Forward by Megan Worthington
"There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace." –Kofi Annan
In 2013, NAEYC created an international department to meet a growing interest worldwide in NAEYC membership, conferences, standards frameworks, publications and resources. Our goal is to engage with the global early childhood development community to strengthen international early childhood systems and improve quality of early care and education for all children. As we embark on our international work we hold in mind two guiding principles: we must be sensitive to the nuances of varying contexts as we collaborate with our international partners to ensure that our global reach is culturally appropriate. At the same time we must also maintain the integrity of NAEYC’s core principles—that all young children should have access to safe, quality, developmentally appropriate learning environments. NAEYC is humbled to have many countries interested in our work that promotes high quality early learning and teacher preparation.
Dr. Aglaia Zafeirakou recently participated in a panel covering the topic of international early childhood education at NAEYC’s Annual Conference. As a follow-up to her conference presentation and to Universal Children’s Day, Dr. Zafeirakou shares her perspective on quality early childhood programming from her work throughout Africa. Her expertise includes policy and program development aimed at increasing the number of children in school and improving the equity and the quality of education services.
11 African countries and their partners gather in Zanzibar to make it happen
During a visit to Niger about a year and a half ago, in a small village 15 km outside of Niamey, I attended a parent-teacher meeting in a primary school that had recently been renovated by the community.
I listened to the discussions, which were about improving student learning through afterschool support programs. Because the village now had a good school building and the government covered teachers’ salaries, the community could shift its focus to learning.
Towards the end of the conversation, a man raised his hand. His question to the teacher was simple: “But Madame, what about preschool?”
Parent / Teacher meeting in Niger. Credit: GPE/Aglaia Zafeirakou
Parents everywhere demand preschool education for their children
The man was Ali, a 45-year-old grandfather who was concerned about his grandson’s readiness for primary school. He continued: “How much can first graders learn if they arrive at school unprepared? We are ready to do what it takes to organize ourselves for the younger children. Please help us to organize a preschool program! We want a preschool program in our village!”
It does not take comprehensive needs analysis studies to confirm that the demand for preschool programs is strong even in the most challenging environments. Even in villages like the one in Niger, where many parents are illiterate and many are surviving on sometimes $1 a day, working hard all day in the fields.
Early childhood education boosts learning
Frequently at global education meetings and conferences, policy makers and experts ask: “What will it take to achieve learning for all?”
There is compelling research to corroborate Ali’s point that preschool education is crucial in achieving learning for all. There is a strong recognition that Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is one of the best investments a country can make to prepare children for learning in school and for prospering later in life. Economic, educational, and social evidence shows that investing in high quality ECCE programs benefits especially the poor and otherwise disadvantaged children.[i]
Exposure to early learning experiences, such as quality ECCE, helps young children to start school ready to learn and provides them the tools to become educated citizens for the 21st century, skills the countries depends on.[ii] In terms of cost-effectiveness, the “Heckman Curve”[iii] demonstrates that the earlier the investment in human capital, the greater return on investment. No investment in human capital pays off better than investing in early childhood.
It takes a partnership to respond to Ali’s demand
Boosting ECCE programs to reach the poorest and most disadvantaged young children may seem an impossible task.
A look at gross enrollment data from the past decade in low-income countries shows that more children are going to preschool, and that this trend will continue in the future. However, access remains low: only 21% of children attend preschool in low-income countries and only 18% in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, ECCE mainly benefits children from urban areas and affluent families, and is characterized by a high private sector involvement (34% of enrollments). [iv] Only children whose parents can afford to pay for it attend preschool.
While countries plan to expand pre-primary services in a more equitable way, there is an urgent need to attract more resources and develop quality programs to target villages like the village in Niger. We need to think creatively and find innovative ways to attract resources, and to direct these to the children who need it more. We also need to build the capacity to deliver quality ECCE services.
The Global Partnership for Education is actively involved in developing and sharing knowledge about what works in ECCE. Next week key ECCE partners, including GPE, UNICEF and GIZ, are organizing a regional workshop in Zanzibar to discuss how to operationalize and bring to scale quality ECCE programs in Africa. Participating are Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe. Non-governmental organizations involved in ECCE in these countries, as well as private foundations will also participate. The workshop will take a practical look at what works in the delivery of cost-effective quality pre-primary education, and what levels of technical knowledge, planning and budgeting are needed to scale up the programs.
It will take more than coordinated efforts and sound education sector plans to attain learning for all.
It will take more parents and grandparents like Ali who demand that their children be given the opportunity to prepare for school. It will take more governments like the ones attending the Zanzibar workshop dedicated to learning what works and applying it.
It will take continued support from GPE partners to reach the children who most need early learning opportunities to be prepared for learning in school and beyond.
Aglaia Zafeirakou Ph.D, is a Senior Education and Human Development Specialist at the Secretariat of the Global Partnership for Education.
[i] Center on the Developing Child. Harvard University. Key Concepts: Brain Architecture. http://developingchild.harvard.edu/key_concepts/brain_architecture/
[ii] Heckman Equation. http://www.heckmanequation.org/content/resource/invest-early-childhood-development-reduce-deficits-strengthen-economy
[iii] The productivity argument for investing in young children. Heckman, J. J., & Masterov, D. 2007. IZA Discussion Paper Series, 2725.
[iv] GPE. 2013. Results for Learning Report.
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
This year, for the first time ever, I voted in a state other than Arizona. Steeped in the politics of the great Southwest for 25 years, I am a political novice in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Getting to know the political landscape—the key issues, the candidates, the budget situation—has been fascinating. What haven’t changed are the core tenets of candidates’ motivation to advocate for public investment in early childhood education:
- Knowing that their constituents hold them accountable for their track record on early learning
- Following the polls (thankfully, the polls I have seen place voters squarely on the side of young children—across political ideologies)
- Knowing that parents, teachers, and other early childhood stakeholders turn out on Election Day
For the past 20 years I have been involved in electoral advocacy on behalf of young children in a state known for its conservative ideologies. I have seen and been a part of candidate races and ballot initiatives. I have felt the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. At times we early childhood advocates may be too quick to anticipate failure, lamenting the lack of support and the frustration of competing with special interest groups. While effecting any type of social change is really hard work—it sometimes feels like rolling a boulder uphill that might never reach the top—we hold a lot of untapped power and potential. Examining a few myths about the politics of early childhood education may motivate you.
MYTH: Early learning is a liberal issue.
FACT: Ensuring that every child can reach her full potential is a core American value. Conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, we have a collective moral obligation to give children a fair start in life. Irrefutable research in neuroscience confirms that the first five years of life have a decisive, long-lasting impact on children’s cognitive, linguistic, social-emotional, and physical development.
MYTH: Candidates across political parties and ideologies will never come to agreement on early learning.
FACT: Red and blue states alike have signed on for the US Department of Education’s Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge funding; applied for federal preschool development and expansion funds; and passed significant appropriations for early childhood investments. Our job as early childhood advocates is to create an environment in which candidates compete to present and support bold early childhood agendas.
MYTH: The early childhood community isn’t powerful enough to affect election outcomes.
FACT: Just as powerful as financing is the sheer number of constituents who care about early learning. They need to be energized, organized, and empowered. There are one million people employed in early childhood centers and school classrooms. Add to those family child care providers, home visitors, coaches, before- and after-school program staff, specialists, and other stakeholders, and the number exceeds three million. Assume that many of them vote. Assume that they all are willing to convince two other people to vote. That is what we call a movement.
MYTH: There is no way we can pay for the electoral advocacy activities we want to organize.
FACT: As the saying goes, facts are negotiable but perceptions are rock solid. Early childhood advocates may not have the resources that special interest groups have, but well-placed grassroots tactics can be equally powerful. During the fight in Arizona to stop the repeal of the First Things First initiative, early childhood advocates organized months of phone banks. Through this effort, volunteers called all registered independents who had voted in the last several election cycles with a message to vote no on the proposition. Tens of thousands of voters were reached, and the costs were negligible. This is an example of minimal funds and powerful outcomes.
NAEYC is piloting electoral advocacy efforts with three Affiliates this year. The goal is to steadily increase the Association’s support of Affiliate strategies to promote a variety of nonpartisan election activities on behalf of young children.
For decades there have been great debates, successful and failed efforts, and political mudslinging about election reform. Whether it is campaign spending limits, soft money, or voter identification, figuring out how to open wide the gates of democracy is a critical topic. What is essential is the need for you, as an advocate for young children, to make the greatest contribution you can—to cast your vote on Election Day and to convince two friends to cast their votes too. We owe it to the young children and families we dedicate our lives to serving.
Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of Young Children.
by Sarah Smith
By: Susan Friedman
New research on how young dual language learners learn in both languages is essential to supporting children worldwide. According to the Associated Press, up to 66 percent of the world's children are raised as bilingual speakers. That is why it is particularly relevant that NAEYC is sharing best practices from two national experts on teaching young dual language learners (DLLs) on Universal Children's Day. Dr. Linda Espinosa and Karen Nemeth presented on the most current brain research and best practices related to DLLs, their teachers and their families during the second half of NAEYC's kickoff panel for Grandes Comienzos Futuros Brillantes at Annual Conference. The panel was moderated by Miriam Calderon, Senior Partner at School Readiness Consulting. Following are some highlights from the panelists' discussion.
Part II: Dual Language Learning
"The combination of living in poverty and having low access to early education increases the vulnerability of dual language learners to negative outcomes." -Dr. Linda Espinosa
Dr. Linda Espinosa, Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at the University of Missouri, Columbia, discussed the latest research in dual language learning and how it impacts how young children are taught. She started by commenting on the first panel, “I heard some things for the first time here. I was struck by the fact that we are a unified family of educators with similar goals!” She advocated for cross-national sharing of information and requested that the Inter-American Development Bank report on ECD services in Latin America be made available in English; the report has already been translated and can be found here.
Dr. Espinosa described how the term Dual Language Learner (DLL) is different from the term English Language Learner because DLL acknowledges that children aren't just learning in English, they are also learning in their home language. DLL reflects the linguistic capacity to learn in two languages. This linguistic capacity is a strength and will stay with children learning in two languages their whole lives. The term is also important because it is strength-based and reflects what children DO know (their home language) rather than what they don't know (the second language - English). In the US, Dual Language Learners’ first introduction to English often takes place in an early education program.
Dr. Espinosa explained that the past 10 years of research has revealed a developmental paradox. In the Unites States DLLs are highly vulnerable to underachievement. However, this does not mean that all Dual Language Learners are the same. Context matters! When dual language learners are from families who also carry the burden of being from a lower socioeconomic status then children are more vulnerable to underachievement. However, when Dual Language learners are not burdened by lower economic status, research shows that having a second language is NOT a risk factor.
Having a home language other than English and being a DLL is in fact a strength! DLLs have:
- Lower infant mortality rates
- Fewer mental and physical problems
- Strong social skills
- Parents support education and have high expectation
Teachers need to know more about the science of early bilingualism so that they can understand the capacities of DLLs and how to support their learning in both languages and how to engage their families. The brain development for young bilinguals is different than that of a monolingual child. All babies are born being able to hear all sounds but even before the first birthday they become more attuned to the sounds of their native language.
Young bilingual brains have better:
- Inhibitory control
- Working memory
- Cognitive flexibility
For more information see Challenging Common Myths About Young Dual Language Learners: An Update to the Seminal 2008 Report.
Karen Nemeth, an author, speaker and consultant on teaching young children who are dual language learners discussed how educators and parents can nurture DLL’s through having interesting and relevant conversations together. Ms. Nemeth reminded us that connections with other people happen through conversations. In order to have these conversations educators must think about what they are doing in the classroom, including why they are choosing specific activities and materials in relation to how they help nurture meaningful conversation.
Ms. Nemeth challenged all teachers to ask themselves:
- Why did I choose this material?
- How will the child use this himself?
- What is the connection?
- Where will the child go with this information
- What related conversations will take place?
To kick off this thinking Ms. Nemeth asked the audience to sing the song, “Head Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in Spanish, substituting the Spanish words for hair, shirt, pants and shoes. Participants experienced first hand some of the confusion that can happen when taking in information in a different language demonstrating that, “just because you said it doesn’t mean you taught it”. She then asked attendees to think of the song, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and to question whether the words and gestures really connect with the here and now of the children’s daytime preschool experience. Ms. Nemeth suggested that “Wheels on the Bus” is a more useful classroom song because a song with words children can use right away is more helpful and relevant to DLLs as they try to learn in two or more languages. Having items in the classroom that support language learned in songs is critical for conversation and connection. Most children will have seen or ridden buses. Most teachers have books in their classroom about buses and other vehicles as well as toy buses and vehicles children can play with. Children can then create and imagine buses as part of their dramatic play. A song with words children can use in an everyday context offers a DLL more opportunities for real understanding and real connections and can in turn nurture meaningful conversations and language development in both English and in the child’s home language.
“Sometimes Spanish speaking children have more words than their monolingual peers - this wealth needs to be acknowledged.” -Karen Nemeth
Ms. Nemeth provided the following recommendations for supporting staff, children, and families:
- Develop a language plan
- Communicate with staff about the goals of the plan and how it will be implemented in classrooms
- Include monolingual staff in the language plan
- Include trainings about the importance of intentional conversation planning
- Provide professional development materials in different languages so staff can continue to develop their own language assets
- Encourage educators to learn some words in each child’s language and support them in this effort
- Engage in planned conversations, stories, and activities in both the children's’ home languages and in English
- Ensure sure there is time in each language to become truly engaged with content and conversation
- Help children focus on one language at a time
- Take time to explore connections and meanings
- Remember that roving interpreters or sprinklings of language are not effective in supporting young DLLs.
- Get to know each families and their cultural context
- Show families you value their home language
Ms. Nemeth ended her talk by reminding us that having two languages is wonderful for young children. Young children are especially hard-wired to learn languages. Educators can learn how to support young children in their programs as they learn in both languages, setting the stage for their continued learning and success both in school and in life.
by: Megan Worthington
This year in Dallas NAEYC supported a significantly expanded Spanish language track at Annual Conference. The track, Grandes Comienzos Futuros Brillantes, convened early childhood professionals from throughout the Americas on topics of dual language learning, family engagement, literacy, and other key topics facing all children, particularly those from diverse backgrounds. Grandes Comienzos Futuros Brillantes kicked off with a two-part panel; part one focused on early childhood systems development in the Americas and part two focused on dual language learning. Simultaneous interpretation was provided in Spanish and English. Both panels were graciously moderated by Miriam Calderon who most recently served as a political appointee in the Obama Administration advising on early learning policy at the Domestic Policy Council at the White House and at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Following are some highlights from the event:
Part I: Early Childhood Development in the Americas
The panel began with economist Florencia Lopez Boo covering her work on the Inter-American Development Bank report, Overview of ECD Services in Latin America and the Caribbean, which contains information on 42 programs in 19 countries throughout the region.
Dr. Lopez Boo highlighted some key points from the report:
- Latin America & the Caribbean is the least equitable region in the world & this inequity is mirrored in the quality and accessibility of ECD programs
- Many improvements are needed, particularly in expanding access to and monitoring quality of early education as well as monitoring children’s growth and providing meals
- The objective for early care is to offer integrated services that include health and nutrition services alongside provision of early education; greater efforts must be made to provide nutritional support for children, particularly those with the greatest nutritional deficits
- Next steps? Examine more deeply quality in the region with a specific focus on how to improve and monitor the quality of the teaching
Dr. Lopez Boo noted that children growing up in areas of high vulnerability have a wealth of potential which needs to be supported and maximized by multiple actors including the family, teachers, the community, and governments.
Prot. Social y Salud @BIDSPH · Nov 5 - "Retención de maestros es pregunta del millón: gobiernos deberían atender compensación financiera adecuada para cuidadores y maestros" @florlopezboo #naeycAC
María Adelaida López, Director of Pedagogy at aeioTU, highlighted the important work of the organization, which provides educational opportunities and support for young children and their families throughout Colombia. aeioTU promotes community collaboration and works to build the capacity of families, teachers, and the community at large. Ms. López stated: “(aeioTU) has a dream: by 2016 we want 20,000 children growing up happy and motivated.”
Ms. López highlighted that the organization:
- Focuses attention on serving the most rural communities of Colombia
- Provides a holistic approach to education so that children develop their full cognitive, social-emotional and intellectual potential & their families receive an opportunity to improve their parenting skills
- Supports the professional development of teachers through a multidisciplinary team of artists, social workers, and pedagogues that understand the challenges of contemporary early childhood education and implement an Educational Experience that empowers the teachers to achieve their professional goals
- Observes its program effectiveness through a longitudinal study that has demonstrated improved relationships among children and parents as evidenced by increased frequency of families playing with, reading and talking to their children
- Utilizes a broad base of strategic alliances & shared networks to facilitate growth & strategic planning
Ms. López noted that in its first stages aeioTU focused on listening to parents and building dialogue between educators and communities. This approach is at the center of aeioTU’s work, which envisions the school as a foundation for children, teachers, parents, and the community at large.
Jonathan Armstrong @_JonArms_ · Nov 5 - No me importa que dice las noticias d Colombia. Escuchando a @bidsph y @aeioTU da una nueva vision del futuro #naeycac
Dr. Octavio Pescador, Research Associate at the UCLA Paulo Freire Institute and Juárez & Associates, presented the evidence-based Latino parent engagement and advocacy program Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors). The system takes a cultural strengths-based approach and trains families to be their children's first teachers and foremost education advocates.
Dr. Pescador offered these highlights about Abriendos Puertas/Opening Doors:
- To date, the organization has served more than 70K low-income families in collaboration with more than 400 community organizations in 34 US states
- Abriendo Puertas includes people in the creation of its curriculum through taking into account and addressing their priorities
- The program offers practical exercises to understand the processes of child development holistically—significantly increasing parents knowledge about the cognitive, physiological and emotional growth of their children, their educational rights, and their self-confidence
- Offers practical resources through culturally-relevant participatory exercises and activities so that children can arrive to kindergarten well prepared
- Acknowledges children are one of the best mobilizers of the whole community
NAEYC @NAEYC · Nov 5 - "Once you've built people's capacity to change their lives you can never take that away" @octaviopescador #naeycAC
by Kyle Snow, Ph.D.
October has been designated Bullying Prevention Awareness Month by the PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) since 2006. The movement has grown to include federal efforts highlighted on www.stopbullying.gov.
While much attention is paid to bullying among older children – both in the media and in research - relatively little focus has been paid to bullying in early childhood. In part, this may be due to a view that behaviors thought of as bullying in older children are "part of growing up." This is certainly part of it. However, measuring bullying is challenging to do among young children. They tend to over-report behaviors as bullying that most definitions would not include.
The body of knowledge on young children and bullying, however, is growing. This excellent Guidance Matters article from Young Children adjusts what is known about bullying among older children to suggest developmentally appropriate prevention tips and resources for young children. A research review paper was published in Educational Psychology Review by Vlachou and her colleagues that provides an excellent overview of current research on bullying in early childhood. Here are a few highlights:
Bullying has three elements: it is an act is aggressive and intended to do harm; these are repeated over time; and, they occurs within the context of power imbalance. In other words, it is a series of acts intended to hurt another child, committed by a child to gain or to assert greater power over another child. The definition is important because it distinguishes bullying from rough and tumble play and other aspects of young children’s developing social skills. This article explores the difference between rough and tumble play and fighting, for example. Bullying can be physically aggressive, but can also be verbal (name calling), or social (social exclusion) in nature.
Bully, victim, and bully-victim
Researchers who study bullying use specific terms to describe the roles children tend to fill in social settings. The bully/aggressor is the dominant child acting against one or more other children. The victim is the clear target of the bullying, and the bully-victim tends to of fill both roles at different times, with different peers. Of course, there are some children not involved in bullying at all, and some how are not directly involved in the bullying act (children who comfort a victim after an act, for example).
How common is bullying in early childhood?
Studies that quantify how many children are bullies, victims, or bullying victims are rare. Data from one study of children’s experience with violence showed that 20.4% of children ages 2-5 had experienced physical bullying in their lifetime and 14.6% had been teased (verbally bullied). Vlachou’s paper provides some estimates suggesting that bullying is more common among young children than school aged children. They report one study of 4-year-olds showing 25% of children as bullies and 22% as victims, and 2% as victim/bully. In other words, just about half of children studied were involved in bullying – as aggressor or victim. By contrast, data for older school-age children, show 7-15% as bullies, 10% as victims and up to 10% as bully-victims. The limited data also suggest that the roles children assume in preschool are less stable than they are among older children – so a child who is a bully today may be a bully-victim or victim later in the year.
Changes in bullying with age
While the prevalence data show more bullying occurring among younger children, the data also show less bullying, overall, as children grow older. This general decline in bullying occurs even while the nature of bullying changes from more overt, physically aggressive behaviors to other forms of bullying, such as verbal attacks and social exclusion, both of which become more common as children grow older. The limited data that exist also suggest, though, that even as young as 4-years, there are sex differences in the nature of bullying, with boys more likely than girls to use physical aggression in their bullying.
Bully and victims in groups
While early research suggested a “type” of child who was a bully and who was a victim, recent research suggests much more diversity in the social and emotional experiences of bullies and victims of bullies. This diversity is only beginning to be teased apart for older children, and not yet undertaken among younger children. One finding that emerges in studies of bullying among preschool-aged children is that bullies tend to be well embedded in social networks (that is, they have many friends), though they also tend to associate with other bullies. There is an interesting gender difference – girls who are bullies are more likely to be socially isolated. It seems like bullying is more acceptable for boys than it is for girls. By contrast, victims of bullies tend to have fewer reciprocal friends in the social group. Whether victims’ social isolation is the result of bullying or a contribution to it is unclear - having few friends makes children vulnerable to a bully, but bullies tend to enjoy higher status among their peers than do victims.
Bullying and the setting
It may not be surprising that bullying activity occurs in some parts of the child’s setting but not others. Research shows that aggression is more common in areas that include activity spaces (e.g., block corner, water table) and playgrounds. Aggressiveness is also more common in spaces that are open and less clearly defined, possibly because the expectations for children activity is less defined.
Where is bullying coming from, and what can I do about it?
The general consensus among researchers is that bullying is in part driven by children’s developing social skills and behavior and emotion regulation skills. These skills are very fluid among young children, with the result being a range of challenging behaviors, which may include bullying. As children build social and regulatory skills, challenging behaviors and bullying tend to decline. This research paper examined predictors of bullying or being victimized by bullying. The broadest finding is that children who bully, and children who tend to be victims, score on the extremes using measures of behavior problems. Bullies score extreme on externally – acting outwardly in extreme ways, while victims score high on internalizing, such as withdrawal and passivity. Bully-victims score high on both. In short – all have poor social and behavioral skills. So programs that focus on building children’s social skills are often considered to be one broad bullying prevention measure.
- In addition to the Guidance Matters article mentioned above, this compilation of teacher competencies to support children’s positive behavior development may be of interest. This report provides a deeper research review of these same ideas.
- The Bernese Program against Victimization (Be-Prox) is one evidence-based model for kindergarten teachers and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is one model used for older children.
Two elementary school principals who work in diverse communities share their experiences engaging families. As Peter Moran of Glenallan Elementary School, in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Katie Charner-Laird of Cambridgeport School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts talk about family engagement, particular themes emerge: the importance of commitment, teamwork, and deep respect for children and their families.
Interview conducted by Amy Shillady.
Can you share some strategies your schools use to engage families?
Peter: At Glenallan a bilingual parent–community coordinator organizes parent involvement meetings, helps plan family events, establishes links with community services and resources to help meet families’ needs. Teachers encourage families to visit the school throughout the year and work together to host family events usually at the beginning and at the end of the school year. For example, first grade teachers invited children’s families with Salvadoran roots to share their tradition of preparing pupusas with other first graders and their families. This was a fun event and children and teachers learned more about the families’ culture.
We also host themed events, such as family math and STEM nights. We provide materials for families to take with them to extend their children’s learning at home.
We’ve also restructured our PTA meetings which begin with a dinner. The PTA president and I speak briefly at the beginning, and then families take the lead. Children are welcome so that families don’t need to arrange child care. We also hold monthly parent involvement meetings in the mornings.
When we show children that we value their families, we build their trust in their teachers and the school. Children feel empowered. They are proud to introduce their parents to their teachers and friends. Families feel accepted and valued and better understand and support their children’s learning.
Katie: Cambridgeport has a family liaison whose is accessible to all families to support children’s academic achievement and help to foster communication and a welcoming school climate. This support takes many forms, and can vary from one relationship to the next within the school community.
One successful schoolwide strategy has been to deliberately link family and community events to student learning. We typically have a theme tied to events. For example, we host Spaghetti Dinner and Literacy Night. These events have two main goals: bringing our community together and cultivating a love of reading. Families and children attend, we eat together, and then we provide fun activities that promote children’s literacy skills.
At staff meetings, teachers talk about effective ways they partner with families. For example, recently one teacher shared how she sends out a short email to families every Friday that highlights what children learned that week. She explained that many families really value this communication. The other teachers liked the idea, and it caught on.
Our school has a strong philosophy about honoring and celebrating all the ways families are involved. Some families want to be involved in the life of the school—attending school events, volunteering for different roles, or running for the school council. Others are engaged in their child’s learning. This means transporting their children to and from school, helping them with homework, and getting them to bed on time. We value all the different ways there are to be a part of children’s education.
I try to draw on the power of teamwork. Teachers share good ideas and work together to plan engaging events. For example, if I hear one kindergarten teacher is planning an event, I may encourage the other kindergarten teachers to get involved. And after encouraging teamwork, I find it now happens naturally among teachers.
What is the school’s overall approach to respecting diversity? What are some specific ways the school promotes children and families’ different cultures, languages, and experiences?
Peter: We value children and families’ different cultures and experiences. We focus on culturally responsive instruction. Teachers learn about children and families through surveys they give them at the beginning of the school year. Families can share about their cultures, home languages, and how their children learn best. This helps families feel invested in their children’s education from the start. And this helps teachers learn about children and families’ unique strengths and needs, which shapes how they approach children’s instruction.
We honor families’ cultures by hosting events such as international nights. Children and families bring in traditional dishes to share, and they wear traditional clothing. Everyone eats together, and families talk about their cultures.
Throughout the year, teachers invite families to visit the classroom and share their cultures and experiences.
Katie: One of the challenges we have faced in terms of family engagement has been creating events where all families from different walks of life feel comfortable and welcome. We really try to get to know families to meet their specific needs. One simple way has been to offer events at different times of day to accommodate families’ different schedules.
For those who do not speak English, we provide translators at certain events, such as family nights and parent conferences.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced and how have you addressed them?
Peter: There are real barriers that prevent some families from getting involved. Families have different work schedules, so it’s really important to offer a range of times when they can participate. Many families also need transportation and child care, so arranging to have these covered during events is crucial.
Just putting out a flyer inviting families to come isn’t enough; we never met attendance goals with this method. We realized how important it is to personally reach out to families. Making connections and building relationships is how you get families in the door.
Communicating with a population that speaks so many languages can be challenging. Fortunately our parent–community coordinator provides Spanish interpretation and translation as needed. We also provide both English and Spanish translations of all written communication sent home to families.
I can think of many successes, but I get particularly excited when I think about the field trips the fourth and fifth grade students have taken to nearby universities. For the past three years, we’ve organized these trips so that children can visit college classrooms and the dorms, and speak to staff about college life. We see how excited they get, and it feels good to plant the seed that higher education is a long-term goal for them. Many children will be the first in their family to attend college.
Katie: It has sometimes been challenging to meet the different needs of families—given the wide range of their life experiences.
However, we recently started a summer reading program to help struggling readers. Although not a large number of children and families are invited to the program, there is a high rate of involvement, even from those families who don’t come to other school events. For this reason I consider the program a big achievement. One contributing factor to its success is that families receive a personalized invitation. And despite their differences, all families want to see their children succeed.
Do you have any recommendations and words of wisdom for other schools working to strengthen partnerships with families?
Peter: The first step is to be a learner. Really listen to what families are telling you. This is how you will understand families’ real needs. Once you hear about these needs, it’s important to do your best to follow through and meet them.
Also, focus on relationships. Capitalize on opportunities to build relationships. Celebrate parents. Highlight the great things their children are doing. Families love to hear positive feedback about their children, and this will increase their desire to become involved.
Katie: It’s really important to celebrate the various ways families are involved—both big and small. We need to stop focusing on parents’ deficits, on how families don’t participate or get involved when we ask them to.
Peter O. Moran, MEd, is the principal of Glenallan Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Peter focuses on teaming with teachers, parents, and students to develop a community school that strengthens relationships by learning about children’s cultures, interests, and backgrounds; increasing educational opportunities in science and engineering; and linking character development with academic excellence.
Katie Charner-Laird, MEd, is the principal of the Cambridgeport School (preschool–grade 5) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Katie works extensively in partnership with families, as the school was founded by parents and they are integral to its success. Cambridge- port was recently identified as the number two Dream School by the Boston Globe.
Amy Shillady was the previous editor of NAEYC’s peer reviewed journal, Young Children.
Adapted from September 2014 issue of Young Children, pg. 46 – 49.
By Karen N. Nemeth
Supporting the cultures and languages of diverse children and families in early childhood education programs can be a challenge. Many programs meet that challenge successfully by bringing together a Diversity Team – a team of interested volunteers, staff and family members to ensure that families of all backgrounds feel welcome.
What does a Diversity Team do?
Members of a Diversity Team can read over translated material to make sure it is appropriate for families in your program. They can help build relationships with families and community members who speak different languages. They may also help to locate culturally and linguistically appropriate books, music, and other learning materials for your classrooms. They may provide information to build understanding of different cultures or lifestyles. Most importantly, having an active, engaged Diversity Team is like a circle of support for all of the children, families andstaff.
Who should be on the team?
Many programs start with a small group of interested staff. Including family members, board members and community members will broaden the scope and effectiveness of the team. Aim for a core group of 10 – 15 people who are likely to attend regular meetings, but you can sign on additional as-needed people who would lend their contact information in case their particular language or expertise might be needed from time to time. Just remember that speaking a different language is not the only asset needed to make your team’s volunteers effective in facilitating early learning.
How often should the group meet?
A successful Diversity Team does not have to focus on frequent meetings. After an initial introductory meeting, some members may want to meet once every one or two months to discuss issues and strategies. Others may prefer to serve as as-needed members, providing help when necessary by phone or email. The more involved and needed your team members feel, the more likely they will do whatever it takes to support and improve your program. Programs that treat their team as a cursory sideline are not going to get the same level of commitment and support. The best strategy is to ask the members themselves how they want to be involved and how or when they want to meet. Some personal contact is important to make them feel a part of your school community.
Who creates and convenes the team?
Many times, the program director or principal is the one to create and convene the team, but this is not necessary. A motivated teacher, active parent or dedicated board member could also be in charge of the Diversity Team. In one small preschool program in New Jersey, for example, there was just one bilingual teacher in a town with a growing population of bilingual families who spoke languages she did not speak. She began enlisting help to look for activities, materials and support services for these families by inviting some parents and some acquaintances from a local college to get together. The volunteers brainstormed ideas to extend her ability to support the increasingly diverse population of students and families at her school. This small, informal group acted as a very involved, helpful Diversity Team. When a new family came to the program, this group felt responsible to find ways to make them feel welcome right away. They contacted the local library and a local church and were able to bring some books, music and display items representing the family’s language and culture into the program to help the child feel a sense of belonging from the first day.
Gaining community and governmental support
A Diversity Team can bring support to your program. In order to receive state funding for preschool programs, high-needs school districts in New Jersey must develop plans that include an early childhood advisory council. As a part of their plans for advisory councils, several of these districts have formalized Diversity Teams that meet on a regular basis and have formal advisory functions. In one district the diverse members of the team have been especially effective in making connections in the community to promote the value of the preschool program for immigrant families who previously had been hesitant to register.
Reaching out to the wider community
There are plenty of opportunities for your Diversity Team to cooperate with community groups for mutual benefits. Your teams could work together to plan multicultural events for the community. You may find that a neighboring program has multilingual materials you can borrow.
The list below will give you some ideas about who to invite to your Diversity Team and how the relationship can be beneficial to both sides.
Community resource for possible Diversity Team members
Schools and programs for adults
ESL tutoring, bilingual volunteers
After school programs, camps, rec programs, dance classes
Shared multilingual resources and events
Local business can be asked for donations, but if they are invited to be a regular part of your team, they will be far more invested in doing whatever it takes to support your program. Potential partners with great resources include realtors, travel agents, and ethnic restaurants.
Chamber of Commerce, other business/service organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.
Donations, bilingual volunteers
Charities like United Way
Help identifying funders that focus on early childhood or multicultural initiatives
Child Care Resource and Referral Agency or NAEYC affiliate
Bilingual staff, professional development resources, help for immigrant families – may also be willing to serve as clearinghouse to enable programs to share things they’ve found in different languages.
Communities of faith
Connect with families who may not know about your program, supportive volunteers
Clinic, doctor, dentist, emergency room
Health care information and support for diverse families, and help referring families to your program
Colleges and universities – language departments, ESL, bilingual ed., and student organizations
Student organizations and some courses require students to do volunteer work in the community. College campuses can be great place to find volunteers who speak different languages needed in your program
Cultural and social organizations, and sports clubs
These may represent the cultures of the families in your program – can help recruit students, volunteer to support them and their families, and provide insights about the cultures in your community
Once a program has spent money on a curriculum and materials, it is not unreasonable to ask the company to provide guidance, professional development and resources to meet the diverse language needs in your program
Early intervention providers or home visitors
Invite them on your team so you can share information and resources back and forth to ensure smooth transitions into your program
If the office is close by – may provide volunteers. If not close, they still may send authentic pictures and materials from their countries
Foster grandparent organizations
Let the organization know you are especially interested in bilingual volunteers who can read to and play with the children in their home languages – and provide some training for them
Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc.
Partner with them to build community wide acceptance of cultural and linguistic diversity, invite members to volunteer to create materials or activities for the children in your program
Connect with students and staff who speak the languages of the children in your class – help students meet community service requirements
Hotels, hospitals and other industries with diverse workforce
Their human resources office may have information and supports for immigrant families, and they may be great source of volunteers.
Language schools and translations services
Get to know what the local language immersion preschool is doing to prepare students for kindergarten and beyond – you can help them and they can help you with strategies, materials and connections
Librarians may have print and digital resources, videos, CDs and literacy activities in the languages needed by your students and their families
National organizations with local chapters (e.g., First Book, Reading is Fundamental, Reach Out and Read, and Too Small to Fail)
All of these organizations are increasing their efforts to provide free information, books, and programs to support literacy in different languages
Local fairs, festivals, and flea markets
Great places to find culturally and linguistically authentic materials for classrooms
Members of your own board and staff
Members of your own school community may be honored to be invited to your Diversity Team
Parents, and parents’ contacts
Give them a voice, and give them work to do as you team up to enhance the supports your program provides to meet each child’s language and learning needs
Social service agencies
Inviting representatives on to your Diversity Team means they will bring back information to their agencies about what your program has to offer, and they can share with your staff and families about services available in the community
State Early Childhood Coordinating Council
Most states have one of these in place – they need input from communities and they have information and resources that could help you, too.
Therapists and specialists
Invite them to your Diversity Team so they have a stronger understanding about the diverse needs of your program and how they can help
By: Alison Lutton
Wow — I just read the articles “Finding our Voice through Narrative Inquiry” by Renetta Goeson and the accompanying article, “The Power of Narrative Inquiry to Transform both Teacher and Mentor,” by Andy Stremmel in the latest volume of NAEYC’s online peer-reviewed journal, Voices of Practitioners, and they are incredible!
They caught my eye because I have been helping states think about what is shared or "core" in knowledge and competencies for early childhood professionals across states, cultures, and sectors of our profession (child care, Head Start and PreK through third grade). I've also been thinking about the role of higher education degrees. They are about developing professional knowledge and competencies but also about so much more. Renetta’s narrative inquiry — in which she explores her own experience growing up on her reservation, Lake Traverse, and her later experiences as a teacher and Tribal Head Start program director — offers valuable insights into the ways that cultural identity and cultural conflict shape the role of the teacher and the image of the child in her Dakota community.
Here's the opening paragraph of Renetta's article: As a director of a tribal Head Start program in South Dakota, I encountered problematic and often contradictory tensions centered on my roles as an early childhood program director, a graduate student at South Dakota State University, and a Native American female seeking to change current constructions of what it means to educate young children in my culture. My goal at the outset of this exploration was to construct a better understanding of how the historical and cultural experiences of my tribal community have influenced current views of early childhood education on my reservation, Lake Traverse.
Andy’s article is about Renetta’s teacher research and how his work with Renetta as mentor and collaborator has been important for his own professional growth.
This is from the opening of Andy's accompanying article:
For a number of years I have worked with Renetta in various capacities as a mentor, a teacher, and a collaborator. During most of this time, she has been the director of a tribal Head Start program in northeastern South Dakota. We have made several presentations together at NAEYC and Native American conferences, telling and retelling the story of her program’s evolution to what has become known as the Sisseton Wahpeton Approach to Early Childhood Education, a Reggio-inspired approach based on the Twelve Virtues of the Oyate (“people”). The journey to reclaiming these virtues and making them the core of the curriculum has not been easy, as Renetta makes clear in her narrative.
Both of these articles are from NAEYC’s new Parallel Voices feature, which pairs a teacher’s own research study with commentary on the teacher research by a supporting teacher educator.
These articles, Voices of Practitioners and its Parallel Voices feature really demonstrate what good teacher education looks like, what real world teacher educators do, and that college degrees are about so much more than skill and competency development.
These are just some of the teacher research studies in the latest Voices of Practitioners that are worth checking out if you get the chance.
Have you read any articles from Voices yet? Which articles spoke to you?
Alison Lutton is the Sr. Higher Education Specialist for Program Recognition and Support at NAEYC
By: Stacia Jackson
Attending a professional development conference is an energizing and exhausting experience. Your schedule is carefully planned with sessions you think will be the most interesting and relevant. With most conferences, however, you plan on being seated, listening to lectures and copiously taking notes. The NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo is not like any other conference. As early childhood educators and advocates, we spend time encouraging children to play and to immerse themselves in a new world. At the NAEYC Annual Conference, I found that it was my turn to play and to try something new.
Presenters made an effort to ensure that their presentations were as engaging as possible, incorporating attendees in their presentations. Small group discussions were ubiquitous and I found myself talking to professionals and students from across the country. However, in my experience we went beyond collaboration and discussion. In many of the sessions I found myself physically taking part in activities or immersed in some sort of sensory-based play. I was reminded of why play is so important for our students as I sat building different Lego structures in Constructing a Bright Future: LEGO Education Preschool and again as I danced and sang in Music, Movement, Drama and Art Make Picture Books Come Along!: Integrated Arts Experience with Fiction and Non-Fiction. These hands-on seminars reminded me that it was not only important for the preschool children to play but also for adults to play as well! Time flew by quickly as I molded modeling clay or played with fidget toys as I learned about play as a social justice component or the value of eliminating zero tolerance policies for gunplay. My brain was exponentially more receptive to these new ideas and concepts, something that I see with my own students as they are learning, but often forget to focus on for my personal growth.
As an early childhood educator, I firmly believe that young children need to be active and engaged in hands-on learning to be successful. As I also work with college students, those principles hold true too. A learner needs to be engaged and enjoy what they are doing in order to learn effectively. As Kelly Ruddin, LEGO Master Trainer and Senior Curriculum Specialist for LEGO Education reminded me, “If we as learners only hear or see something, it is easier to forget. As we hear, say AND do an activity, not only will we remember it, but we will also understand it better.” Hands-on education does not need to stop when schooling is over and is critical for adult minds. Not only does the information “stick” and connect, it also allows the participant to enjoy the process! The NAEYC Annual Conference and Expo enabled me to learn a great deal and remind me of what is most crucial in our field: the joy of play.
Stacia Jackson is the National Program Manager for Jumpstart for Young Children in Washington, DC. She was recognized as a Lasting Legacy Scholarship recipient in 2013.