Fulfilling the Promise of Early Childhood Education: Advancing Early Childhood Education As a Professional Field of PracticeMon, 10/26/2015 - 09:40 — gclarke
By Stacie G. Goffin, Rhian Evans Allvin, Deb Flis, and Albert Wat
Early childhood education (ECE) is in the spotlight as never before. Being in the limelight, however, has highlighted the field’s fragmentation and the variability in the quality of children’s formal early learning experiences. This reality is unlikely to change, though, unless the ECE field comes to terms with its lack of organization as a unified field of practice with defined accountabilities for a competent and responsible workforce.
A budding movement is emerging in response to this crisis of fragmentation—a drive to organize ECE as a professional field of practice unified by a common overarching purpose, defined body of knowledge and practice, shared professional identity, and internal and external accountability.1 This movement was apparent at a plenary session of the 2015 QRIS National Learning Network’s national meeting, which explored questions critical to advancing ECE as a professional field of practice.2
Stacie G. Goffin, Principal of the Goffin Strategy Group, organized the plenary session and provided its introduction. Rhian Evans Allvin, Executive Director of the National Association for the Education for Young Children, and Deb Flis, Program Quality and Accreditation Specialist, Connecticut Office of
Early Childhood, were panelists, and Albert Wat, Senior Policy Analyst, Education Division, National Governors Association, was a respondent. Panelists were encouraged to voice their differing viewpoints, and we share some of those views below. We hope you’ll join us in thinking about an alternative future for ECE.
Acknowledging ECE as a Professional Field: What Needs to Happen?
Becoming a recognized profession will involve deep systems change. Because of the nature of ECE’s work, few would question that it ought to be a profession. Yet, as John Goodlad3 reminds us, “A vocation (occupation) is not a profession just because those in it choose to call it one. It must be recognized as such.”
- To qualify as a recognized profession, ECE has to include attributes that define professional occupations—criteria such as a prescribed scope of work as a field of practice and formal preparation as a prerequisite to being licensed to practice.
- ECE needs to move beyond its fragmented state and its history of willingly accepting people into the “profession” with varying education levels, credentials, and competencies, and restructure itself as cohesive, interlocking systems of preparation, practice, and accountability bound by a unifying purpose.
- We should consider tools available to us, such as QRIS. Describing QRIS as an organizing framework, Rhian identified it as a vehicle for moving quality to scale in a consistent and rational way. Deb, however, cautioned against considering QRIS as a singular approach and doubted its ability to remedy all of our field’s challenges. Trying to be an all-inclusive framework, with multiple sets of differing standards across the country, she suggested, has had the unintended consequence of undermining the work of unifying ECE as a professional field of practice.
- Given the transformative nature of what lies ahead, deep and broad conversations are needed, Deb maintained—conversations that are inclusive of the field’s diverse roles, settings, and aspirations.
Exploring Challenging Questions
We wanted to move beyond attempts to solve existing problems, and focus instead on creating the future we want for ECE as a professional field of practice. Toward that end, some of the questions explored during the plenary follow, along with answers provided by panelists.
1. Should the ECE profession, like the nursing and medical professions, include specialty practices? Could this structure unite the field around a unifying knowledge base and practice expectations while also acknowledging that different roles may necessitate additional specialized expertise? If so, would one option be practice specialties based on practitioner competencies required by early learning environments with differing purposes?
Rhian contended that we know too much about the science of early learning and the impact of competent early childhood educators on children’s developmental trajectories to parcel professional competencies by workplace. For too long, she continued, we’ve derailed conversations by focusing on early learning settings rather than on the competencies required by the educator’s role. Landing solidly on the side of a shared, core knowledge base in conjunction with specializations, Deb argued that expecting all educators to possess the field’s identified core knowledge, skills, and dispositions is not only an ethical responsibility but also essential in dismantling perceptions that anyone can function as an early educator.
2. How should we address existing teaching staff unable to meet required preparation standards?
Deb and Rhian emphasized role-based specializations and linking these with specified competencies. Creating consistent competency expectations across states also was considered essential, as was the availability of different pathways toward fulfilling the profession’s requirements. Yet Deb also cautioned that this approach should not be misinterpreted as suggesting that ECE is a suitable career choice for everyone.
3. Albert challenged us by asking, Why do we have the policies we have for preparing and supporting ECE teachers? If we were to develop the ECE profession from scratch, would we have what we have today?
In response to his first question, Albert underscored that ECE policies rarely are rational or based on what children and adults need; instead, they typically reflect what the field thinks is affordable—a questionable way to develop policies for a workforce critical to children’s near- and long-term success. Thus, a resounding no was the response to his second question, accompanied by an assertion that the field needs to dismiss the notion that diversity and high standards represent competing values and put a stake in the ground about who gets to “function as an early educator.”
Our attention focuses primarily on uplifting the existing workforce, according to Albert. Developing an alternative future for ECE requires also devoting our considerable energies to developing a profession that will be attractive to those we want to be educating and caring for young children.
After decades of attempts by policy makers and civic and business leaders, the time has come to restructure ECE as a field of practice from the inside out. As stressed by Rhian, “early childhood educators need to lead this effort. They need to be the drivers of ECE’s destiny.”
Do you agree? Please join this conversation by sharing your comments below or by participating with others at ECE Pioneers For A New Era, an informal online community where we share our experiences discussing these issues.
2 Stacie Goffin provided the session introduction and served as the moderator. Her thoughts are represented in the introduction. Rhian Allvin Evans and Deb Flis were panelists, and Albert was a respondent. Differing viewpoints were encouraged. First names are used when sharing their individual views. While not inclusive of everything expressed, we hope you’ll join with us in thinking about an alternative future for ECE.3 Goodlad, J., p. 29. In Goodlad, J. I. (1990). The occupation of teaching in schools. In John I. Goodlad, Roger Soder, & Kenneth A. Sirotnik (Eds.), The moral dimension of teaching (pp. 3-34). San Francisco: CA: Jossey-Bass.
By Susan Friedman
Teachers play an important role as they offer families guidance on their children's media use at home so it’s good news that there’s new advice for families on managing digital media from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The revised AAP statement acknowledges the need to go beyond telling families to “Turn it off” and helps families navigate their children's digital media use in a world where screens are part of children’s everyday environment. NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center published the joint position statement on Technology and Young Children in 2012 and the statement continues to offer educators excellent guidance as they evaluate, select, and use digital media to support children's learning and development at school. The technology position statement advises teachers to look toward evolving public health recommendations when determining appropriate limits on technology and media use. Both the NAEYC Technology position statement and AAP’s new guidance on digital media use offer smart and nuanced messages to guide teachers, and families to select media with children's developmental needs in mind and to help children develop a healthy and balanced relationship to digital media as they grow up in a world where screens and digital media are the norm.
One of the key points in NAEYC’s position statement is that teachers should select, use, integrate, and evaluate digital media in intentional and developmentally appropriate ways, paying careful attention to the appropriateness and the quality of the content, the child’s experience, and the opportunities for co-engagement. NAEYC will continue to highlight new research and new examples of good practice to help teachers and families as they make smart decisions about digital media and its role in children’s learning and development.
- Children and Media Tips for Parents (from the AAP)
- Technology and Interactive Media Position Statement (from NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center)
- Selecting Apps to Support Children’s Learning (from NAEYC’s For Families site)
- How to Find Educational Apps (from NAEYC’s blog)
- Growing Up Digital Media Symposium Proceedings (from the AAP)
- Tap, Click Read, Growing Readers in a World of Screens (A new book by Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine)
- Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years (A book edited by Chip Donohue)
- Screen Sense (From Zero to Three)
Susan Friedman is the Senior Director of Content Strategy and Development at NAEYC.
by Kyle Snow, Ph.D. and Lauren Hogan
Recent findings from an evaluation of Tennessee’s voluntary pre-k programs have prompted waves of commentary from a host of national and state media. The headlines include words like “shocking,” “bucks conventional wisdom,” “calls into question,” and “Spinach vs. Easter grass” (thanks, NPR). Why all the hubbub?
What the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-k Found
Researchers at Vanderbilt University have been studying the short and longer- term effects of a state funded, voluntary pre-k program for children the year before they enroll in kindergarten. The full report is worth a read, but here is what they have found, very briefly:
1. Upon kindergarten entry, children attending the pre-K programs scored higher on assessments of math and literacy, and were rated by their kindergarten teachers as more social and behaviorally ready for school than where children who had not attended the public pre-k program. Not a surprise – this effect is pretty consistently reported.
2. Children who were dual language learners seemed to benefit more from the pre-k program. Not a big surprise- other pre-K studies have found similar effects (e.g., Oklahoma public pre-k found immediate effects, and larger effects for Hispanic children).
3. By the end of the kindergarten year, these differences had vanished – children who were not in the pre-k program had “caught-up” with children who had been in the pre-k programs. This continued to be the case at the end of first grade. Not a big surprise – there is evidence of this catch-up effect elsewhere, especially in the Head Start Impact Study.
4. By second grade, children who had not been in the pre-k program were scoring higher than program children on the academic assessments and were rated more positively by their teachers. This was the big surprise.
What might the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Study Mean for Early Education
Let’s start with a critical message from the research team: “Our findings on the follow‐up effects of TN‐VPK participation were unexpected. We interpret them cautiously recognizing, as distinguished evaluation researchers have noted, that no single study, no matter how carefully done, produces definitive results. But we would also note that, just because the results of an evaluation do not support a currently popular view, it does not mean that they are wrong” (p. 38). So, let’s consider these findings in the context of other research while also considering how these surprising findings may make sense.
The quality of the program matters.
The authors note that the policies governing the public pre-K program in Tennessee compare favorably against the NIEER benchmarks (See the TN state profile for 2009-2012, the year study children were in pk, here. However, the authors noted that children’s actual experiences varied in quality and certainly, as the program’s enrollment was dramatically increased, the overall quality may have dropped. It is possible that the quality of the public pre-K is high enough to create short-term change, but not sustained impact. Economists Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson have published research on the effects of 84 preschool studies that address questions of scale and quality. They find that the effects for “model programs” that are comprehensive and have high per-child funding allocations – Abecedarian and the Perry Preschool/High Scope preschool program for example – were substantially higher than larger-scale programs. All pre- k programs are not created equal.
All of the years from birth through eight matter.
The finding of a substantial but not sustained effect due to pre-k compels us to move away from thinking of high quality pre-K as a “once and done” model for closing early disparities. In considering a similar phenomena among programs designed to help struggling readers, in a 1995 paper, Tim Shanahan and Rebecca Barr introduced this medical analogy:
“early interventions are supposed to operate like a vaccination, preventing all future learning problems, no matter what their source or severity. It appears, however, that early interventions, no matter how successful, are more similar to insulin therapy. That is, substantial treatment effects are apparent right away, but these gains can be maintained only through additional intervention and support” (p. 982)
We need to move away from the inoculation model of early childhood and recognize that while single programs can have immediate effects, the only way to have prolonged impact is to maintain support. As noted in NAEYC’s mission, we must “promote high quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8…” This means a focus on comprehensive services for children before they enter school through 3rd grade, including the critical alignment between pre-K to 3rd grade that the study authors note.
What can we learn from these findings?
A critical lever in the bipartisan –fueled expansion of public pre-k is the knowledge that doing so is a sound economic investment, which is one reason why we see policymakers and parents across the country calling for expanded and increased investments in early childhood education. Studies like this one can help us make these investments count.
As the study authors noted, policymakers should remember that classrooms observed in the study were diverse in their approaches — and that much can still be learned from the classrooms that did see positive impacts on students in later grades. This means that there were classrooms in Tennessee that saw and continue to see positive impacts on students that are both immediate and long-lasting. These findings can add to research in states like Georgia and Oklahoma that have experience in taking public pre-k programs to scale to guide future efforts to move towards larger programs. They will also help us move from broad effectiveness studies to more “realist” evaluations that ask, “what works, for whom, under what circumstances?” The study authors will be conducting further evaluation of 160 VPK classrooms to ascertain what qualities most helped children in kindergarten, first, second and third grades. This data will be deeply valuable to policymakers and program leaders as investment in early childhood continues to expand – and we can’t wait to see what they find.
Kyle Snow, Ph.D. is the Director Center for Applied Research at NAEYC. Lauren Hogan is the Senior Director for Public Policy and Advocacy at NAEYC.
By: Kathryn Maisonville
Preschool children learn by having tangible topics to engage with about subjects they can observe and experience in a stimulating and dynamic environment, but where do we find such topics? My co-teacher, Amy, and I had long discussed using our preschool students’ interests as springboards into our curriculum, but what interests are adequate and appropriate? In the Fall, many children enjoyed playing with trains, and we successfully used that high level of interest to dive into our beginning curriculum. We explored trains for six weeks and the children’s learning was exciting and motivating. As we observed their interest and attention waning we wondered, “What topic now?” and looked to the children for more inspiration. Some children loved sweeping, others wanted to paint all day, and several thoroughly enjoyed running circles around the classroom loft. These were all areas of interest, but we doubted the adequacy and appropriateness of basing curriculum on such activities.
As we moved into winter and the landscape yielded to the cold weather, we spent one morning talking about the changes occurring outside. This led to children’s questions about the lack of birds—why some remained while others left the area. The children’s inquiries and observations were full of interest and knowledge. We had found our new topic!
We filled our room with books, pictures, photographs, and videos of winter birds. The children were especially interested in cardinals, so we learned about their habitat, habits, and appearance through books, websites, and phone calls to local pet store owners. We hung a bird feeder, sprinkled seeds outside our window, and waited. And waited. And watched. And waited. What a great lesson in patience! As we waited the children used various materials to create representations of their learning including painting pictures of male and female cardinals using tempra and oil paints, sculpting nests and eggs out of clay, and creating collages using colored papers and scissors.
Then a bird came! It was a house sparrow that the children named Fluffy. Soon birds were coming daily (including Duffy and Bob who were black-capped chickadees), and we began our long-term bird observation. The children were able to see various birds up close and observe their appearance, movements, and habits, all of which they recorded in journals with drawings, dictations, and photos we took using classroom iPads. Children would look for birds several times a day, eager to cry out the alarm that would have us all hurrying to the windows.
Our bird study lasted all Winter and continued into the Spring as we waited for the robins. Amy and I discussed the success of the bird unit and looked for another subject centered on the natural world. We talked during recess one day, our pockets filling with dandelions that the children collected enthusiastically. Dandelions? Could it be that simple? As it turned out, yes! We spent weeks observing, dissecting, collecting, studying, and documenting the plants. The children were happy to engage in lessons outdoors and once again their learning was fast, exciting, generated by their interest and inspired by the season.
Amy and I have been learning, too. Not all student interests are viable teaching topics, but ideas centered on the natural, tangible world are often adequate and appropriate for long-term study. The seasons gave us topics and nature provided the stimulating and dynamic environment, ensuring engaged learning for our young students.
Kathryn Maisonville is a Pre-K 3 teacher at Detroit Country Day School in Michigan and has taught preschool for twelve years.
It's with great sadness that we share that early childhood education advocate and icon Gwen Morgan passed away on September 4, 2015. She was such an incredibly important person to NAEYC and the field. We are happy to share this reflection on Gwen's life written by Barbara Willer, Senior Advisor for Strategic Initiatives at NAEYC.
Gwen Morgan did so many things and so many things well. She was an amazing, visionary woman whose life’s work transformed the field of early care and education.
From her earliest days as a program director, Gwen worked to build effective systems for early care and education. Gwen was a founding “mother” of the child care resource and referral movement services. She co-founded Work/Family Directions, a company that encouraged and supported corporations to address work/family issues, including child care. Involving corporate leaders helped build broader recognition of the importance of early care and education and assisted thousands of families access higher quality services. As a faculty member at Wheelock College, she served as a mentor not only to her students but also to many others in the field.
Gwen’s conceptual leadership was legendary. She was uncanny in her ability to take complex issues and distill them into clear images that fostered greater understanding. Two that immediately come to mind are the 3-legged stool to describe the interrelationship of quality of child care, the compensation received by child care staff, and affordability for parents and the leaky funnel that described the inadequacies of increasing professional development without addressing compensation—many people enter the field, but when they leave because of inadequate compensation, investments in their professional development are also lost along the way.
Gwen was elected to the NAEYC Governing Board in 1982, serving until 1986. Talk about a pivotal time for the association: the NAEYC Academy for Early Childhood Program Accreditation was launched; the first position statements on nomenclature, licensing, and developmentally appropriate practice were adopted; and the first staff hired specifically dedicated to public policy and advocacy (I was that lucky staff person!). One of my responsibilities was to support the Public Policy Committee, and so I worked closely with her as a key member of that committee. Gwen gave me a crash course in child care licensing as the committee consolidated earlier statements on licensing of family child care and centers into a comprehensive statement on licensing and regulation.
In the early 1990s, Gwen established the Center for Career Development at Wheelock College that worked to build state professional development systems, once again a trailblazer for a burgeoning area of interest. The Center worked collaboratively with NAEYC on efforts to develop and implement an effective, coordinated delivery system of early childhood professional preparation. I
Ironically, Gwen’s death comes at a time of renewed focus on building consensus on national definitions for the profession. In many ways, her life’s work provided the foundation for these efforts—it’s about addressing the 3-legged stool and the leaky funnel effectively and comprehensively so that all children have access to high-quality early learning through systems that are sufficiently funded to attract, prepare, support, and retain a diverse, highly skilled workforce. Nothing would honor Gwen more than accomplishing this goal.
To honor Gwen and her extensive career as an advocate and early childhood leader, NAEYC invites you to make a memorial donation to the Lasting Legacy Leadership fund.
Why Initiatives to Level the Playing Field Need to Empower Parents
By Dana Suskind, M.D.
In 1995 a world-famous study by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4th birthdays than others. The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school. These same kids, when followed into third grade, had bigger vocabularies, were stronger readers, and got higher test scores. The bottom line: the kids who started out ahead, stayed ahead; the kids who started out behind, stayed behind. This disparity in learning is referred to as the achievement gap.
I believe those thirty million words are key to closing the achievement gap and giving children the best start in life.
Recognizing the importance of language in a child’s early brain development is an unprecedented opportunity. It allows parents to understand their power in helping their children realize their ultimate potentials. Even more important, it shows parents the steps to enhance that power. Understanding the thirty million word gap also helps set the stage for turning the tide for all children. In this regard, the science is clear. In order to close the achievement gap, in order to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve their potentials, well-designed, carefully monitored programs, based on scientific evidence, must exist to help it occur. And those programs, geared at helping the children, are parent/caretaker dependent as they are a child’s first teacher.
This is a great paradox. While early childhood is really the story of parents, and although we know the importance of parents in the eventual intellectual outcomes of children, parents are often afterthoughts in program development and reforms for closing the achievement gap. They may be mentioned in the discussion but, in the end, they are usually treated as an add-on rather than the key tool to make the necessary changes. And here’s the historical irony: It was the failure of Hart and Risley’s preschool project to help children become school ready that impelled them to do a longitudinal study on parental influences in children’s academic outcomes.
The importance of preschool is not disputed. But when children enter without the prerequisites for learning, it is largely remedial. To give preschool maximum strength, and to make sure that the lack of school readiness does not predict an academic lifetime of “catching up,” or failure, the children entering its programs have to be ready to learn.
This emphasizes the need to design solid early-childhood programs that include parents to help ensure the school readiness of children who may need additional support. These programs would help parents provide an optimum language environment in the first three years of their child’s life, when essential brain development is occurring. Home visiting would help parents set language goals; careful monitoring would help parents achieve those goals. In order to assure success, and to accurately assess program design, programs would include a built-in procedure for evaluation and improvement.
Success will be dependent on a strong support system. While parenting interventions, in the past, have had problems, and may need more research or evidence-based program development, science demonstrates that making the effort is essential since it will only be when parents, or a child’s primary caretakers, are actively involved as engaged partners in a child’s early years that outcomes will improve.
It’s also true that until we, as a nation, understand the importance of parental involvement, offering appropriate support where such is needed, the lives of millions of our children will essentially be a lifelong game of catch-up.
Can we really do it?
If we can develop a tiny antibody to travel through a body and attack a specific cancer cell, if we can discover how to push a few buttons and call Shanghai from New York, if we can find a way to defy gravity and send a spacecraft to the moon, we can do this.
Dana Suskind, M.D, is the founder of Thirty Million Words and author of THIRTY MILLION WORDS: Building A Child’s Brain.
Every fall, many children reach a milestone - they start kindergarten. While the first day of school may bring images of a common experience, not only does kindergarten differ for children today from what we may recall as adults, it differs for children based upon where they happen to live. Here are ten facts about kindergarten as we start the 2015-2016 school year:
1. Number of children expected to enroll in kindergarten in the US in fall 2015: 3.7 million. (Source)
2. Number of children to be enrolled in prekindergarten programs: 1.3 million. In 1990, 25 years ago, 303,000 children were enrolled in public prekindergarten programs. (Source)
3. Number of states requiring school districts to offer ½ day kindergarten: 34.
4. Number of states requiring full day kindergarten: 11 plus D.C.
5. Number of states not requiring districts to offer kindergarten: 5 (Alaska, Idaho, New York, Pennsylvania; in New Jersey, only the Abbott districts must offer kindergarten). (Source)
6. Number of states requiring children to attend kindergarten: 15 states plus DC (35 do not). (Source)
7. September 1 – the most common birthdate by which children must turn 5 to be eligible to enroll in kindergarten (19 states). (Source)
8. The birth date cut-off ranges from as early as July 31 (Hawaii, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota) to as late as January 1 (Connecticut). (Source)
9. As of May 2014, the average salary for a kindergarten teacher was $53,480. (Source)
10. 15% of children entering kindergarten for the first time in fall 2010 spoke a language other than English as the primary language in their home (Source)
Kyle Snow, Ph.D is the Director of the NAEYC Center for Applied Research
How do we prevent bullying? Despite decades of study and numerous programs claiming to be the solution to bullying, few programs have actually been shown to be effective. One of the main issues is that “bullying prevention” is often a misnomer; instead of trying to stop the behavior before it begins, the focus of many programs is on reducing already high rates of bullying. By the time students enter sixth grade, the earliest grade for which nationally representative data is collected, nearly 28 percent report having been targeted in the past year. For younger children, data are far more limited, but suggestive. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found that 20.4 percent of children ages 2-5 had experienced physical bullying in their lifetime and 14.6 percent had been teased (verbally bullied).
To actually prevent bullying before it starts, we need to focus on how bullying behaviors develop—for those engaging in bullying behaviors and those being targeted—starting in early childhood. Child Trends recently conducted a literature review and convened an expert roundtable, which NAEYC took part in, to document current understandings of the roots of bullying in early childhood. We identified key contextual factors linked to bullying behaviors, promising and evidence-based programs that help address emerging behavior, and the need for further research.
Research on bullying and early childhood development is limited. When we talk about bullying, the early childhood audience is often forgotten. There remains immense debate in the field about how to distinguish between typical, sometimes aggressive behavior that young children show and the more strategic and deliberate behaviors that define bullying. In preparing their uniform definition of bullying, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined bullying as being between “school-aged youth,” recognizing that the behaviors observed in young children are often not what we traditionally think of as bullying, but are developmental in nature, as children first begin to navigate interactions with peers. Many young children who are aggressive with their peers will not engage in bullying behaviors in later childhood and adolescence. Likewise, being the target of an aggressive behavior does not mean that child will be victimized for life. Still, these early aggressions (and conversely, the early skills of sharing, listening, and empathy) are precursors to later behavior, and it is important to intervene early. More research is needed to understand the trajectory of early aggression into bullying behaviors.
Despite the limited literature, four key factors consistently seemed to be related to bullying behaviors in young children:
1) Parents’ treatment of each other, their children, and others influences how young children treat their peers. Specifically, parents’ use of harsh discipline and children’s exposure to domestic violence are related to increases in bullying behavior, while parents’ positive engagement in their children’s lives, such as through interactive play, reading, and meals together, seems to be protective against bullying behavior. Parents serve as role models for their children, and modeling empathy, concern, and care for others may help deter later bullying. Resources such as those provided by the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education can help parents expand their own “circle of concern” and help their children do so, too. (It should be noted here that the majority of current research looks at the behaviors and characteristics of mothers; studies looking at the role of fathers are more limited, primarily because mothers are more likely to be the primary caregiver for young children and more likely to respond to the research. Some effort is being made, however, to address the role of fathers in bullying prevention.)
2) Young children exposed to maltreatment are more likely to be involved in bullying, both as the target and the aggressor. Not only can maltreatment change children’s behaviors, it has been shown to fundamentally alter the development of young children’s brain structures, which can lead to developmental deficits including in the social and emotional domains. Early intervention is critical to help stem these delays. Adults and Children Together (ACT) Against Violence Raising Safe Kids, an evidence-based program specifically aimed at helping reduce child maltreatment and promote positive parenting strategies, is one approach that shows promise.
3) Television and other media can contribute to the development of both aggression and pro-social skills. Screen time for your children is one of the most debated subjects among early childhood advocates. Research shows that increased television watching is related to increases in aggressive behavior even if the content is not inherently violent. Conversely, when shows are specifically designed to promote skills such as sharing, empathy, and other pro-social skills—shows like Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, or in past generations, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—children are more likely to engage in these behaviors after viewing.
4) Building young children’s social and emotional skills and promoting welcoming classrooms can significantly reduce aggression. Evaluations of several evidence-based social and emotional learning programs for young children, such as PATHS for Preschool, Second Step, and Al’s Pals, show that helping children understand and control their own emotions, and understand those of others, can significantly reduce conflict and aggression. Even without these formalized interventions, teachers of young children (and parents for that matter) can work to reduce bullying behaviors. The Guidance Matters column in the professional journal Young Children provides a number of resources that can support these efforts.
Overall, it is clear that more attention needs to be paid to identifying, researching, and preventing the roots of bullying behavior in young children. It is only when we recognize that bullying behaviors do not simply appear in elementary or middle school, but may be part of a developmental trajectory, that will we be able to stop bullying.
This blog entry is also posted on the Child Trends web site.
By: Katie Charner-Laird
Last school year, I found myself in one too many meetings with discontent parents talking about homework. Some parents felt the homework was not meaningful. Others were upset because they felt there was not enough feedback from teachers. Still, other parents wanted teachers to be individualizing homework more. In each of these meetings, it became uncomfortably clear that I really didn’t know what was happening across the school with regards to homework.
By the end of that year, I had made one firm commitment both to myself and to several parents. We would spend some time as a staff, before the school year started this year, articulating our beliefs and approach to homework, and develop what some might call a homework policy.
Over the summer, I read a number of articles about how we have to get better at homework, the argument being that homework is a problem for children and families because it is tedious and doesn’t ask children to think critically and creatively. While I didn't completely disagree with these articles, I also didn’t find a strong rationale for why we give homework or how much homework we should be giving.
I had heard of Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth, but in truth, I was avoiding reading it. As a former teacher, I had always felt that homework was a critical part of children learning organizational skills and responsibility and a way to practice newly developed skills. Moreover, the idea of getting rid of homework seemed a bit too unconventional. But when I finally did pick up The Homework Myth, I couldn’t put it down. One by one, my reasons for considering homework an essential part of the elementary school experience were dismantled.
Time management and organizational skills: Kohn points out that rather than teaching time management to students, homework actually requires parents to do more to organize children's time.
Newly learned skills: Kohn argues that it is rare that all students need the same practice at the end of a lesson. For some, additional practice may be confusing, while for others, it may be unnecessary.
What the research says: Kohn scoured the research to find that there is no evidence that homework in elementary school leads to an increase in student achievement.
At our opening staff meetings last August, I asked teachers to read excerpts from The Homework Myth, and discuss the article with grade level colleagues. Many teachers were as dumbfounded as I was when challenged to think about their long held beliefs about homework. I asked each grade level team to decide on a common homework approach for the coming school year. While I knew where I stood on the homework issue at this point, I felt it was important for teachers to make these decisions themselves after I had provided them with research and the opportunities to discuss it. As I met with each grade level team, I also felt it was my responsibility to ensure that there was some semblance of a trajectory from Kindergarten through fifth grade.
The School’s New Homework Policy:
Last school year for the first time, I knew the homework expectations for each class in the school!
- In Kindergarten, students dictate stories to their families on a regular basis, but with no official due dates. Parents were encouraged to read to their children, but there were no set expectations for how much or how often.
- Starting in first grade, students were expected to read nightly and this include families reading to children.
- Most grade level teams opted out of reading logs or other accountability structures, noting that these often devolved into a meaningless checklists lacking accountability altogether.
- Third graders were asked to write nightly. Students determine the content and form of their writing, which is not graded. Third graders are also expected to practice their math facts based on both grade level expectations and personal levels of mastery
In my experiences as both principal and teacher, parents often voice two significant complaints: homework either took too long, or not long enough; AND parents didn’t understand the homework, so they couldn’t help their child. These issues have been addressed in our new approach to homework. All homework is now open-ended enough to avoid these common complaints. Teachers give parents information about other elements also taught in class so they can be supportive of the related homework. When a teacher asks students to read for 30 minutes, some students may read 10 pages, and others may read 30. Parents can help children find a regular time to do that homework because the time needed is consistent. Moreover, if a parent wants a child to do more homework, it is quite simple to just have them keep reading. There is no ‘wrong way’ to do the homework. And this has led to many families reporting that the level of stress in their household has decreased dramatically this year.
So last year, Cambridgeport became ‘the school that doesn’t give homework' yet I heard repeatedly from students, teachers, and parents about the significant, meaningful work they are doing at home. A fourth grader was begging to take home his writing notebook on the third day of school so he could keep working on the story he had started in class. A class of fifth graders requested additional practice problems to take home with them. A father-daughter pair showed me the model they created of the setting of the book they were reading together. Our school may be giving less homework but we have more students engaged in more meaningful learning activities at home than ever before.
Katie Charner-Laird is the principal of the Cambridgeport School, a PreK-5th grade elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to being a principal, she taught grades 3-6 and was a literacy coach.
By Susan Friedman and Kyle Snow
A recent report, Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness published in the American Journal of Public Health finds that children with better social competence in kindergarten are more likely to become well-adjusted adults who have jobs and contribute positively to society. In this study, social competence was based upon teacher’s ratings of how well children cooperate and resolve conflicts with peers, understand feelings, and are helpful to others. Many news outlets summarized the report including NPR with Nice Kids Finish First: Study Finds Social Skills Can Predict Future Success and Edweek with Social Competence in Kindergartners Linked to Adult Success.
Supporting social and emotional development and academic rigor can coexist
To most early childhood teachers the fact that social and emotional skills in the early years are important and that teachers and families can foster these skills is foundational to how they approach their work. Economists argue that the long-term return on investing in high quality early childhood education may be due to these social and emotional skills (often called soft skills) that are nurtured in early childhood. The importance placed on social and emotional skills comes at a time when kindergarten has become more focused on academic content areas as described in another blog post, Not Yesterday’s Kindergarten.
Many parents and educators point to the Common Core State Standards as the cause of increased academic focus in kindergarten. NAEYC’s resources on the Common Core include a white paper, DAP and the Common Core Standards: Framing the Issues. It is not the case that academic rigor and supporting social and emotional development are in conflict. A forum at the Erikson Institute in 2012 “High Quality Pre-K-3rd in the age of the Common Core” provided several strong arguments against this false dichotomy. There is a growing body of knowledge about how to meet academic standards, including the Common Core, through DAP focused on teachers of children in kindergarten and 1st-3rd grade.
The importance of social and emotional skills alongside the academic content, continue to be hallmarks of early childhood education - sitting at the center of early learning standards, NAEYC’s Early Childhood Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria, and Developmentally Appropriate Practice.
Developmentally appropriate learning experiences support social skills
Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) means looking at the whole child. Academic content like literacy, math and science can be embedded into joyful learning experiences appropriate for children’s development. This example (Preschoolers investigate a Taco Truck) shows children learning about nutrition, food, and their community as they develop math, literacy, and social skills. A child reading a book would be learning and practicing literacy related skills and may also be learning content about science, developing attention and focus, and at the same time laughing at a joke. Children can learn academic content and develop skills through hands on play, engaging learning opportunities, and with lots of time to interact and problem solve with friends. Not only do developmentally appropriate experiences offer children opportunities to learn reading, math, science, and more in meaningful ways but they also offer lots of opportunities to build social skills. Indeed, social and emotional skills support learning across domains, but they are also critically important for children’s development on their own.
Resources from NAEYC
NAEYC embeds strategies, and examples to foster children’s social and emotional skills within our content, resources. position statements and early childhood program standards.
Members of NAEYC receive Young Children and Teaching Young Children and every single issue is full of tips, ideas, and research about how to support children’s social and emotional development. NAEYC’s books offer deep information about content areas like math. science and literacy within the context of developing hands on playful learning experiences with plenty of opportunities for social and emotional learning.
We’ve included links to many NAEYC resources that offer learning ideas within the context of children’s social and emotional development. Explore all NAEYC has to offer to learn more.
- Developmentally Appropriate Practice (books, articles, tips for teachers of children birth-8)
- DAP: Focus on Kindergarten
- DAP: Focus on First-Third Grade
- Guidance Matters (a column from Young Children on fostering social and emotional development)
- Big Body Play and Why It’s Important
- Five Essentials to Meaningful Play
- 10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play
- Tools as Toys: Every Day Science Experiences