By: Rachel J. Franz
Contributions from Hector Rivera, Jenifer Fuller, and Zaina Keenan
As I was walking through security to a meeting with my senator's legislative staff, one of the security personnel noticed the small NAEYC pin on my lapel. He quickly realized that he recognized the letters from the child development program on Capitol Hill—it is a NAEYC-Accredited program! This was a powerful moment to truly realize that the individuals who represent us when making legislative decisions already look to NAEYC to affirm that their children are receiving the best care possible. —Jenifer Fuller, Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC)
On February 28, 2017, on a bustling Capitol Hill, more than 200 early educators and advocates from all over the nation engaged legislators in discussion about the importance of affordable, high-quality early childhood education and the early learning workforce. The 2017 NAEYC Public Policy Forum in Washington, DC, was the largest one yet, and this three-day event provided teachers, seasoned advocates, and early childhood policy makers with a chance to hone their expertise on early childhood education (ECE) policy and to speak out about it. Among the participants were five members of the Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC), a group of teachers, specialists, directors, students, and allies ages 18–30 who come together to bring a voice to young early educators across the nation. As one of the youngest people participating, YPAC member Zaina Keenan notes that “the NAEYC Public Policy Forum is an intimidating event. People from all over the country are gathered together to prepare for and visit Capitol Hill in the hopes of convincing legislators to pick our issues from the many issues being advocated for on any given day.”
Public Policy Forum is the place for young professionals
The Public Policy Forum can be intimidating initially. Yet, all participants felt more comfortable shortly after the first Power to the Profession session started because of an overwhelming sense of belonging. Public Policy Forum is the place for anyone who is passionate about children, families, and early childhood education. The Public Policy Forum offers many benefits for young professionals, including:
An invaluable understanding of ECE policy and funding. “Everything we do—research, classroom teaching, administration, higher education, and more—is done because of the funding we have,” asserts Keenan. Understanding policy is key to making change. The Forum organizers do a fantastic job of defining and contextualizing the jargon associated with policy, and they make it accessible to all.
Policy becomes personal. The Public Policy Forum provides a way for us to bring our personal and professional passion to the nation’s forefront. YPAC member Hector Rivera explains, “My work as a child care provider in inner city New York has gone from focusing on achieving quality care to trying to survive—in every sense of the word. Every day, families tell me how worried they are about their rights as immigrants and whether they are going to lose the support they receive to subsidize their child’s care. It was that exact urgency that ignited the fire in me to act. I knew there was no better way for me to do something than to go directly to Capitol Hill.”
Small size, big impact. With fewer than 300 participants, attendees are able to get a more personal understanding about colleagues in the field and to initiate relationships. Rivera writes, “By meeting other professionals on my state team, I was able to gain the connections and support I needed as a center director to attain the proper licensing for my center.”
Young professionals are capable professionals. The Public Policy Forum is the perfect place to step up to the plate and get out of your comfort zone. Veterans in the field are excited to involve a new generation of educators and advocates; this relationship is essential for the continued success of the field.
It’s normal to be nervous: Tips for future attendees of PPF and other NAEYC events
“Before attending the Public Policy Forum, policy and advocacy were areas in the profession that I avoided because I felt ill-equipped to participate,” says Jenifer Fuller. Aside from the participants who work primarily in policy, most first-time attendees and even returning participants had some jitters about heading to Capitol Hill. With NAEYC’s accessible presentations to help participants prepare, Fuller observes, “Attending NAEYC’s Public Policy Forum was a perspective-changing experience.”
Remember that legislators are human, too. Zaina Keenan writes, “It is nerve wracking to go and speak to legislative staff. However, it’s important to remember that they are people, too. Imagine how nervous they would be if asked to come and do a read aloud with a group of 20 preschoolers! They are experts in their field as we are in ours, and we have a lot to teach each other if we enter supplied with information to share.”
Review materials ahead of time. Policy staff put together a webinar with recommendations about how to prepare; viewing this at least two weeks before the Forum is key. This step will decrease anxiety going in and maximize the impact of your meetings and future advocacy. One easy step? Follow your legislators on Facebook and Twitter.
Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The acronyms can be overwhelming, so jot them down as you hear them and ask about them later. Jenifer Fuller says, “It was understood that we may not be experts on legislative jargon, but we are experts in what young children need to thrive. NAEYC provided the tools to make the bridge between what we know is best for children and ways to share that information with legislators so that actions can be taken to implement change.”
Pack your blazer. Dressing to impress invites others to take you more seriously, no matter your age or experience level. Hector Rivera writes, “As someone who knows that by the end of the day I will have paint and food crumbs all over my clothing, formal attire isn’t second nature to me, but it’s still a must! Also, carry plenty of business cards, as you never know when you will connect with someone.”
Make a plan for after the Forum. “My state team and I contacted Congressional staff members with a summary of our meeting and additional information that they requested during our meeting. NAEYC’s Public Policy Forum provided access to my senators and representatives in ways that will create changes to my work in the field,” writes Jenifer Fuller.
Next steps: Get involved with policy as a young professional
Public Policy Forum is a wonderful leap into the world of early childhood policy. Zaina Keenan says, “It’s an opportunity to create an annual plan for advocacy at all levels, and to kick it off in a big way—speaking to those who impact our field at the national level.” There are many things you can do before the next Public Policy Forum to get involved.
A first step is to visit NAEYC’s Policy site. Through NAEYC, you’ll find many opportunities for involvement:
- Subscribing to the Children’s Champion’s newsletter.
- Follow, tweet at, and email your local, state, and federal representatives. Find them here.
- Check in with your local/state NAEYC Affiliate.
- And, of course, becoming a NAEYC member is the best way to build your network, find the best professional development opportunities, launch your career, and have access to events like the NAEYC Public Policy Forum. Join here.
Next year’s Public Policy Forum will be here before we know it. Hector Rivera says, “To any professional contemplating attending PPF, I say go for it! It is a truly rewarding experience and every professional in our field should experience this policy forum.” The time to get involved is now.
About the contributors
Rachel J. Franz is the founder and lead teacher at Tiny Trees Preschool at Jefferson Park, an all-outdoor preschool program in a Seattle, Washington, city park. She holds an MEd in Early Childhood Education from Champlain College and is focused on helping families navigate media and consumerism in positive, healthy ways. Rachel is a certified Simplicity Parenting Family Life Coach and has presented on topics ranging from incorporating nature into early childhood settings to the influence of picture books on children’s consumerism.
Zaina Keenan is the early childhood director at Children’s Village, an NAEYC-accredited and Keystone 4 Star center in Philadelphia. In addition to her everyday responsibilities and those of the NAEYC Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC), Zaina serves on the NAEYC Member Engagement Committee, her local affiliate’s (DVAEYC) Membership Advisory Council, and the Becker’s Advisory Council, is a member of the 2016–17 Pennsylvania Early Childhood Advocacy Fellowship, and has presented at statewide conferences over the past year on strategies for effectively teaching English Language Learners.
Jenifer Fuller serves at Tulsa Community College, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as adjunct faculty and as the education specialist in the Child Development Center. Jenifer is an advocate for developmentally appropriate practice, play, infant mental health, and infusing early childhood with nature. In addition to serving on the YPAC Content Committee, Jenifer serves as the Membership Chair for her local affiliate chapter and as the Vice President of Chapters for Oklahoma AEYC.
Hector Rivera is the manager of Children and Family Programs at The DreamYard Art Center in the Bronx where he directs the school-age early childhood program. Hector identifies as a queer Afro–Puerto Rican Taino, an identity he brings to his work around the arts as a means for social change. He believes that educating young people using curriculum based in anti-bias practice and with a social justice lens is key to children’s liberation.
NAEYC’s Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC) was formed with a clear goal in mind: Helping NAEYC strengthen its recruitment, retention and engagement of young professionals in the field. Click here to learn more about YPAC!
By: Shayna Cook and Abbie Lieberman
Ms. Paredes glances at her watch. Today, the principal will visit the class for the first time this year. As she settles the children on the carpet for a read aloud using How Many Stars in the Sky?, by Lenny Hort, Principal Murin walks in and takes his seat. The story ends and the children discuss their favorite parts with a partner. Then Ms. Paredes and her assistant begin a “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” fingerplay. After that, children choose their learning centers, and Ms. Paredes circulates.
Principal Murin observes her in the science center. Two girls and a boy take an empty box and imagine that they are in a rocket ship going to the moon. Ms. Paredes asks encouraging questions like, “Where else could you go in space?” and “How will you stay seated in the rocket with no gravity?” Ms. Paredes is excited to see the children’s engagement and to hear them think about answers to the questions.
When the observation period ends, though, Principal Murin leaves the classroom confused. He appreciated the children’s engagement with the science center but wonders why such a structured lesson ended up with the children “just” playing.
This scenario is all too common. Elementary school principals don’t always recognize how much children learn through play. In fact, play is a vehicle for student-centered learning, allowing meaningful interactions and conversation. Guided play helps children learn to solve problems, persist through challenges, build vocabulary skills, and gain background knowledge in many content areas. Many studies show the value of play-based learning. Yet it is far too rare in the early grades.
We authors work at New America, a DC think tank. Last year, our Early and Elementary Education Policy team convened five focus groups of elementary school principals around the country to explore their perceptions of what instruction should look like in pre-K through third grade classrooms. The groups answered questions on staffing, student transition from pre-K to kindergarten, student assessment, professional development, and the role of a principal. We compiled our findings into a series of briefs called Principal’s Corner: Perspectives on Teaching and Learning Pre-K–3rd Grade.
Principals in our groups had different opinions about the characteristics of strong learning environments in early childhood. Many acknowledged that play is an important teaching tool when working with young children. But the majority of principals felt pressured to limit play time in pre-K, kindergarten, and the early grades to focus on academics. In essence, they did not always make a direct connection between play and learning. Here are three examples of what they said:
Play is essential to child development. When principals and other instructional leaders are able to see what learning through play looks like in a classroom, they are better equipped to help teachers promote developmentally-informed practices.
To be strong early education leaders, principals need better preparation, professional development, and support from districts and states. Some states and districts around the country are stepping up. Illinois, for example, is reaching principals before they start leading schools. The state has recently revamped its licensure system, replacing the K–12 principal license with a P–12 license. Early childhood content is now woven through the curriculum so that all aspiring principals receive preparation in pre-K. Illinois is currently the only state that requires principals to have early childhood education preparation before leading an elementary school.
Minnesota is one of a handful of states teaching principals about the importance of early education through in-service professional learning. This method reaches novice and experienced principals who are already leading schools. The state’s Department of Education worked closely with the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association on a Principal Leadership Series, which is helping demonstrate how to build strong pre-K–3rd grade programs in schools and communities.
States can take less formal approaches to familiarize principals with key elements of high-quality early education. Colorado is one of several states that has created resources to assist principals in evaluating early education teachers. Teacher evaluation has become one of the most important aspects of a principal’s job but, as shown in our opening vignette, there is often a disconnect between what teachers and their principals view as good teaching. In response to requests from both teachers and evaluators, the Colorado Department of Education worked with a group of early childhood educators to create Practical Ideas for Evaluating Early Childhood Educators, a handbook to help evaluators apply the state’s general evaluation tool to the early grades that includes specific and detailed examples.
Improving principals’ understanding of early learning can come from the top. Superintendent Steve Oats from Winston Salem, North Carolina, is often held up as an example of a superintendent who understands the value of play to children’s learning. Eva Phillips, coauthor of NAEYC’s book Basics of Developmentally Appropriate Practice: An Introduction for Teachers of Kindergartners, used the NAEYC DAP books as the basis for the professional development she provided to teachers in Oats’s district.
In the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council’s Transforming the Workforce For Children Birth Through Age 8 report from 2015, experts encourage all states to revisit their policies and standards for education leadership to ensure that they incorporate the early elementary years. It’s reassuring to see states like Illinois, Minnesota, and Colorado acknowledging the importance of high-quality teaching and learning in the early grades. We hope other states to learn from these examples and build on their own work to strengthen principal preparation and professional development systems to make sure elementary school principals are more strongly grounded in early childhood education. With this expertise, school leaders like Principal Murin will be able to see that children engaging in dramatic play with a cardboard rocket ship really are reaching for the stars.
For more information on the connection between children’s play and learning, see:
Nell, M.L., W.F. Drew, & D.E. Bush. 2013. From Play to Practice: Connecting Teachers' Play to Children's Learning. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Bohart, H., K. Charner, & D. Koralek. 2015. Spotlight on Young Children: Exploring Play. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Shayna Cook is Policy Analyst, Education Policy Program at New America
Abbie Lieberman is Policy Analyst, Education Policy Program at New America
By: Jeremy Boyle
This blog post was originally published in the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College blog.
Technology and digital media are an integral part of many adults’ lives, and the same is true for many children today. Not long ago, the conversation about digital media and early childhood learning focused on whether or not these new technologies should be part of early childhood education, at home or at school. But in recent years, the conversation has shifted to an acknowledgment that these things are a part of learning.
The Fred Rogers Center and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) were at the forefront of this shifting discourse more than four years ago with the publication of a joint position statement on “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs.”
Conversations about the place of digital media in early childhood education continue at events such as the NAEYC conference, which is the largest gathering of early childhood professionals in the U.S. The 2016 conference was held in November in Los Angeles, CA. Not surprisingly, technology and media was a dominant theme throughout the conference.
Only a few weeks before the conference, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) released a new policy statement, “Media and Young Minds,” which updates their family guidelines for managing young children’s media usage. The announcement of this policy statement was widely covered in the national media, signaling a broad public interest in these issues.
In this current conversation about media, technology and children’s learning, the focus has been on the importance of human interaction in relation to children’s media and technology use. This is reassuring to hear. The most current research is beginning to make clear that while digital media can provide significant learning benefits for young learners, the adult-child relationship is essential to obtaining these learning benefits. Our work at the Fred Rogers Center has consistently tried to echo this theme, with or without technology.
Fred said, “It’s through relationships that we grow best—and learn best.” We think this straightforward statement might offer the most essential clue to understanding how children gain the most learning benefit from their interactions with media and technology. Building on this, the essential question might be:
How does a child’s interaction with media and technology strengthen relationships?
We think it might be helpful to think about a child’s relationships in three ways:
1) The child’s relationship to self: We might ask how the experience helps a child to understand and express him- or herself and to develop both competence and confidence.
2) The child’s relationship to others: How does the experience help a child to connect, collaborate and share ideas with peers, family and others?
3) The child’s relationship to the larger world, community and environment: For example, how might the experience help a child appreciate the natural world or gain understanding and empathy for the lives of people and other creatures near and far?
This focus on relationships in all of their diverse forms aligns with the message of Fred Rogers, who spoke about media, technology and children in a far less media-saturated time: “No matter how helpful they are as tools (and, of course, they can be very helpful tools), computers don’t begin to compare in significance to the teacher-child relationship which is human and mutual. A computer can help you to learn to spell H-U-G, but it can never know the risk or the joy of actually giving or receiving one.”
As Fred knew, children become much more ready to learn when adult-child relationships are established. These relationships also enable the media experiences to contribute positively to a child’s social and emotional development. At the NAEYC conference, many strategies of joint engagement and media mentorship were recommended, such as co-viewing of media; asking children questions about a game they are playing; or making connections to content viewed in a program to the child’s environment. The AAP’s new guidelines provide recommendations on joint engagement strategies as well as on how much time children spend with media.
Technology and media are present in so many aspects of life that it is nearly impossible to imagine a one-size-fit-all approach of limits and restrictions that could meet the diverse needs of children and families. Earlier attempts that focused limitations on screen time do not address the nuanced nature of current technology and media interactions.
Following from Fred’s belief in “simple and deep,” we at the Center are looking for a simpler and clearer message to help guide parents, caregivers and educators as they navigate their own children’s media and technology use. Every child, family and context is unique, and any guidance should reflect and support individual decisions. In a recent conversation we had with Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical Center, he advised, “Our focus should be on living well with media rather than opposing or restricting it.”
There are, of course, many complex factors that will determine the quality of learning opportunities with media and technology. There are many trusted organizations working to help sort media and use based upon it being developmentally and content appropriate, having potential educational value, and promoting physical and mental health for children. But we think this focus on the idea of relationship is the most essential. It will not be the media and technology alone, but rather our use and practice together, that will help to support children to grow as confident, competent and caring human beings.
Jeremy Boyle, M.F.A, is Assistant Professor Of Learning, Media and Design at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College.
By: Tina Plaza-Whoriskey
If demographics are destiny, my family was headed for educational failure. All the signs pointed to struggle. Low-income? Check. Parents without education beyond high school? Check. A primary language other than English? Check. And parents who didn’t read to their children? Check.
These are among the factors that contribute to poor academic and life outcomes, according to Making Math Count More for Young Latino Children, newly published by the Child Trends Hispanic Institute. The researchers found that by the time Latino children in this demographic start kindergarten, they trail their white peers in math skills by the equivalent of 3 months of learning. This disparity, if left unaddressed, threatens to increase over time.
Taken at face value, these statistics paint an unflattering picture of Latino parents. Why don’t they have books in the home? Why don’t they read to their children? Don't they care about education? As a Senior Communications Manager at Child Trends, my job is to take these statistics and make them understandable. But since these statistics are so personal, I’d like to provide some context too.
Like many immigrant parents, my widowed mother did not choose to keep us out of preschool, and did not think she was neglecting us by not reading to us. She was simply too busy surviving and trying to keep four children fed on a cashier’s salary. In fact, when my oldest sister was offered a full scholarship to Harvard, my mother was willing to let her go, despite the fact that Boston seemed like a foreign land to her. She was letting go of the “second parent” in the home, her right arm, but my mother wanted her to have the best education.
Research suggests that Latino parents care deeply about their children’s education, as my mother certainly did. Against all odds, my siblings and I managed to make it out of the projects thanks to family support, government assistance and teachers who believed in us. My immediate family and the second generation that followed are engineers, accountants, law enforcement officials, lawyers and communications professionals. We are the success story.
A recent study published in a journal of the American Education Research Association revealed that policies aimed at improving school readiness are beginning to work, although there is still much more to be done. The study reported modest improvements for Latino children in the preparedness gap since the 1990s.
But, as the new Child Trends Hispanic Institute’s report finds, the gap is far from closed. We must do better. These are some of the recommendations from Making Math Count More for Young Latino Children:
- Expand access to high-quality early care and education, and make these programs more responsive to the needs of Latino families with young children.
- Make full-day kindergarten available to all families, regardless of where they live.
- Adopt guidelines for early math achievement, just as most states have adopted common standards for grades K-12.
Latinos currently represent one quarter of all U.S. kindergarteners, and by 2050 Latino children will constitute one third of the entire population under age 5. They are our future, and as the saying goes, a rising tide floats all boats.
Tina Plaza-Whoriskey is Senior Communications Manager at Child Trends.
The T in STEM: Creating Play-Based Experiences That Support Children’s Learning of Coding and Higher Order ThinkingWed, 02/01/2017 - 16:47 — NAEYC Guest Blogger
By: Tamara Kaldor
From Google Creative Labs announcing their new Project Bloks research project, to tangible technology toys aimed at parents, it can feel like excitement for coding is everywhere. Coding can be engaging and fun, but it’s only meaningful when there are strong higher order thinking (HOT) foundational skills first put in place, helping young children understand the process of coding. Young children can’t create meaningful experiences through coding without these foundational skills and without adults to help support their learning.
"Developmentally appropriate practices must guide decisions about whether and when to integrate technology and interactive media into early childhood programs."
–NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center Joint Position Statement on Technology in Early Childhood (2012)
What are higher order thinking (HOT) skills?
Computational thinking (CT), higher order thinking (HOT), and executive functioning (EF) skills are phrases we see daily in education media and educational research. At their core, these skills are quite similar because they help us reason, think critically, and problem solve. They develop at different rates for children depending on context and exposure to play and learning experiences that support their development. Play experiences like problem-solving, collaborating and designing during their playing and making are powerful experiences that all children need to be successful in life, to innovate, and to learn how to think through complex problems, such as coding. The adults in a young child’s life play a critical role as mentors, role models, and facilitators to help young children learn these skills through their use of language and their behavior. For this blog post, I will use the term higher order thinking (HOT) to refer to these combined skills.
For infants and toddlers, responsive interactions between adults and children are essential to early brain development and to cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and linguistic development.
–NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center College Joint Position Statement on Technology in Early Childhood (2012)
Early childhood educators have long helped young children hone their HOT skills through play-based experiences. Now there is a call from researchers and many others to deepen HOT skills in early childhood by introducing technology tools and coding when appropriate. We are just starting to put these ideas into practice in early childhood settings, and we are learning right along with the children, families, and educators we support.
It is a very exciting time in the world of education, young children, and technology, but it can also feel overwhelming if you are trying to figure out how to get started in your classroom. Before we introduce technology tools to use for coding, let's first get started practicing our HOT and coding muscles with children in our classroom.
Developmentally appropriate teaching practices must always guide the selection of any classroom materials, including technology and interactive media.
–NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center College Joint Position Statement on Technology in Early Childhood (2012)
Five tips to get started practicing HOT and early coding foundational skills without any technology:
1. Block play
Set up a variety of colored and shaped blocks where children can easily create and identify patterns with you. As children master the pattern and sequence making, you can collaborate to create more complex patterns and sequences that act as secret codes that children and adults have to analyze and problem-solve together to decode the pattern and sequence.
- Ask children to design and draw, and build something. Have the children pick the idea they will build as a group. Help children collaborate to make a building plan in order to execute their idea. Facilitate the children by assigning roles to make their creation and sort and organize their supplies. As they build, model and ask children to problem-solve, fix, and use directional language (right, left, down, up, under, over, etc.). Consider taking photographs of the building process and use these visuals to support children's reflection and evaluation of the process.
- Have children look for and identify patterns in the books you are reading. Look for opportunities to count together, predict what will happen next in the story, and identify where characters have to problem-solve or adapt what they are doing.
Have children work in groups to collaborate and write a story with you. Have some prompts ready to help children develop a plan for the characters; create a story with a beginning, middle, and end; and use directional and sequential language.
With one group of children, cut up different pictures and sentences from their story and have another group of children collaborate to put the story back together in sequential order. This is also a great activity to do with familiar fairy tales or favorite stories you have been reading together regularly.
Have children design and draw directional arrows and stop and go symbols with you on colored index cards. Use the same colors for each type of directional arrow (i.e. yellow for left). You can either give children a set of index cards for numbers 1–10 or have the children make them on their own.
5. Game design
Have children draw a map on grid paper for a “robot” to follow using their directional arrows and symbols (from the art activity above) as guides. Have the children count each square so they can tell their “robot” how many steps to take with each direction and have the children add those numbers to their plan. Then have children pair up and take turns pretending to be the “robot” while their partner practices giving them directions using the index cards. Facilitate children fixing, problem-solving, and evaluating to develop a set of sequential instructions (i.e. a code that their partners can follow.)
Here are some resources to use as you look for classroom activities to support HOT and coding skills:
TEC Center at Erikson Institute: teccenter.erikson.edu
Early Math Collaborative Ideas Library at Erikson Institute: http://earlymath.erikson.edu/ideas/
Association of Libraries Services for Children blog, STEM/STEM Section: http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/category/stemsteam/
Here is some research on higher order thinking, executive functioning, and computational thinking skills in early childhood:
Bernier, A., S.M. Carlson, M. Deschênes, & C. Matte-Gagne. 2012. “Social Precursors of Preschoolers’ Executive Functioning: A Closer Look at the Early Caregiving Environment.” Developmental Science 15: 12–24.
Bers, M.U., L.P. Flannery, E.R. Kazakoff, & A. Sullivan. 2014. ”Computational Thinking and Tinkering: Exploration of an Early Childhood Robotics Curriculum.” Computers & Education 72: 145–57.
Verdine, B.N., K.R. Lucca, R.M. Golinkoff, N.S. Newcombe, & K. Hirsh-Pasek. 2015. “The Shape of Things: The Origin of Young Children’s Knowledge of the Names and Properties of Geometric Forms.” Journal of Cognition and Development 12: 315–31.
Wing, J. 2006. “Computational Thinking.” Communications of the ACM 49 (3): 33–6.
Tamara Kaldor, M.S., is the Assistant Director, TEC Center at Erikson Institute.
By: Lauren Hogan
Editor's Note: On February 3, Rhian Evans Allvin sent out a letter to all NAEYC members entitled "Today and Every Day: Using Our Values as Our Guide." The letter, which you can read in full here, asked us to support and advocate for all the children, families and educators in our communities. Here are some ways we can fulfill that charge.
The earliest years in a child’s life are a crucial time for learning, and right now is a crucial time for us to support the future - of our children, our workforce and our country. Our voices, at once unified and diverse, distinctive and collective, are powerful and strong. We must speak out on the critical importance of high-quality early childhood education, providing partners and policy makers with the information and opportunities they need to put young children at the forefront of their agendas.
Write down your story.
No matter who you are, you are the only one with your perspective. Your story about early childhood education can become testimony, a letter to the editor, a viral video, and much more. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s bring your story to life.
Pick up the phone.
You are someone’s constituent. Call your elected officials to let them know why you think high-quality early childhood education is important. Make sure they know you will be holding them accountable for investing in the children, families and educators in your community. Not sure who your representatives are? Find out here.
Go to a meeting.
There are plenty of places where you can stand up and raise your voice on behalf of children, families and educators. Go to a city council meeting, a school board meeting, a briefing, or a town hall - in person or on Facebook! Go to a hearing, a rally, a book club, or a service group. Get to know your leaders and partners - and let them get to know you.
It’s only 140 characters. You can do it. Follow your elected officials & let them know how you feel about their votes & positions. #earlyed
Join your Affiliate.
Community sustains us. Come together with fellow educators and advocates in your state today. Visit www.naeyc.org/membership for more.
There is always a time when intention needs to become action. Stay informed and connected so you can engage, advocate and mobilize at the moment your voice is needed.
Lauren Hogan is Senior Director, Public Policy & Advocacy at NAEYC.
By: Denise Nelson
Denise Nelson and her class of preschoolers in Worcester, MA tried to answer that question over the course of a three-week exploration—both indoors and out.
Week One: Outdoor Shadows
The plan was to go outside and look for shadows, and my science training prompted me to think about using the Inquiry Cycle (Engage, Explore, Reflect) to organize our approach. We would engage and explore shadows both inside and outside, and then reflect on what we had learned from the two sets of experiences.
Step One: Engage
First I needed to find out what the children already knew about shadows. Getting them to talk about what they have experienced is a great way to engage them in further investigation. I engaged the children in small groups, using a KWL (K = What we already KNOW; W = what we WANT to know; L = What we LEARNED) chart and listing their answers to the first question, What do you Know about shadows?
My role at this point was to observe and listen carefully.
This activity helped me understand that the children did have some prior knowledge about shadows. One child saying, “You need to turn it on” was thinking about a flashlight. Some of the children were aware of outdoor shadows. ￼
We were ready for the next step in the Inquiry Cycle: Exploring!
Step Two: Explore
Throughout the first week, we went outside looking for shadows. I always brought my phone along—taking pictures is an important documentation tool. Children would call out, “I see my shadow!” “There it is!” “Look at my shadow!” I watched as they experimented with positioning themselves in different ways in order to observe what happened to their shadows. I asked questions to encourage them to focus: “What else has a shadow?” “Does the fence have a shadow? The flagpole? ”Iliana noticed that when she jumped, her shadow jumped, too. She liked the way her shadow-hair bounced around.
Rhianalise found her shadow in several places, including on the fence fabric. She noticed her shadow was “bent.”￼
Jonathan and Dante worked together to make a “partner shadow.”￼
One day, we had an overcast sky. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “I’m going to have to tell the children there will be no shadows today.” Then I caught myself: Wait a minute! One of the key aspects of teaching science is knowing when to stay quiet; allowing children to make discoveries is central to the engagement and learning process. I allowed the children to go outside, chalk in hand, to do some shadow tracing. They gathered in an area where they had seen shadows the day before. I asked, “What’s going on?” One child complained, “Our shadows are gone! We can’t see any!” I rephrased their concern: “You saw your shadows here yesterday. Today you cannot see them. I wonder why?” Many children had their eyes focused on the pavement or on the fence fabric. A few looked toward the school building and others up at the sky. After a pause, one child called out, “The sun! The sun! Shadows are gone because the sun’s not out!”
I never tire of their “A-ha!” moments.
Week Two: Indoor Shadows
We continued our open-ended exploration of shadows inside. There are a number of resources teachers can use to learn more about deepening children’s scientific inquiry. Look for resources that encourage children to discover answers for themselves through scientific inquiry. I used a unit from the PEEP Science Curriculum—a set of six free STEM units from the public television preschool series, “PEEP and the Big Wide World.” I followed the guidelines for using an overhead projector as a learning center and let children freely explore objects and their shadows.
Otherwise, I let the children freely explore objects and their shadows.
They began experimenting with the projector, using their hands to make shadows appear on the wall. They also made use of paper shapes. To advance their inquiry, I asked questions like, “What do you notice?” “How did you do that?” “Why is it blurry?” The children continued experimenting by moving objects around. Some spent a great deal of time manipulating objects and observing their results. They found that turning an object changed the shape of its shadow, and they detected differences in clarity when shapes were moved closer to and further away from the light.
Later in the week, we watched an episode of Night Light on our computer. In this 9-minute animated episode, Peep and friends find a flashlight and have fun making a variety of shadows with their bodies. Pairs of children viewed it throughout the day. There was a tremendous amount of laughter and discussion going on. One of the comments included, “It’s just like us. They are playing with shadows just like us!” By far, the children’s favorite clip was when the bird characters, Peep and Quack, use a pocket watch to divert the light and change the shape of their shadows.￼
That scene from the clip also provided some new inspiration.
One boy made a fantastic discovery: He found he could adjust the mirror on the projector and send shadows to the ceiling! A crowd gathered to find out how he had done it. I allowed him to demonstrate and asked him to explain. “Tip it up, like this,”he said. ”It makes the light shine up this way and up to the ceiling.”￼
I used this opportunity to reinforce one of our science vocabulary words: direction. “So you’re saying that when you shine the light from a different direction, the shadows appear in another place?” “Yes,” he agreed. “The mirror has to be straight up.” The children were doing more than just observing; they were trying to make sense of their observations and connect the cause and effect relationship. It would soon be time to help the children reflect on their experiences to date.
Week Three: More Focused Exploration
The children began to show more advanced inquiry skills in the second (indoor) week, exploring the relationship between actions and outcomes. Those inquiry skills continued to thrive in our third week, as we tried the “shadow theater” activity from the PEEP Science Curriculum — using shadows to create a variety of characters and tell a story. The set-up involves projecting a light onto a hanging white sheet and having children use their bodies to make shadow “characters”. I involved three to five children at a time.
￼Students looked at their shadows on a big white sheet. They tried to identify friends from the other side of the sheet. Some began coming up with reasonable explanations for changes they noticed in the shadows:. ”My hand looks so big because it is next to the light.” I also heard predictions: “It will get smaller if I put it next to the sheet.” They tested their predictions and concluded, “See! I told you! Next to the light makes giant hands!”
Step Three: Reflect
As we’d been working with indoor shadows for a week, it seemed time to reflect together on our growing list of observations. I worked with three to four children at a time, tailoring my questions to the developmental level of each group. When working with 3-year-olds, the conversation revolved around, ”What makes shadows?” and “What happens when I shut off the light?” If 3-year-olds can answer that the light (or sun) causes shadows, or can indicate that a person or object is also needed, I recognize they’re constructing important STEM knowledge. Some older children were able to inform me of all the steps needed to explore shadows: “You need a sunny day, or a big light,” “You have to use your hands or things like puppets. And a thing to shine on. Maybe a blanket or the ground.” Using photos I had taken, they recalled other information they wanted to share: ”When you move, the shadow moves. When you jump, your shadow jumps. If you put something close to the light, the shadow gets bigger.”￼
￼Equipped with photographic evidence across three weeks of exploration, we met to discuss our results. Everyone agreed that the sun made the best shadows. Some comments I heard: ”The sun is much better than a flashlight—it makes bigger shadows.” “The shadows are darker from the sun,” “Outside shadows are better because they move around a lot.”
I was curious about whether the children had developed theories about what they experienced. I asked, “What is it about the sun that makes those outdoor shadows so good?” The answers rushed forth: ”It’s bigger, the sun—it’s so much bigger than the flashlight,” “It’s high up in the sky so it can shine on a lot at once,” “You don’t have to hold it like a flashlight.”
The theories children contribute put forward don’t have to be scientifically sound. What’s important is helping children think about their experiences and challenging them to construct explanations based on their existing knowledge. It will take many experiences for children to develop conceptual understanding of a topic of study, but at least we’re now familiar with the inquiry cycle.
What Children Learned
Our three week shadow project resulted in many different learning outcomes for the children:
- Students learn that a shadow is made when an object blocks the light.
- Children make shadows with their bodies and other objects.
- Children observe that a shadow can show an object’s shape, but it can’t show colors or details (like a smile or a frown).
- Students change a shadow’s shape by moving/turning their body or the object, or by moving the light source.
- Children combine shadows to make different shadow shapes.
- Students discover that each light source directed at an object will create a shadow.
- Indoors, chldren can change the size of a shadow by moving their body or the object closer to/ farther from the light.
- Outdoors, children see that a shadow’s shape, size, and position change over the course of the day as the sun’s position changes.
Language and Literacy
- Children become familiar with vocabulary words such as shadow, light, bigger, smaller, closer, and farther.
- Children see their words written on charts. They listen and “read” along as words are read back to them.
- Children listen to read-aloud books about shadows and explore books independently.
- Children practice emergent writing skills by recording their shadow observations through drawing, tracing, and “writing.”
- Children describe, measure, record, and compare the shapes and sizes of shadows.
Denise Nelson has been a teacher in the Worcester, Massachusetts Head Start program since 1994. She has used the PEEP Science Curriculum with the children in her classroom.
Thanks to Gay Mohrbacher, Senior Project Manager at WGBH Boston, who helped to develop and edit this essay with NAEYC staff.
By: Barbara Willer
Dr. J.D. Andrews
Few individuals have had a greater impact on NAEYC than Dr. J.D. Andrews. This post highlights some of J.D.’s many contributions that continue to benefit millions of young children, families, and early childhood professionals. We also invite those who remember J.D. to share their reflections in the comments below.
J.D. Andrews passed away on December 21, 2016, after an extended illness. One of the early childhood field’s great visionaries, JD began advising NAEYC on its Annual Conference in the late 1960s. He joined NAEYC’s staff in the early 1970s and served as chief operations officer with Dr. Marilyn M. Smith, who was then executive director, for nearly three decades. During JD’s tenure, NAEYC’s Annual Conference became one of the world’s largest educational gatherings. His vision led to the establishment of NAEYC Accreditation of Early Learning Programs, a process that provides a framework for high quality in early childhood programs and centers, spanning child care and early education, full-day and part-day programs. Under the leadership of JD and Marilyn, the association grew from approximately 20,000 members in the early 1970s to 103,000 members when they left the staff in 1998.
In addition to his momentous work with NAEYC, JD worked closely with the Head Start community and was involved with training efforts when the program was first launched in 1965. He helped found the Council for Professional Recognition—NAEYC’s sister organization—in 1985 and served as its president for many years. Nearly 300,000 early educators, many of them Head Start teachers, received their Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential during his tenure.
J.D. Andrews served on numerous corporate boards and was a trusted leader in the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, Professional Convention Management Association, and the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners. He was a mentor to numerous association executives and meeting planners, and an advisor to multiple cities as they built new convention centers.
In 2011, he created the JD Andrews Foundation, whose mission is to develop world-class training to help early childhood professionals work effectively with young children to prevent diabetes, obesity, and related conditions.
A celebration of JD’s life will be held at NAEYC on March 18, at 2:00 pm. Memorials may be directed to the JD Andrews Foundation online, at http://www.jdafoundation.org/donate/, or mailed to J.D. Andrews Foundation, c/o Karolina Jasinska, 3151 Mt. Pleasant St., NW, Suite 107, Washington, DC 20010. See full obituary.
Barbara Willer is Senior Advisor, Strategic Initiatives at NAEYC
Adapted from Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards.
Very young children can grasp the idea of honoring people whose work makes life better for others, even though children’s understanding reflects their developmental stage. By age 4, children can begin connecting activities about social justice holidays to their own experiences with unfairness and fairness. Although they cannot understand fully all the facts and complexities of history, young children can learn that many grown ups have worked, and continue to work to make the world a safe, fair, and good place.
Here are some ideas and tips for teachers and families:
Read and discuss children's books
There are many books about justice and fairness that teachers and families can read and discuss with young children.
A few suggestions:
- The Streets are Free by Kurusa
- Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire Nivola
- No Fair to Tigers/No es justo para los tigres by Eric Hoffman
Be true to the holiday's meaning
In the United States, one of the most frequently recognized social justice holidays is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In discussing such occasions with children, be sure to make clear what the holidays truly recognize, rather than perpetuating misconceptions or oversimplifying the meaning of the person’s life’s work.
Martin Luther King, for example, was trying to make the world a more just place--not just one where everyone gets along. As he articulated often, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” Rosa Parks (1992) also made clear that she sat down in the front of the bus not simply because she was physically tired from work but because she was sick and tired of injustice.
Make collages or books
Activities provide children with materials and ideas that last beyond the specific day or celebration!
For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, make a book with the children about women and men in the children’s families and neighborhoods who help make a better life for people. Ask children and families to suggest different people. With their permission, get or take a photograph of each one and write a few sentences about the person. When you read the book to the children, invite them to add other sentences.
This excerpt was adapted from Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards.
Here are a few additional books suggestions
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Henry Coles
recommended ages: 4-8
This book tells the true story of six-year-old Ruby Bridges who in 1960 must walk through an angry mob to attend first grade at an all-white school in New Orleans.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
recommended ages: 4-8
A retelling of how in 1955 in Montgomery Alabama, Ms. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, after the white section was filled.
By: Lauren Hogan and Lucy Recio
Happy New Year! This blog post was originally sent as a letter to NAEYC's Children's Champions in December. Sign up now to receive regular email updates and action alerts on important issues being issued by Congress and the Administration!
As 2016 comes to an end
We reach out to you, our members, our friends.
With deep gratitude for all that you do.
You're Children's Champions, through and through.
With our voices raised, and as a team,
We came together for #earlyedin16!
We wrote letters, comments and recommendations
For Congress, our partners and the Administration.
We have roadmaps for states to Build It Better;
Policy Forums to bring us together;
We fight for equity (it's an obsession)
And launched, in partnership, Power to the Profession.
There may be challenges in the path ahead
And opportunities, too, as we defend
Our children's future, our ethical code.
Let's walk together along this road.
So one last story, as we turn towards the new,
A champion's story of what we must do:
His program was challenged, and needed a stand.
But he wasn't ready; it wasn't his plan.
"An advocate?" he cried. "But I'm here to teach.
It's children and families that I want to reach.
Politics and such don't matter to me." (Sigh).
"I didn't want to be an advocate," he said. "But I had to be."*
And he's right.
Advocacy is how this system gets fixed.
Coming together, to meld and mix.
Our voices diverse, yet unified.
Standing together, side by side.
We do not know what our future holds.
We do know we must be brave and bold.
Buoyed by our values (and Strategic Direction)
We'll continue to stand as Children's Champions.
Let's sharpen our skills; let's reach out our hands
Let's build more advocates; let's take a stand.
Thank you for being part of our team.
We'll see you all in 2017!
*With thanks to Chad Dunkley, CEO of New Horizons Academy and a member of NAEYC's Governing Board. We took some poetic license with the story - but the final line of the stanza is his, and real.
Lauren Hogan is Senior Director, Public Policy & Advocacy at NAEYC
Lucy Recio is Senior Analyst, Public Policy & Advocacy at NAEYC