predictor of children’s school success.
On April 21, NAEYC, along with many other educational organizations, researchers and thought leaders, helped kick off a White House Early Learning STEM initiative. The initiative seeks to promote the early learning STEM work of local organizations, advocacy groups, associations, philanthropies and businesses. The aim is to increase the research base about young children’s STEM learning, support educators, child care providers, and families in engaging in meaningful STEM learning, promote partnerships with museums and zoos, and increase equitable access and opportunity for all children.
Highlights of Conversations from the STEM Initiative Reception at NAEYC
As a start to the White House STEM Initiative NAEYC hosted a reception where many enthusiastic and dedicated educators shared how they support young children’s STEM learning and tinkering. Among those I spoke with were:
- Patrick Kuhl, of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, University of Washington who described insights into the importance of social interactions to early learning.
- Chip Donahue and Tamar Kaldor from the Erikson institute’s TEC Center who shared thoughts on developmentally appropriate coding for the youngest children (which doesn’t involve coding at all but rather hands-on games where children develop concepts like sequencing and recognizing patterns).
- Denise M. Lewis, the Washington DC Regional Director of FIRST Robotics who demonstrated materials from the Junior First Lego league where children age 6 through 8 design and build a challenge using LEGOS. (Full disclosure: we also talked about the upcoming High School level FIRST Championship 2016 where my son’s team The Body Electric will be competing.)
- And Patricia Kempthorn who shared BLOCKFest, a research-based initiative designed to equip children ages 8 mo.-8 yrs. (and their families) with STEM skills through block play.
NAEYC’s Continuing Commitment to Quality, Accessible STEM Content
NAEYC is dedicated to creating and sharing rich content to support teachers and families who engage children in STEM learning and as part of our involvement in the White House STEM Initiative. We invite STEM educators to submit content to NAEYC’s publishing outlets and we are committed to providing, in the coming year, at least five new pieces of free or low-cost STEM-related content to families and educators in order to foster equitable access to high-quality STEM learning in the homes, centers, schools and communities where young children birth through age 8 spend their time.
This content, which will appear in multiple forms and formats in order to be accessible to a wide and diverse range of families and educators, will be guided by NAEYC’s position statements on Developmentally Appropriate Practice and Technology and Young Children.
From a recent blog entry about a teacher’s science-based inquiry related to “scribbling machines;” to an article in Teaching Young Children that focuses on museum exploration; to resources for families about using “toys as tools” and “bathtime science,” NAEYC is committed to ensuring that resources that support STEM learning are fun, affordable and equitably accessible. We understand that STEM can be a daunting concept for some early childhood education professionals and parents alike, and we aim to ensure that, supported by our content and related professional development opportunities, STEM is elevated and integrated into the daily routines of families and educators – and becomes an integral part of our collective conception of what high-quality early childhood education really means.
For more resources on STEM education, see the new topic page full of resources from NAEYC and other groups.
Look for this and more upcoming STEM content from NAEYC:
Beyond the Bouncing Ball: Investigating Physics with Toddlers (Young Children, July 2016)
Setting up a Classroom MakerSpace (Teaching Young Children, August 2016)
Reflecting on Teaching Length and Measurement to Young Children (Teaching Young Children, August 2016)
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Content Strategy and Development at NAEYC.
Join us on a trip ten years into the future, to May 1, 2026…
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
Today, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the year that the tide began to turn for early childhood education — and early childhood educators. Over the last decade, in nearly 75% of states across the country, we have celebrated victories leading to increased levels of education and compensation for professionals and increased access to high-quality early childhood education for children and families.
With national support at an all-time high, and major investments at federal, state and local levels resulting in narrowed opportunity gaps, increased school readiness and an increased focus on children’s social-emotional development, let’s look back at how we got here.
We knew, ten years ago, that we stood on the cusp of a critical moment in early childhood education. Transforming the Workforce, as it is now universally known, had been released just a year earlier, building on the science of early learning to lay the groundwork for the organizational, grassroots, legislative and electoral changes that followed. Although the brain development and economic research had long been part of the bedrock upon which we had built the field of early learning, the rapid scientific breakthroughs of the last decade have only continued to increase the momentum and clear need for investment in the earliest years. And while the American public at the time certainly valued early childhood education and educators, we have made enormous strides in translating that value into votes.
Where NAEYC’s annual poll once showed that 82% of American voters supported increasing funding that was dedicated to increasing wages, our most recent research found that over 95% of voters, across all demographic, geographic and party lines, now say they will only cast their vote for a candidate with a demonstrated record and commitment to investing in the quality and compensation of the early childhood profession.
This support was built painstakingly, as our once fractured field came together to provide a clear definition of our early childhood profession, with universally agreed-upon and accepted knowledge and competencies that cross settings and states. Without this process and resulting products, we would have collectively been challenged to work with state governments, legislatures and institutions of higher education in ways that allowed us to attract and retain the diverse, high-quality educators who increasingly make up our profession today.
As I travel this country, visiting the homes and classrooms where our children are learning and growing, where their home languages and cultures are being recognized and honored, I thank the many leaders who brought us to the point where the promise of early learning is being realized. I thank the educators who fought for their professional recognition and the American families and voters who stood alongside them. I thank the supporters of all generations who made Early Ed for President into the force it is today. And I thank the courageous policymakers who chose to listen to the science and make the investments that will continue to shape our country’s future for decades to come. We have work left to do to advance the early childhood profession, but we can take pride in the knowledge that our country has finally begun to recognize and reward our worth.
*This is a vision for our future - but not an imaginary one, not unattainable, not outside of our collective reach. We need to ask ourselves: what will it take now for us to be able write this piece, for real, in ten years? What will each of our parts be, and how will we be successful, together?
This blog was originally published in Schoolhouse Voices and is posted with their permission.
Rhian Evans Allvin is Executive Director at NAEYC.
This blog post introduces the cluster (themed group of articles) for the May issue of NAEYC's journal, Young Children.
I still remember the day one of my preschoolers brought in a bird’s nest he found on his way to school. I was a beginning teacher then, and this particular boy was often tearful in the mornings—his dad was away for an extended time and goodbyes with his mom were tough. But that morning he was excited to show the class his find. We put the nest on a shelf for everyone to see and visited our school library to find fiction and nonfiction books about birds’ nests. I read the books to the class that day and then placed them on the shelf for children to look through as they observed the nest.
The next morning his mom arrived, holding her tearful son’s hand. She described to me how he had cried as he told her we hadn’t done much with the bird’s nest in class. I was confused. We’d gone to the library and found books. I’d read them to the children and placed them near the nest to explore on their own.
Years later this example still reminds me of how much I still had to learn about paying attention to children’s social and emotional needs. Sure, we’d found information on birds’ nests, but this particular boy missed his dad, and at the time I didn’t make the connection that his tears may not have been about the nest. It hadn’t occurred to me to find books featuring characters with close family members who were far away, or books that could help him through tough times.
Reading the articles in this cluster as a new teacher might have helped me see the many ways children’s books can support teaching and learning. Teachers can select books that help children feel respected and included. They can look for characters and scenarios children can identify with as they work through their own tough times. And books can also support learning in specific content areas.
In “Promoting Resilience Through Read-Alouds,” Jan Lacina, Michelle Bauml, and Elizabeth R. Taylor describe how teachers can use children’s literature to help children build resilience when they face tough times: “As teachers support students to read and reflect on characters who face strife and hardship yet find positive ways to make it through difficult situations, they are helping prepare them for life.”
In their article, “Reading Your Way to a Culturally Responsive Classroom,” Shannon B. Wanless and Patricia A. Crawford share how teachers can address race through children’s literature so that young children develop positive racial identity, build relationships across races, and recognize race-related injustices: “We see these discussions about race in relation to children’s books as part of a larger effort to revise conceptualization of high-quality early childhood education to include teaching practices that intentionally address race.”
Linda Forbringer, Andrea Hettinger, and Emma Reichert, in “Using the Picture Book Extra Yarn to Differentiate Common Core Math Instruction,” describe three teachers who used the children’s book as a starting point for meaningful hands-on mathematics instruction. In the words of one teacher: “My students could not believe we were able to read a book and do an art project during math time. They frequently ask if we can ‘read Yarn again.’ It is very exciting to know they loved it as much as I did.”
In “Getting Smarter About E-Books for Children,” Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine highlight research on e-books and children’s learning. They explore questions like, “How do adult–child interactions around educational e-books compare to the interactions around the same book in print?” and “What exactly does good educational design look like?”
In “Reflecting on Books That Include Characters With Disabilities,” Charis L. Price, Michaelene M. Ostrosky, and Rosa Milagros Santos share guidelines for evaluating books that represent children with disabilities in thoughtful ways: “Books are powerful vehicles for supporting the identity of children with disabilities, and promoting acceptance and understanding of differences.”
I hope teachers find these articles useful as they consider the many ways they can incorporate children’s literature into their classrooms.
How do children’s books support your teaching?
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Content Strategy and Development at NAEYC.
- Standing Together Against Suspension and Expulsion in Early Childhood: A Joint Statement
Standing Together Against Suspension and Expulsion in Early Childhood: Resources
Lauren Hogan is Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at NAEYC.
By: Donna Kirkwood, Ph.D
As their children’s first teachers, parents have an amazing opportunity to nurture their children’s growth and development and to advocate for their education. And many parents want to be involved in their children’s education. I realized early in my teaching career, however, that families often face obstacles to engaging in the school experience.
During my first year working in a preschool setting, I was dismayed to see how many parents left their parent-teacher conferences upset or even crying. In my own conference with parents, one mother of a delightful, very verbal child was understandably disappointed when I explained that her daughter’s academic and social-emotional skills were not as far along as her verbal skills. She had assumed that because of her daughter’s verbal abilities, she was on track or ahead in other prekindergarten skills. The mother was unsure of what was expected at this age and had missed some opportunities at home to help her daughter develop academically. And I had missed opportunities to help her acquire the tools to do so.
As I moved through my career, I found that many parents were perplexed as they navigated the educational system with their young children. Many had little understanding of child development or developmentally appropriate practices. They wanted to help their child, but they didn't know how. They often arrived at their first parent-teacher conference to find themselves bombarded with unfamiliar educational concepts and terms like phonological awareness and numeracy.
Families with limited resources may experience even greater isolation from their children’s educational community. Many have had negative school experiences themselves, which may make them apprehensive about coming to the school or interacting with teachers. Some may hesitate to speak to educators because of a lack of confidence, out of respect for the teacher’s authority, or because they have been discouraged in such interactions in the past. When meeting with their child’s teacher, they may not know what to expect and may have little prior information about their child’s progress. It can be intimidating for parents, even when teachers have the best of intentions. This may push parents further away from their child's educational setting and discourage their participation in her academic growth and development.
When parents do not feel comfortable in the school setting, they are less likely to support and participate in school events or speak to their child’s teacher or principal about their concerns or goals for their child. Everyone misses out on valuable opportunities to strengthen the home-school connection and support children.
During my career as a preschool teacher and director, I was fully aware of the importance of engaging parents in the program. But for a long time I avoided addressing it, because I hadn't figured out how to do it. I realized that inviting parents into the classroom more was key to meaningfully involving them in their child's education, but that seemed like a difficult process. Working closely with parents was an integral part of teaching preschoolers, but it required a different skill set along with a significant commitment of time.
Twenty years into my career in early childhood education, and still struggling to understand how best to help parents advocate for and support their children’s learning, I encountered HIPPY USA. I fell in love with its approach and joined the staff. HIPPY, or Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, empowers parents as their child's first and most important teacher. Home visitors provide support, education, and mentoring to parents who may lack resources and education or experience isolation.
Through their experiences in our programs, parents gain skills in supporting their child’s learning, learn what to expect from their child’s school, and become comfortable working with teachers.
Twenty years of research have shown that the this model helps to increase parent involvement and improve children’s readiness for school, classroom behavior and attendance, test scores, and academic performance.
In addition, parents who have participated report spending more time with their children and in their children’s school. They provide an environment for literacy in their homes and cut back on their children’s screen time. Parents also report being motivated to help with their children’s homework thanks to their participation in the program. Teachers report better participation from parents who have been in HIPPY than those from who have not.
I’ve learned that many parents want to be involved in their child’s education but may lack the confidence and knowledge to do so effectively. To help them become meaningfully engaged in their child’s education and school experience, we have to help them develop the tools to do so. Programs like HIPPY help parents learn what to expect and how they can contribute to their child’s learning. With guidance and support, parents can confidently take on their role as their child’s first teacher and biggest advocate and become partners with teachers. It’s a powerful connection that can make all the difference for children, parents, and educators.
Cuenca, K. (June, 2003). Findings from the Florida HIPPY Parent Survey. University of South Florida. Department of Child and Family Studies.
Black, M.M. (2010). HIPPY Americorps Evaluation: Parental involvement in literacy activities and volunteer activities in the community in California, Florida and Hawaii. University of South Florida, Department of Child and Family Studies.
Donna Kirkwood has been a nanny, a teacher’s aide, a teacher, a program coordinator, a director of an NAEYC accredited program, a college professor and a NCATE and ECADA program reviewer. She is currently the National Program Director for HIPPY USA.
During a recent trip to spend time with early childhood professionals in China, I worked to master the skill of eating with chopsticks, and I was amazed by how much I had to learn. While I was no stranger to chopsticks—in fact I’m quite proud of my ability to use them when eating sweet and sour chicken in DC—it struck me how, in China, my use of chopsticks took place in an environment in which I worked to finesse this skill at an entirely new level. I learned to grasp the food more precisely as it circled by on the customary rotating round table that supports communal sharing of a meal. This was not just about my practicing the skill, but also about the influence of the place and the culture in which I was immersed—an illustration of the importance of context in learning. Joining my hosts in traditional Chinese meals and enveloped by the sounds of Mandarin, I became assimilated to my environment and worked to meet the expectations of the group. A process not so different from that of young children’s development.
High-quality early learning experiences provide children with opportunities to develop both physically and socially through authentic learning situations, including play. The settings in which children practice new skills work best when the environment reflects the individual child, family, and community. These core considerations, combined with what we know to be true about human development, are what we call developmentally appropriate practice.1 The myriad examples of how these considerations are implemented in early childhood classrooms demonstrate their power to joyfully engage young children in mastering new skills. Whether it be pairs of children engrossed in a game of Shagai (a traditional game using ankle bones) in Central Asia or a group of girls and boys role-playing the process of cooking and serving Arabic coffee in Saudi Arabia, context provides a vital foundation.
During my career, I have had the privilege to observe early childhood professionals in action in more than 30 countries, due most recently to my role directing global initiatives for NAEYC. Grounded in Vygotsky’s theory of social-cultural development—which posits that social interaction and community create meaning in the acquisition of knowledge—I understand the deep effect culture has on learning, and I value individual approaches to learning.2 However, individualized learning requires variances that at first glance might seem contradictory to Western expectations for children’s learning and development. The tension between my culturally based knowledge and expectations about child development and the realities of child rearing and teaching in other cultures are at the crux of what I love about learning. For me, a great example of this is what I learned in Central Asia about the ability of toddlers to successfully use the toilet. Coming from a culture where “potty training” is a significant topic of conversation and much time is devoted to this learning process, I could not fathom the ease with which young children monitor their body’s cues themselves, without a big production being made. And yet, born out of the necessities of a low-resource context, children’s mastery of this skill took place in a developmentally appropriate manner. Such examples remind us of how careful we must be to not create absolutes in judgement.
Sometimes the congruent differences—those things that are different but also the same—between cultures are simple to identify. For example, daily processes such as eating with chopsticks or forks are remarkably alike yet different. The tools vary yet the results are the same. Often, however, these kinds of differences are more subtle. For example, cultures vary in their expectation that preschoolers play outside regardless of weather. In the Baltic States young children joyfully engage in outdoor learning in twilight and freezing temperatures, surrounded by snow—something many in the US might find extreme. While there is a desire for an early learning blueprint that will guarantee certain outcomes across cultures, we can only provide a framework for quality and guidance to support practical application. True high-quality and engaged learning happens when developmentally appropriate learning activities aimed at teaching core skills—fine motor skills, for instance—are implemented through activities (eating with forks or with chopsticks) that make sense within each unique cultural context.
To recognize and value the unique experiences each child brings to the learning community and identify how each experience represents developmental achievement is an art. An art that demands deeply knowledgeable professionals to facilitate the continuing acquisition of higher-order skills while maintaining the nuances of each child’s individual reality. NAEYC’s own definition of developmentally appropriate practice has evolved since first published in 1986. As the world increasingly becomes smaller and opportunities for shared learning grow, I look forward to observing the impact of citizenship in a global community on practice as we adopt new ways to support optimal development for young children.
1Copple, Carol, and Sue Bredekamp. Developmentally appropriate practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children (2009).
2Berk, Laura E., and Adam Winsler.1995. Scaffolding Children's Learning: Vygotsky and Early Childhood Education. NAEYC Research Into Practice series, vol. 7. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1509 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036-1426 (NAEYC catalog #146).
Stephanie Olmore is Senior Director, Global Engagement at NAEYC.