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
By: Naimah Wade, with contributions from G. and L. Davis, Y.N. Curry, K. O’Donovan, V. Tawile, and R. Fakhoury
Teachers can foster diverse skills and abilities in early childhood classrooms by including creative experiences that intrigue children, encourage problem solving, evoke curiosity, inspire initiative, and challenge children’s thinking. But those these skills and abilities cannot be developed without excellent educators. When we visited the program where we eventually enrolled our daughter, it was a conversation with Ms. Charlotte Brown that really sealed the decision to place our daughter in the program. Every day for the next three years, we dropped our daughter off, knowing that she was in a great classroom with a teacher who cared holistically about her well-being, including emotional, social, cognitive, and physical aspects. Our expectations were exceeded as Ms. Brown led our daughter's preschool class through a phenomenal and creative learning experience about outer space.
The children’s learning experience included in-class telescope observations, a field excursion to a planetarium, child-made planets and stars, and special guest speakers. The exploration culminated in the children's creation of a space museum in the classroom displaying the artifacts the children made, along with insights they gained during the project. The children took so much pride in learning about the planets and the stars and in building and painting a rocket ship that could seat four children. They even wore astronaut costumes while giving their families tours of their museum.” To add to the in-depth exploration, this learning experience was conducted around the same time that Ms. Brown was preparing for an NAEYC reaccreditation visit. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have had this love of curiosity and exploration imprinted on our daughter.
Another parent spoke about Ms. Brown’s enthusiasm for incorporating her students’ interests into her teaching:
In the transition [from preschool] to kindergarten, I have come to appreciate just how special a teacher Ms. Brown is. The rocket ship exploration that began with the children’s interest is one excellent example of Ms. Brown’s enthusiasm for teaching and her commitment to fostering learning in her students. The class went from a cardboard box that they imagined to be a rocket ship to learning the names of the planets, to looking at the images of Scott Kelly’s year in space, to taking a trip to the planetarium, and finally, to creating a classroom space museum complete with a constellation of stars and all of the planets. This example of exploration goes a long way toward showing Ms. Brown’s enthusiasm for her students’ interests. Furthermore, Ms. Brown’s engagement with the children's families turned a small classroom activity into a weeks-long exploration that inspired increased engagement and volunteer opportunities for parents. —K. O’Donovan
Other families shared their perspectives on Ms. Brown’s innovative approach to creative learning:
Ms. Brown was able to capture the attention of preschoolers for months while investigating outer space. Initially, my 5-year-old was focused solely on building the rocket ship and wasn’t as interested in other parts of the exploration. Thanks to Ms. Brown, that did not last long. He became very excited about making the planets, stars, and space suits. Although he wasn’t accustomed to collaborating with other students, the exploration taught him self-discipline and how to interact with others to accomplish goals together. While nurturing creativity, Ms. Brown helped strengthen each child’s curiosity, social and emotional development, and learning. —V. Tawile and R. Fakhoury
There is no questioning Ms. Brown’s dedication to early childhood education—not only to the program, but to the individual families as well. I was amazed by how she modified the whole focus of the learning experience to cater to the children’s interest in space and science! It was a true learning and teachable moment that lasted several weeks—the children were so interested and intrigued, they forgot that they were learning! —Y.N. Curry
Our son has hearing loss and wears a hearing aid. We wanted a teacher who would comply with his needs and be patient as he adapted to a new environment. From our first visit, Ms. Brown showed such initiative and compassion. The amount of time she put in with her students was well appreciated, and the rocket ship investigation went far beyond what you’d expect, allowing each child to excel and enjoy the experience. —G. and L. Davis
Charlotte Brown is a remarkable preschool teacher at the Wayne State University, Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute Early Childcare Center (MPSI-ECC), an NAEYC-Accredited early learning program. She is a truly dedicated teacher whose commitment to excellence should be admired, because it models the behavior and embodies the standards of high-quality, authentic teaching that NAEYC ascribes to. This kind of environment is only possible when there are resources and support from the top, so we also extend gratitude to Ms. Karagatsoulis, the center director, for the support given to teachers to innovate and explore.
Charlotte Brown’s achievements have been recognized in NAEYC’s Member Spotlight feature, and she will be highlighted in the March 2017 issue of Young Children. Read more.
The Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute Early Childcare Center at Wayne State University has been an NAEYC-Accredited program for over 10 years. NAEYC Accreditation of Early Learning Programs uses a set of 10 research-based standards to collaborate with programs to recognize great work already under way and to work together to understand and address areas for improvement. This process actively transforms the culture of an early education program into a strong, positive place where families are proud to bring their children and where teachers and staff are committed to and excited about providing young children the best early care and education possible.
Related Resources: Want to explore best practices for fostering creative learning? Check out NAEYC’s newest resource, Nurturing Creativity: An Essential Mindset for Young Children’s Learning.
Naimah Wade is the Program Manager, Harris Literacy Program at Wayne State University.
During the election season, and in the aftermath, we’ve heard from many teachers concerned about the intensity and tone of the rhetoric and conversations taking place in the media, in their communities, and in their programs. Teachers are looking for resources to guide them as they support the children and families with whom they work. In particular, early childhood educators are asking about anti-bias approaches, strategies to counter bullying, and ways to guide children’s behavior, to build positive classroom communities, and to support the range of diverse children and families in their programs.
With this in mind, we recently culled excerpts and articles from NAEYC’s publications and online content and are sharing them with you to support you in your teaching and interactions.
- Anti-Bias Education: Now online you can read the first chapter of the book Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves and find self-reflection exercises for teachers as well as additional Young Children and Voices of Practitioners articles on the topic.
- Guiding Challenging Behavior/Anti Bullying: Read about positive guidance, building classroom community, and addressing challenging behavior; learn how powerful interactions with children can make a big difference.
- The NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct: Our online resources include this NAEYC position statement and the Young Children column Focus on Ethics, in which the authors of the Code help educators use it to think through difficult situations.
- Supporting and Engaging Diverse Families: We share lessons learned from NAEYC’s Engaging Diverse Families project, as well as a selection of content from Young Children, Teaching Young Children, and families.naeyc.org, about supporting and involving families in your program.
Finally, as I was reviewing NAEYC’s resources on these topics, I came across Carol Brunson Day’s moving column “Tribute to the Power of a Teacher—The Ruby Bridges Story”, which looks back to 1960 to show the difference one teacher makes. As an early childhood educator, you too make an enormous difference in children’s lives. We hope you find these resources useful in your work with young children and their families. Please use and share them with other educators grappling with these issues.
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Content Strategy and Development at NAEYC.
By: Karen Nemeth
Early childhood educators have the power to start early and start strong by helping all children learn to respect themselves and others. When children and teachers speak different languages, they need special strategies to build that life-changing sense of community.
1. Pronounce each child’s name as closely as possible. Model for your dual language learners (DLLs) and for all children that each child deserves the respect of hearing this important marker of their identity. We don’t want to create a divide between children whose names belong and those whose names are ‘foreign’. Learn more about this national movement.
2. Learn to say some things in every child’s language…. not just the easy ones. Research shows that when a teacher speaks a child’s home language some part of every day in preschool, the behaviors of the children with each other are improved. This is a way of demonstrating for all of the children that there are no second class citizens in preschool. Ask your local librarian for help. Read about the research.
3. Celebrate each child’s authentic culture. Get to know each child and family and include representations of what’s important to them in your classroom environment and activities. This goes beyond ordering ‘multicultural’ materials from catalogs. Get personal, involve families and let the environment help all of the children and families really understand and appreciate each other.
4. Teach children strategies for respectful communication with peers across languages. Mutual respect grows from good communication. Download this resource from Language Castle describing research-based strategies to help multilingual children interact effectively with peers.
5. Give every child a chance to be a helper. You may have seen the story from Fred Rogers about his mother teaching him to look for the helpers during frightening times. I also think it is important to encourage children to look for the helper within themselves. Every time a child helps or is helped, both sides develop positive feelings that build positive relationships across all languages and cultures. Helping can be part of the curriculum in a multilingual class.
It is an extraordinary gift to be an early childhood educator and have the power to shape the future. Thank you!
Karen Nemeth is an early childhood author, member NAEYC’s Affiliate Advisory Council, and Language Castle website host, supporting better early childhood education for dual language learners. Read the original post on her website.
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
A recent Atlantic article questions the linguistic shift by parents from the term daycare to school. Examples of toilet training and too much academic rigor are used to suggest a large gap in philosophy for the role of child care. The actual gap is between the science of early learning and America’s policy agenda. Daycare demeans, and school sets the wrong expectations for toddlers.
Historically, child care has been tasked with supporting working parents, with the focus on keeping kids safe rather than promoting their development and learning. Yet most families want and need both. And neuroscience has confirmed what social scientists have long suspected—the first five years of life are the critical time for rapid brain development. During this period, children build the foundation for lifelong learning—and learning works best when mediated by relationships with caring, knowledgeable adults. A baby first babbles, then puts sounds together, discovers words, and strings words together. Her vocabulary is a function of the language she hears around her. Fine motor skills development (think, holding a pencil in first grade) is evident in pinching a slice of peach and putting it in her mouth. Games like Simon Says and Red Light/Green Light help teach impulse control, logical reasoning, and critical thinking. These are the very skills 21st century employers say they most desperately need.
Providing care and education
As parents come to understand this science, they seek out environments that keep their kids safe and maximize early learning experiences. These are early learning programs where children are engaged in problem solving, exploring the environment, navigating conflicts at the water table, and learning STEM basics by changing the incline of a ramp to make a marble roll down faster. They are places where early childhood educators—teachers, not child care workers—have requisite knowledge, skills, and competencies; where they bring a dramatic play area to life with the right questions and materials; where early childhood educators understand that their primary responsibility is a child’s learning and development as well as his safety.
State and federal policies, which too often perpetuate the false dichotomy between care and education, have not connected the dots between high-quality learning and supporting working families. Insufficient funding and fragmented regulatory structures make it difficult to attract and retain the qualified staff who are the key to program quality. Average wages for early educators are a mere $10.40 per hour; 46 percent of these teachers must rely on some sort of public assistance to support their families; and just slightly more than half have any type of post-secondary degree. Depending on the state and the program, what early childhood educators are required to know and be able to do varies widely. And while parents may be increasingly aware of their options for high-quality programs, those options are out of reach for most families.
The path ahead
What will it take for policy to catch up to science? First, we must significantly increase our investment, fully funding programs so that children and families have access to full-day, full-year, high-quality early learning that meets the needs of working families. Second, we must fund the real cost of quality. It won’t be cheap, but it is far more cost effective than what we spend for remediation when we don’t make these programs available. Third, early educators must be better compensated so they can build a career in early learning, not just pass through the profession on their way to a different field that pays them a liveable wage. Finally, much like nursing and speech pathology, the field of early childhood education must define the knowledge, skills, and competencies required to be an effective educator. Then degree programs and state regulatory and licensing structures must align to meet those competencies.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children has convened a collaborative effort to define our field of practice. Now we must make sure our policies reflect the new reality. It’s all about early learning—it’s not rocket science, but it is definitely brain science, regardless of the labels we use. All early education settings—child care centers, family child care homes, public and private schools, Head Start programs, community centers, faith-based programs—can be dynamic, developmentally appropriate environments that strongly support children’s learning and enable parents to go to work with peace of mind. We have to muster the courage to build the right policy—the policy that accelerates access to high-quality early learning for all kids, especially those who are at greatest risk for starting school behind their peers and who far too often never catch up.
Rhian Evans Allvin is Chief Executive Officer at NAEYC
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
*This blog post was originally sent as a letter to NAEYC members the day after the US Presidential Election.
Dear NAEYC Family,
When we launched the Early Ed for President campaign in the Fall of 2015, we said we believed that all candidates could embrace early learning on the road to the White House. And they did. One of the first national ads released by now President-Elect Trump focused on the importance of child care to our nation’s children, parents and economy.
But yesterday's election was about more than the White House. It was about the future of this country. And as early childhood educators, we, who hold a key to that future, are bound by a professional code of ethics that fights bias and respects the dignity, worth and uniqueness of all individuals, regardless of the color of their skin, the place in which they worship, the people they love, or the candidates for whom they voted. Each and every day, in early learning programs around the country, you, our NAEYC members, have a powerful opportunity to impact the lens with which children and their families approach the world.
Based on my own experience throughout decades of work in Arizona, and the many polls that have come out, equitable access to developmentally appropriate, high-quality early learning is truly a bipartisan issue and a moral agenda. We will continue to work in a bipartisan manner, educating new and returning elected officials in Washington, DC and across the country about our shared priorities for children, families, and educators as we confront a changed political landscape.
In a year of potentially record turnout, there are now 239 Republicans and 193 Democrats (with 3 undecided seats) in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the U.S. Senate, there are now 51 Republicans and 48 Democrats, with 1 undecided seat. Republicans won at least half of the 12 states where elections for Governor were held, and control upwards of two-thirds of state legislatures—including in Ohio, where two ballot initiatives to support early childhood education also passed. Changes at these state levels can also mean new state agency leaders—and important opportunities to advocate for child care and early learning, especially as the work on the implementation of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues.
Support for increased federal and state investment in early childhood education is high across the political, geographic, and demographic lines that have so clearly divided American voters, and if we are to come together, let support for all of our nation’s children and families drive that fight towards unity.
We have work to do, and we will do this work together. It will require bravery and courage; empathy and determination. So let’s get to it. Let’s hold our elected officials, at all levels of government, responsible for delivering on the promise of early childhood education, for the good of our children, our families and our nation.
Rhian Evans Allvin
Save the date for NAEYC's Public Policy Forum!
Sunday, February 26-Tuesday, February 28
You voted Early Ed for President, now join us in our nation's Capital to advocate for early childhood education and educators with a new Congress and a new Administration!
NAEYC members, each one of you is an advocate. At Public Policy Forum, you will:
-Be part of a team working to advance federal and state early childhood policy
-Hear from and network with national and state policy leaders and fellow advocates
-Get the resources and experiences you need for effective advocacy
-Meet with members of Congress and build relationships
For more information, be sure to download the flyer and save the date!
Check out more NAEYC resources on anti-bias!
Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards
"In this wonderful and long-awaited second edition, the authors compellingly invite early childhood educators to learn and reflect and to teach in new and daring ways. Their penetrating analyses and vivid, honest stories inspire all of us to challenge our assumptions and to work together to create a more just and equitable world."
— Patricia G. Ramsey, Professor, Mount Holyoke College
Rhian Evans Allvin is Chief Executive Officer at NAEYC