By: Susan Friedman
“We’re a nation of tinkerers, and dreamers, and believers in a better tomorrow.” - President Obama, White House Science Fair, 2012
Although it might sound small, tinkering couldn’t be more important. It is one of the ways children learn about the world. The STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) offer many opportunities for children to use their minds and hands to play, explore, and learn. Research shows that giving children exposure to quality, hands-on STEM learning opportunities is so important and familiarity with STEM concepts early on is a key predictor of children’s school success.
On April 21, NAEYC, along with many other educational organizations, researchers and thought leaders, helped kick off a White House Early Learning STEM initiative. The initiative seeks to promote the early learning STEM work of local organizations, advocacy groups, associations, philanthropies and businesses. The aim is to increase the research base about young children’s STEM learning, support educators, child care providers, and families in engaging in meaningful STEM learning, promote partnerships with museums and zoos, and increase equitable access and opportunity for all children.
Highlights of Conversations from the STEM Initiative Reception at NAEYC
As a start to the White House STEM Initiative NAEYC hosted a reception where many enthusiastic and dedicated educators shared how they support young children’s STEM learning and tinkering. Among those I spoke with were:
- Patrick Kuhl, of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, University of Washington who described insights into the importance of social interactions to early learning.
- Chip Donahue and Tamar Kaldor from the Erikson institute’s TEC Center who shared thoughts on developmentally appropriate coding for the youngest children (which doesn’t involve coding at all but rather hands-on games where children develop concepts like sequencing and recognizing patterns).
- Denise M. Lewis, the Washington DC Regional Director of FIRST Robotics who demonstrated materials from the Junior First Lego league where children age 6 through 8 design and build a challenge using LEGOS. (Full disclosure: we also talked about the upcoming High School level FIRST Championship 2016 where my son’s team The Body Electric will be competing.)
- And Patricia Kempthorn who shared BLOCKFest, a research-based initiative designed to equip children ages 8 mo.-8 yrs. (and their families) with STEM skills through block play.
NAEYC’s Continuing Commitment to Quality, Accessible STEM Content
NAEYC is dedicated to creating and sharing rich content to support teachers and families who engage children in STEM learning and as part of our involvement in the White House STEM Initiative. We invite STEM educators to submit content to NAEYC’s publishing outlets and we are committed to providing, in the coming year, at least five new pieces of free or low-cost STEM-related content to families and educators in order to foster equitable access to high-quality STEM learning in the homes, centers, schools and communities where young children birth through age 8 spend their time.
This content, which will appear in multiple forms and formats in order to be accessible to a wide and diverse range of families and educators, will be guided by NAEYC’s position statements on Developmentally Appropriate Practice and Technology and Young Children.
From a recent blog entry about a teacher’s science-based inquiry related to “scribbling machines;” to an article in Teaching Young Children that focuses on museum exploration; to resources for families about using “toys as tools” and “bathtime science,” NAEYC is committed to ensuring that resources that support STEM learning are fun, affordable and equitably accessible. We understand that STEM can be a daunting concept for some early childhood education professionals and parents alike, and we aim to ensure that, supported by our content and related professional development opportunities, STEM is elevated and integrated into the daily routines of families and educators – and becomes an integral part of our collective conception of what high-quality early childhood education really means.
For more resources on STEM education, see the new topic page full of resources from NAEYC and other groups.
Look for this and more upcoming STEM content from NAEYC:
Beyond the Bouncing Ball: Investigating Physics with Toddlers (Young Children, July 2016)
Setting up a Classroom MakerSpace (Teaching Young Children, August 2016)
Reflecting on Teaching Length and Measurement to Young Children (Teaching Young Children, August 2016)
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Content Strategy and Development at NAEYC.
Join us on a trip ten years into the future, to May 1, 2026…
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
Today, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the year that the tide began to turn for early childhood education — and early childhood educators. Over the last decade, in nearly 75% of states across the country, we have celebrated victories leading to increased levels of education and compensation for professionals and increased access to high-quality early childhood education for children and families.
With national support at an all-time high, and major investments at federal, state and local levels resulting in narrowed opportunity gaps, increased school readiness and an increased focus on children’s social-emotional development, let’s look back at how we got here.
We knew, ten years ago, that we stood on the cusp of a critical moment in early childhood education. Transforming the Workforce, as it is now universally known, had been released just a year earlier, building on the science of early learning to lay the groundwork for the organizational, grassroots, legislative and electoral changes that followed. Although the brain development and economic research had long been part of the bedrock upon which we had built the field of early learning, the rapid scientific breakthroughs of the last decade have only continued to increase the momentum and clear need for investment in the earliest years. And while the American public at the time certainly valued early childhood education and educators, we have made enormous strides in translating that value into votes.
Where NAEYC’s annual poll once showed that 82% of American voters supported increasing funding that was dedicated to increasing wages, our most recent research found that over 95% of voters, across all demographic, geographic and party lines, now say they will only cast their vote for a candidate with a demonstrated record and commitment to investing in the quality and compensation of the early childhood profession.
This support was built painstakingly, as our once fractured field came together to provide a clear definition of our early childhood profession, with universally agreed-upon and accepted knowledge and competencies that cross settings and states. Without this process and resulting products, we would have collectively been challenged to work with state governments, legislatures and institutions of higher education in ways that allowed us to attract and retain the diverse, high-quality educators who increasingly make up our profession today.
As I travel this country, visiting the homes and classrooms where our children are learning and growing, where their home languages and cultures are being recognized and honored, I thank the many leaders who brought us to the point where the promise of early learning is being realized. I thank the educators who fought for their professional recognition and the American families and voters who stood alongside them. I thank the supporters of all generations who made Early Ed for President into the force it is today. And I thank the courageous policymakers who chose to listen to the science and make the investments that will continue to shape our country’s future for decades to come. We have work left to do to advance the early childhood profession, but we can take pride in the knowledge that our country has finally begun to recognize and reward our worth.
*This is a vision for our future - but not an imaginary one, not unattainable, not outside of our collective reach. We need to ask ourselves: what will it take now for us to be able write this piece, for real, in ten years? What will each of our parts be, and how will we be successful, together?
This blog was originally published in Schoolhouse Voices and is posted with their permission.
Rhian Evans Allvin is Executive Director at NAEYC.
This blog post introduces the cluster (themed group of articles) for the May issue of NAEYC's journal, Young Children.
I still remember the day one of my preschoolers brought in a bird’s nest he found on his way to school. I was a beginning teacher then, and this particular boy was often tearful in the mornings—his dad was away for an extended time and goodbyes with his mom were tough. But that morning he was excited to show the class his find. We put the nest on a shelf for everyone to see and visited our school library to find fiction and nonfiction books about birds’ nests. I read the books to the class that day and then placed them on the shelf for children to look through as they observed the nest.
The next morning his mom arrived, holding her tearful son’s hand. She described to me how he had cried as he told her we hadn’t done much with the bird’s nest in class. I was confused. We’d gone to the library and found books. I’d read them to the children and placed them near the nest to explore on their own.
Years later this example still reminds me of how much I still had to learn about paying attention to children’s social and emotional needs. Sure, we’d found information on birds’ nests, but this particular boy missed his dad, and at the time I didn’t make the connection that his tears may not have been about the nest. It hadn’t occurred to me to find books featuring characters with close family members who were far away, or books that could help him through tough times.
Reading the articles in this cluster as a new teacher might have helped me see the many ways children’s books can support teaching and learning. Teachers can select books that help children feel respected and included. They can look for characters and scenarios children can identify with as they work through their own tough times. And books can also support learning in specific content areas.
In “Promoting Resilience Through Read-Alouds,” Jan Lacina, Michelle Bauml, and Elizabeth R. Taylor describe how teachers can use children’s literature to help children build resilience when they face tough times: “As teachers support students to read and reflect on characters who face strife and hardship yet find positive ways to make it through difficult situations, they are helping prepare them for life.”
In their article, “Reading Your Way to a Culturally Responsive Classroom,” Shannon B. Wanless and Patricia A. Crawford share how teachers can address race through children’s literature so that young children develop positive racial identity, build relationships across races, and recognize race-related injustices: “We see these discussions about race in relation to children’s books as part of a larger effort to revise conceptualization of high-quality early childhood education to include teaching practices that intentionally address race.”
Linda Forbringer, Andrea Hettinger, and Emma Reichert, in “Using the Picture Book Extra Yarn to Differentiate Common Core Math Instruction,” describe three teachers who used the children’s book as a starting point for meaningful hands-on mathematics instruction. In the words of one teacher: “My students could not believe we were able to read a book and do an art project during math time. They frequently ask if we can ‘read Yarn again.’ It is very exciting to know they loved it as much as I did.”
In “Getting Smarter About E-Books for Children,” Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine highlight research on e-books and children’s learning. They explore questions like, “How do adult–child interactions around educational e-books compare to the interactions around the same book in print?” and “What exactly does good educational design look like?”
In “Reflecting on Books That Include Characters With Disabilities,” Charis L. Price, Michaelene M. Ostrosky, and Rosa Milagros Santos share guidelines for evaluating books that represent children with disabilities in thoughtful ways: “Books are powerful vehicles for supporting the identity of children with disabilities, and promoting acceptance and understanding of differences.”
I hope teachers find these articles useful as they consider the many ways they can incorporate children’s literature into their classrooms.
How do children’s books support your teaching?
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Content Strategy and Development at NAEYC.
- Standing Together Against Suspension and Expulsion in Early Childhood: A Joint Statement
Standing Together Against Suspension and Expulsion in Early Childhood: Resources
Lauren Hogan is Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at NAEYC.
By: Donna Kirkwood, Ph.D
As their children’s first teachers, parents have an amazing opportunity to nurture their children’s growth and development and to advocate for their education. And many parents want to be involved in their children’s education. I realized early in my teaching career, however, that families often face obstacles to engaging in the school experience.
During my first year working in a preschool setting, I was dismayed to see how many parents left their parent-teacher conferences upset or even crying. In my own conference with parents, one mother of a delightful, very verbal child was understandably disappointed when I explained that her daughter’s academic and social-emotional skills were not as far along as her verbal skills. She had assumed that because of her daughter’s verbal abilities, she was on track or ahead in other prekindergarten skills. The mother was unsure of what was expected at this age and had missed some opportunities at home to help her daughter develop academically. And I had missed opportunities to help her acquire the tools to do so.
As I moved through my career, I found that many parents were perplexed as they navigated the educational system with their young children. Many had little understanding of child development or developmentally appropriate practices. They wanted to help their child, but they didn't know how. They often arrived at their first parent-teacher conference to find themselves bombarded with unfamiliar educational concepts and terms like phonological awareness and numeracy.
Families with limited resources may experience even greater isolation from their children’s educational community. Many have had negative school experiences themselves, which may make them apprehensive about coming to the school or interacting with teachers. Some may hesitate to speak to educators because of a lack of confidence, out of respect for the teacher’s authority, or because they have been discouraged in such interactions in the past. When meeting with their child’s teacher, they may not know what to expect and may have little prior information about their child’s progress. It can be intimidating for parents, even when teachers have the best of intentions. This may push parents further away from their child's educational setting and discourage their participation in her academic growth and development.
When parents do not feel comfortable in the school setting, they are less likely to support and participate in school events or speak to their child’s teacher or principal about their concerns or goals for their child. Everyone misses out on valuable opportunities to strengthen the home-school connection and support children.
During my career as a preschool teacher and director, I was fully aware of the importance of engaging parents in the program. But for a long time I avoided addressing it, because I hadn't figured out how to do it. I realized that inviting parents into the classroom more was key to meaningfully involving them in their child's education, but that seemed like a difficult process. Working closely with parents was an integral part of teaching preschoolers, but it required a different skill set along with a significant commitment of time.
Twenty years into my career in early childhood education, and still struggling to understand how best to help parents advocate for and support their children’s learning, I encountered HIPPY USA. I fell in love with its approach and joined the staff. HIPPY, or Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, empowers parents as their child's first and most important teacher. Home visitors provide support, education, and mentoring to parents who may lack resources and education or experience isolation.
Through their experiences in our programs, parents gain skills in supporting their child’s learning, learn what to expect from their child’s school, and become comfortable working with teachers.
Twenty years of research have shown that the this model helps to increase parent involvement and improve children’s readiness for school, classroom behavior and attendance, test scores, and academic performance.
In addition, parents who have participated report spending more time with their children and in their children’s school. They provide an environment for literacy in their homes and cut back on their children’s screen time. Parents also report being motivated to help with their children’s homework thanks to their participation in the program. Teachers report better participation from parents who have been in HIPPY than those from who have not.
I’ve learned that many parents want to be involved in their child’s education but may lack the confidence and knowledge to do so effectively. To help them become meaningfully engaged in their child’s education and school experience, we have to help them develop the tools to do so. Programs like HIPPY help parents learn what to expect and how they can contribute to their child’s learning. With guidance and support, parents can confidently take on their role as their child’s first teacher and biggest advocate and become partners with teachers. It’s a powerful connection that can make all the difference for children, parents, and educators.
Cuenca, K. (June, 2003). Findings from the Florida HIPPY Parent Survey. University of South Florida. Department of Child and Family Studies.
Black, M.M. (2010). HIPPY Americorps Evaluation: Parental involvement in literacy activities and volunteer activities in the community in California, Florida and Hawaii. University of South Florida, Department of Child and Family Studies.
Donna Kirkwood has been a nanny, a teacher’s aide, a teacher, a program coordinator, a director of an NAEYC accredited program, a college professor and a NCATE and ECADA program reviewer. She is currently the National Program Director for HIPPY USA.
During a recent trip to spend time with early childhood professionals in China, I worked to master the skill of eating with chopsticks, and I was amazed by how much I had to learn. While I was no stranger to chopsticks—in fact I’m quite proud of my ability to use them when eating sweet and sour chicken in DC—it struck me how, in China, my use of chopsticks took place in an environment in which I worked to finesse this skill at an entirely new level. I learned to grasp the food more precisely as it circled by on the customary rotating round table that supports communal sharing of a meal. This was not just about my practicing the skill, but also about the influence of the place and the culture in which I was immersed—an illustration of the importance of context in learning. Joining my hosts in traditional Chinese meals and enveloped by the sounds of Mandarin, I became assimilated to my environment and worked to meet the expectations of the group. A process not so different from that of young children’s development.
High-quality early learning experiences provide children with opportunities to develop both physically and socially through authentic learning situations, including play. The settings in which children practice new skills work best when the environment reflects the individual child, family, and community. These core considerations, combined with what we know to be true about human development, are what we call developmentally appropriate practice.1 The myriad examples of how these considerations are implemented in early childhood classrooms demonstrate their power to joyfully engage young children in mastering new skills. Whether it be pairs of children engrossed in a game of Shagai (a traditional game using ankle bones) in Central Asia or a group of girls and boys role-playing the process of cooking and serving Arabic coffee in Saudi Arabia, context provides a vital foundation.
During my career, I have had the privilege to observe early childhood professionals in action in more than 30 countries, due most recently to my role directing global initiatives for NAEYC. Grounded in Vygotsky’s theory of social-cultural development—which posits that social interaction and community create meaning in the acquisition of knowledge—I understand the deep effect culture has on learning, and I value individual approaches to learning.2 However, individualized learning requires variances that at first glance might seem contradictory to Western expectations for children’s learning and development. The tension between my culturally based knowledge and expectations about child development and the realities of child rearing and teaching in other cultures are at the crux of what I love about learning. For me, a great example of this is what I learned in Central Asia about the ability of toddlers to successfully use the toilet. Coming from a culture where “potty training” is a significant topic of conversation and much time is devoted to this learning process, I could not fathom the ease with which young children monitor their body’s cues themselves, without a big production being made. And yet, born out of the necessities of a low-resource context, children’s mastery of this skill took place in a developmentally appropriate manner. Such examples remind us of how careful we must be to not create absolutes in judgement.
Sometimes the congruent differences—those things that are different but also the same—between cultures are simple to identify. For example, daily processes such as eating with chopsticks or forks are remarkably alike yet different. The tools vary yet the results are the same. Often, however, these kinds of differences are more subtle. For example, cultures vary in their expectation that preschoolers play outside regardless of weather. In the Baltic States young children joyfully engage in outdoor learning in twilight and freezing temperatures, surrounded by snow—something many in the US might find extreme. While there is a desire for an early learning blueprint that will guarantee certain outcomes across cultures, we can only provide a framework for quality and guidance to support practical application. True high-quality and engaged learning happens when developmentally appropriate learning activities aimed at teaching core skills—fine motor skills, for instance—are implemented through activities (eating with forks or with chopsticks) that make sense within each unique cultural context.
To recognize and value the unique experiences each child brings to the learning community and identify how each experience represents developmental achievement is an art. An art that demands deeply knowledgeable professionals to facilitate the continuing acquisition of higher-order skills while maintaining the nuances of each child’s individual reality. NAEYC’s own definition of developmentally appropriate practice has evolved since first published in 1986. As the world increasingly becomes smaller and opportunities for shared learning grow, I look forward to observing the impact of citizenship in a global community on practice as we adopt new ways to support optimal development for young children.
1Copple, Carol, and Sue Bredekamp. Developmentally appropriate practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children (2009).
2Berk, Laura E., and Adam Winsler.1995. Scaffolding Children's Learning: Vygotsky and Early Childhood Education. NAEYC Research Into Practice series, vol. 7. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1509 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036-1426 (NAEYC catalog #146).
Stephanie Olmore is Senior Director, Global Engagement at NAEYC.
Adapted from an online Author Q&A with Heather Biggar Tomlinson, contributing author of Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Focus on Preschoolers.
Q: What are some general guidelines we can follow as we think about DAP?
A: There’s not one answer to the question - is something developmentally appropriate or not. It depends on the child’s personality, abilities, culture, and family, as well as the purpose of activities and the context of the class. Keeping in mind the five guidelines for effective teaching the following could be the starting point for a teacher checklist, to be adapted for specific programs and children:
1. Did I know everything I needed to know about each child today? Did I notice each child’s mood, apparent health, and general sense of well-being and engagement?
2. Have I checked in with each child’s family lately, either through drop-off conversations, written notes, or emails, to provide updates and receive updates? Are there any cultural issues I should address with a particular family, such asking about upcoming holidays or activities?
3. Did I feel like I had a good relationship with each child today? Did I show warmth and appreciation for each child’s presence and efforts today? Did I acknowledge their comments and behaviors in positive ways?
4. Is there any child I need to have special time with or help in any unique way tomorrow, based on my observations, other teachers’ observations, child comments, or parent updates?
5. Do I know the objectives for children’s learning for today/this week/this unit?
___ For physical development (fine motor and gross motor)
___ For social and emotional development
___ For approaches to learning, including enthusiasm, attention, persistence, and flexibility
___ For advances in knowledge content and mastery of concepts
6. Do the objectives for today/this week build on what we did previously? Do I need to make any connections for the children?
7. Does the classroom environment match the objectives? Does it look cheerful, tidy, and interesting for the children? Do I need to change any of the materials, centers, or wall displays to keep things fresh?
8. Have I been using a wide range of teaching strategies this week, including:
___ modeling problem solving
___ sharing my thought processes out loud
___ encouraging children and acknowledging good work
___ providing new information such as facts and new vocabulary
___ demonstrating correct ways to do something and giving direct instruction
___ giving specific feedback on areas for improvement
___ giving assistance and asking questions to advance each child’s level
___ adjusting the level of challenge (simplifying or adding complexity) to meet each child’s level
9. Have I been using various learning formats, including:
___ large groups (whole class together)
___ small groups
___ play/learning centers and outdoor time when the child can do what he/she wants
___ daily routines (taking advantage of arrivals and departures, snack times, transitions)
10. Have I thoughtfully considered based on children's level of engagement whether to move on or allow more time on this unit/theme/skill? Am I sure the amount of time allotted is sufficient for every child?
11. Have I taken stock of each child’s progress and mastery related to the objectives?
12. Have I made records of each child’s progress through notes from observations, interviews, and conversation; photos; and/or portfolios?
13. Have I observed the child in different contexts and settings?
14. Have I asked the family for information in relevant areas?
15. Have I checked in with other teachers/aides about each child’s well-being and success toward their goals?
16. Have I considered whether language and/or home culture is influencing children’s performance in each area? Do I need to reassess any child in any area or get help from someone else to accurately understand any child’s performance and well-being?
17. Do I need to adjust the teaching plans based on what I know from the assessments?
18. Is there any aspect of my schedule, environment, plans, materials, or interactions with children, parents, or colleagues that I feel stuck on or unsure about? Is there any child I’m worried about for any reason? Have I asked for help yet (from supervisors, colleagues, family members, specialists, or online communities)?
19. Do I feel like I made a positive difference in someone’s life today? Did I smile, laugh, and enjoy the day?
20. If not, what one step can I take to make things better tomorrow?
What would you add to this list?
From left, Dr. Cindy Ryan, Dr. Thelma Harms, Linda Craven, at the 2015 National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development.
By: Cindy Ryan, PhD and Linda Craven, MEd
You've heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That meal became especially significant when we had the opportunity to share it with someone we had admired for many years. While attending the 2015 National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, the legendary Thelma Harms quietly asked if she could join us for breakfast.
We were eating breakfast at a small table overlooking the Mississippi River at the New Orleans Hilton when Ms. Harms approached looking for a place to sit. We had an opportunity to introduce ourselves to her the day before in the hotel lobby, taking just a few minutes to thank her for all her work in the early childhood profession. So, when Thelma Harms walked towards our breakfast table, we happily made space for her to join us.
As teacher educators, we are aware of the disconnect that often occurs between our students (preservice teachers) and our mentors. The students are, understandably, wrapped up with coursework, standards, and assessments; they focus less on the history of early education. If we didn’t remind our students of the pioneers who came before us, and their early struggles and works, the field might falsely appear as if it didn’t have roots. Thelma Harms is one of the leaders who gave the early childhood field its roots.
By sharing amusing anecdotes at that impromptu meeting , Thelma took us on a journey from UC Berkeley to UNC Chapel Hill. We traveled through her early days of advocacy for children and families, quality environments, and equal opportunities, to the breakfast table in New Orleans where she shared her wisdom and expertise with us. Her stories spoke to a time when women needed to prove themselves in higher education; when a woman with wild California hair moved across the country to North Carolina, where she was greeted by helpful southern ladies who immediately recommended a hair stylist to help her craft a more appropriate look. Thankfully for the field, instead of focusing on her hairstyle Thelma focused on her work in early childhood as she coauthored the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales (ECERS) (Harms, Clifford, & Cryer 2005) and numerous other publications. She humbly explained that though her name may be listed as first author on the ECERS, she really just had an idea and wrote “this little article.” The rest is history.
As we sat captivated by Thelma, we were reminded that those of us in the early childhood field stand on the shoulders of giants, and we must not forget those who came before us. From her recollections of being at Berkeley during the protests in the early 1970s to her move to UNC, Thelma took us through the history of early childhood education, the struggles for equity and inclusion, and the continued need to push the field forward.
Thelma graciously shared her time and spirit with us that early morning. As she prepared for her 90th birthday in July, her excitement for the new ECERS-3 showed how this profession continues to be very important to her. She was delighted to hear the positive feedback we shared about the ECERS-3 and how it would continue to improve quality in the ECE profession.
On the plane ride home we recommitted ourselves to making sure that not only the names, but the ideals and philosophies of these early pioneers in the field are embedded throughout our coursework. As we cultivate early childhood preservice teachers, we now make sure to honor the roots of those who came before us by intentionally creating assignments where students critically engage and reflect upon our history, its impact on our profession, and define themselves as future leaders.
We sat in awe that morning in New Orleans, and we still continue to say to each other and to anyone else who will listen, “We had breakfast with Thelma Harms, and we have the pictures to prove it.”
Spontaneous networking opportunities like these happen all the time at NAEYC's Institute.
Join us this year, June 5-8 in Baltimore, MD for your chance to connect with early childhood thought leaders and hundreds of your peers--maybe even over breakfast!
Harms, T., R.M. Clifford, & D. Cryer. (2005). Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale: Revised Edition. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Cindy Ryan, PhD, is early childhood program coordinator and an assistant professor at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon. She has over 20 years of experience as an early childhood and early childhood special educator in inclusive settings and has taught at the university level for the past five years.
Linda Craven, MEd, is an early childhood instructor at Western Oregon University. Linda has been involved in the early childhood field for over 35 years, teaching at both the community college and university levels.
By: Cate Heroman and Paige Zittrauer
Paige Zittrauer challenged her kindergarten students and their high school art student project partners: Make a contraption that moves on its own across a piece of paper and leaves a mark in its path.
Intrigued by the challenge, the kindergartners looked at a few examples of how “scribbling machines” move and then watched several other videos. The high school students were given an excerpt from an online project guide about scribbling machines.
The kindergarten children and their high school project partners followed an engineering design process to create their scribbling machines: plan; build/create; try it out; improve; and then share.
STEP ONE: PLAN
The kindergarten-high school partners imagined what their scribbling machine might look like. They made a plan and sketched their ideas. Paige invited them to bring something from home or use materials from the classroom as a base.
STEP TWO: BUILD OR CREATE
Teams were given a 1.5 volt hobby motor, a glue stick, and a AA battery. Together, they selected art materials and loose parts. With plans in hand, they created their scribbling machines. Most placed a piece of a glue stick on the tip of the motor like they had seen in the videos. Others tried something different, such as a small section of Mardi Gras beads attached to the motor's tip.
STEP THREE: TRY IT
Would it it work? The kindergartners and high school students were not given step-by-step directions. They were given enough information to get started and were encouraged to tinker. They connected the battery to the motor and watched what happened. Most of the scribbling machines turned on, but they did not move across the paper. What was wrong?
The kindergartners and their high school student partners speculated about why the machines didn’t move:
- My battery was dead.
- Our scribbling machine was too heavy.
- Our motor didn’t work.
STEP FOUR: IMPROVE OR MAKE BETTER
The next time the groups met, they compared the machines that moved across the paper with ones that didn’t. A battery tester was available for those who believed the battery was the problem. Teams noticed that the machines which moved had glue sticks in different positions from those which didn’t move. The teams soon realized was that the motor needed to be off-balance for the machine to move across the paper. They adjusted the glue sticks on the ends of the motors so they weren’t centered. Success! The teams were delighted and many tried to improve or make their machines better. Some added two motors and extra batteries to find out if they could make their machine move faster. A few children made adjustments and tried to race their scribbling machines against other machines.
STEP FIVE: SHARE
All of the scribbling machines were on display at the Baton Rouge Mini Maker Faire at a public library. Over 2,000 people--children and families--participated.Children could select one of the scribbling machines and test it out on a large piece of paper on the floor. Children of all ages squealed with delight as they worked with the machines.
Some teachers might think they don’t have time for STEAM experiences like this one given the strong emphasis on literacy in kindergarten. Not only did children learn science, technology, engineering and math concepts, and vocabulary (e.g., rotate, off-balance, circuit), but Paige integrated literacy throughout the project. The children participated in shared writing during planning, and functional writing as they made lists of materials and wrote directions. After the activity, they wrote thank-you notes to their high school buddies and responded to writing prompts such as:
- Tell one thing new that you learned from building your scribbling machine.
- Tell how you can build your scribbling machine better the next time you build one.
This activity is a wonderful example of how children construct their own understanding of ideas and phenomena as they tinker and build things with their hands. It also demonstrates how teachers can create engaging, developmentally appropriate activities while meeting rigorous learning standards.
Interested in doing this in your classroom? The scribbling machines activity was inspired by this resource from the Exploratorium, an online science and art lab.
What Children Learned
The following is a comprehensive list of the different areas of learning this activity touched on:
- Works cooperatively with others
- Takes turns
- Follows limits and expectations
- Solves social problems
Develops fine motor skills
- hand–eye coordination
- Solves problems
- Thinks logically and reasons
Develops positive approaches to learning
- attention and engagement
- flexible thinking
- curiosity and motivation
- Listens and follows directions
- Expresses self
- Asks questions
- Engages in conversations
- Uses and expands content-based vocabulary
- Interacts during integrated, content-focused read-alouds
- Participates in shared writing experiences
- Uses functional writing
- Writes to convey meaning and communicate
- Explores geometric shapes and ideas
- Explores spatial relationships
Science, Engineering, and Technology
- Observes, asks questions, and investigates
- Follows engineering design process
Engages in physical science discoveries
- how things move
- beginning circuitry (batteries, motors)
- Uses tools and technology to perform tasks
- Expresses self creatively
- Creates 3-D structures
- Uses a variety of art tools and materials
Interested in how this activity integrates with standards for NAEYC Accreditation of Programs for Young Children? Learn more in this short essay on connecting authentic learning to standards.
Cate Heroman is an author, early childhood consultant, and volunteer education chair at Knock Knock Children’s Museum, a museum designed for children birth to age 8.
Paige Zittrauer teaches kindergarten at the University Laboratory School on Louisiana State University’s campus in Baton Rouge. She also volunteers for Knock Knock Children’s Museum.
By: Alberto Barrantes
I learned the importance of doing more than just watching and describing realities while reporting on early childhood education in my home country for La Nación. In Costa Rica, 60 percent of infants through 6-year-olds live in poor or vulnerable households (Ross, 2013). In 2014, we at La Nación found that at least 22,500 children between 5 and 6 years old were out of school, accounting for 16 percent of all children who miss preschool (Barrantes, 2015). The latest report from the State of the Nation Program (2005) notes that most of the children who do not attend preschool live in rural areas and in the slums of the metropolitan areas. The report also notes that fewer than 40 percent of children from the nation’s poorest families attend preschool. For me, reporting about early childhood education in Costa Rica became about generating progressive strategies between public and private institutions to expand access to high-quality education for all children.
Research shows that children from low-income homes can have better outcomes in life if they receive high-quality preschool experiences. Early learning is critical for developing cognitive language skills and for interpersonal and socio-emotional development. That knowledge and our country’s need led me to start LUDO project, a multimedia project that publishes children’s stories through tablets and cellphones to motivate reading skills during early childhood. If children love using technology to watch videos and play games, I don’t believe we should fight it; instead, we must offer them high-quality technological materials that make learning enjoyable. Realizing that Costa Rica was unable to produce such materials for all children, we saw the opportunity to create these tools and expand their access to our most vulnerable populations.
Technology, when used well, can motivate children’s curiosity, sense of exploration, and interest in solving problems. In addition—as affirmed in the NAEYC position statement “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8” (2012)—technology can empower children by enabling them to design and manage dynamic concepts that in the past were out of reach, promote changes in their learning strategies, and allow for new ways of social interaction. And while we should discourage passive and non-interactive uses, we should also maximize this opportunity to develop new teaching strategies. Reading, for example, can be taught through games, rhymes, and songs—through fun—and digital storytelling is just another avenue of delivery.
Our purpose with LUDO is to expand and support the use of technological materials in schools, especially where children have fewer opportunities at home. Once children have their first contact with books, the transition to school will be less difficult. But the worst mistake is when the child is bored in the classroom; books and stories must be funny. Games and songs—with letters, syllables, and the building blocks of literacy—can facilitate the development of strong communication and literacy skills.
This kind of technology must go to the homes and schools of the poorest families, and it is necessary to involve parents. If we want to get successful outcomes from early childhood education, we must help parents to become active agents in their children’s development. Responsive interactions between adults and children are essential to early brain development and to cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and linguistic development, and technology can be included those interactions. The great challenge we have is to involve children, teachers, parents, the media, universities, and investigators. We must clearly communicate our goals and involve parents and government authorities in a process that’s main purpose is to create better opportunities for all.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” As global perspectives tell us, the field of early childhood education has seen tremendous changes in recent years, but we have to keep going to make our goals possible. Reality can be changed only when we move from paper to actions, and focus on developing better strategies for expanding access to high-quality early learning. It is only through this development that we will be able to reduce poverty and increase opportunities for all children, resulting in a more developed country and a more developed world.
Barrantes, Alberto C. “22.500 Niños Llegan Con Rezago a La Escuela Por Falta De Preescolar.” La Nación, January 19, 2015.
National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning, and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. 2012. “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8.” Position statement. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Programa Estado de la Nación. 2005. “Panorama General De La Infancia En Costa Rica: Segregación Residencial Socioeconómica En La Gran Área Metropolitana. San José, Costa Rica: Programa Estado De La Nación.” Serie Aportes al Análisis Del Desarrollo Humano Sostenible, Vol. 10.
Ross, Amy A. “60% De Niños Menores De 6 Años Viven En Hogares Pobres O Vulnerables.” La Nación,September 20, 2013.
[UPDATE: Since submission of this blog post, the Ministry of Culture of Costa Rica has approved funding for LUDO to develop the project and conduct field research with 32 rural and urban schools.]
Alberto Barrantes is the project manager and editor of Ludolibros, a new Costa Rican publishing organization focused on the design and development of digital content to promote reading skills in early childhood, using apps and technology. He worked as journalist for La Nación newspaper during the past four years, reporting on issues related to education, citizen complaints, urban development, minorities, community organizations, and local governments.