By: Dawn Braa
During a preconference session at NAEYC’s 2014 National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, Stacie Goffin challenged the attendees to reflect on ideas for moving the profession forward as a field of practice. Goffin charged those in early childhood education to engage in conversations with intent. She believes that collectively we can make a difference. We can step forward as change agents to develop leadership, organize as a profession, and determine the outcomes for our field. As I listened to her speak, I was thinking, “What can I do to move the profession forward? I’m only one person.”
After the session, I approached Stacie about interviewing her for my early childhood blog. She agreed and encouraged me to consider other ways to continue the conversation about promoting our profession as a field of practice. This led me to think about hosting a book study through the blog.
A book study provides an opportunity for professionals to come together and create a community of learners, engage in reflective dialogue, and collaborate. When we take that conversation online, all of those things can happen regardless of time or location. I wasn’t quite sure how to pull it off, but I wanted to encourage conversation about the selected book and foster colleagues’ reflection. I had never facilitated a book study before, much less one online!
The idea of the blog book study filled my thoughts as I sat on the airplane to Louisiana for NAEYC’s 2015 Institute. I thought about ways to structure an online book study. Would people want to hear my reflections? Then it hit me—I would ask experts in the field to share their reflections about the book’s chapters. My colleague and airplane seatmate, Sharon Bergen, and I brainstormed whom I might ask to participate in what she suggested I call “Beyond the Pages.”
First, I needed to choose a book for the premier online book study. I had just finished reading What If Everybody Understood Child Development: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children’s Lives, and was meeting author Rae Pica in New Orleans that afternoon for beignets. (They were delicious!) I inquired with Rae about using her book for the inaugural study. She approved and encouraged me to continue. Throughout the conference, I pitched my idea to my colleagues. Although many were supportive and intrigued by the idea of having an online book study, no one knew what the framework would look like—including me. Connecting with everyone at the conference definitely inspired me. I was filled with energy and excitement. Never underestimate the power of inspiration! I developed a model for my vision and began working on the project. I spent numerous hours connecting with people, developing a marketing strategy, and organizing details of the project.
The first blog-based book study was launched through Dakota County Technical College’s Early Childhood and Youth Development blog on August 31, 2015, with 16 guest content experts. I was so honored (and humbled) to have an all-star list of commentators! Angèle Sancho Passe, Gwen Simmons, Mike Huber, Diane Levin, Walter F. Drew, Teacher Tom, Richard Rairigh, Lorie Barnes, Deborah Stewart, Michael Gramling, Scott Wiley, Kelly Pfeiffer, Tamara Kaldor, Blakely Bundy, Laurie Greeninger, Deborah Hirschland, and Stacie Goffin all graciously agreed to write guest commentaries to inspire participating readers. Participants voiced their opinions and reflective thoughts online through intentional dialogue. I marketed the study through social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and my blog) and through local networks. The study lasted 15 weeks.
During week 4 one participant said, “This group has been so valuable for me! It really feels like an early childhood support group. I can log on and get the encouragement I need to keep sharing my ideas and advocating for families. The book’s succinct writing style and conciseness is perfect. Then, when I go online I find resources and even more food for thought.”
My original intention in creating a blog was to provide a 24/7 learning environment accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. I wanted to offer a convenient source for early childhood education resources and relevant information that would benefit my students and the community (e.g.,providers, educators, nannies, specialists, and parents). I thought about those in the field who didn’t have direct access to experts, and those who couldn’t take time off from work or afford to attend conferences. What if offering a book study on a blog could become a platform to unite early care providers and educators across the country or even the world?
I’m excited to announce that the next online book study will center on Stacie Goffin’s book Professionalizing Early Childhood Education as a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era. Current comprehensive members of NAEYC received a copy of the book in fall 2015. This FREE book study will again have guest experts to lead the dialogue and guide our reflective thinking. It will be hosted at http://enhancingyoungminds.com. And you can find all the details and FAQs here. Please consider this your invitation to participate! United together, we can move the profession forward. Why you? Why not you?
Dawn Braa, MAEd, teaches early childhood and youth development at Dakota County Technical College, in Rosemount, Minnesota.
By: Michael Coventry
NAEYC is committed to a future in which the early childhood profession exemplifies excellence and is recognized as vital and performing a critical role in society. Here are 10 ideas and inspirations from our blog, journals, and website to foster your professional renewal in the new year:
1. Your work is powerful! Listen as NAEYC members speak from the heart about the power of the profession in children’s lives in this video recorded at NAEYC’s most recent Annual Conference.
3. See playful learning in action in this video and blog post. Learn how teachers in Louisiana created rich experiences about food by visiting a local food truck in celebration of Taco Tuesday during last year’s Week of the Young Child™.
4. Reveal your inner leader! Read this blog post and learn 10 ways you can lead, every day.
5. Laugh out loud! Here are eight ways to revitalize your classroom with laughter from Teaching Young Children, and don't miss the more in-depth teacher research article on laughter.
6. Be an advocate. Champion developmentally appropriate practice’s academic rigor with principals and primary school colleagues with the ideas in this article from Young Children.
7. American voters strongly support higher wages for early childhood educators. Read and share this new research from NAEYC highlighting widespread support for making investment in the early childhood education profession a national priority.
8. Engage families! The NAEYC For Families website offers tons of ideas to share with families.
9. Renew your commitment to anti-bias education. Consider how one reader used anti-bias ideas as she thought about what it means when we say “Dolls are for girls,” and reflect on these great ideas for honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day with young children.
10. Flex your political muscles! Join the Early Ed for President campaign in support of the profession ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Michael Coventry is director of digital content strategy at NAEYC.
By: Heather Logan
I have been fortunate to work as a curriculum coach and teacher at an early childhood education center in Roatan, Honduras, for the past six months. As NAEYC is “Going Global,” many of the lessons I have learned in Roatan align with the global initiatives. For example, with the help of NAEYC resources I am providing professional development and I conduct observations of children and teachers. I have worked with the owner, teachers, and families in the areas of guidance, physical environment, appropriate materials, play, and curriculum. I believe my most significant accomplishment is building reciprocal relationships with the owner and teachers.
Child care outside the home is a novel idea in Honduras; working parents are beginning to see the value of a childcare center for the children and for their family. There are no regulations covering early care and education on Roatan, which has about 90,000 residents, and only two early childhood education centers on the island. I have learned a lot about Roatan’s culture, and much of what I’ve learned can be transferred to working with staff and children of early childhood education settings in other countries using the following behaviors:
- Communicate—I don’t speak Spanish, so communicating with the teachers is a challenge because they don’t speak English. Affirming all the teachers and children by using rituals, eye contact, and positive body language is essential. We also communicate in a practical way with photographs.
- Observe—Teacher educators can learn from observing teachers and children in their environment. A big life lesson I learned long ago is to never make assumptions; this is certainly true when in a new culture. It’s important not to make assumptions about what children know how to do, about the children’s expectations, or about the teachers’ and families’ philosophies.
- Ask questions—If there is something I don’t understand, I ask questions. There may or may not be a good answer; either way, I have learned from asking the question. It is also important to think about the tone one uses when asking questions, especially if there is a language barrier. Teacher educators cannot allow themselves to sound as if they have all the answers.
- Model—I believe we all learn by seeing and doing, rather than by merely hearing. I cannot expect someone to follow a lesson plan when they have no knowledge of developmentally appropriate activities. Many of the activities we use with the children come from something I make at home. I show the teachers ways to use the materials and explain how the children benefit from the activities. Modeling interactions and guidance techniques is also essential.
If I had not been intentional about following these four behaviors, I’m convinced we would not be making the progress we are at the center. Being intentional about using these behaviors has helped me build strong relationships with the teachers, owner, and families. Each time I share information with these individual, I get a positive reception because we are making connections with one another and building trust.
In addition to progressing in relationships, we are improving in other areas well. We have attained many new toys recently and are making headway in teaching children how to use and respect materials. Because we are now observing children using a developmental checklist, improvements are being made to lesson planning and curriculum implementation. However, focusing on relationships again, the most exciting growth is in the area of teacher education. Each day presents opportunities for teacher education.
Heather Logan is currently living in Roatan, Honduras with her husband. She is serving as a Curriculum Coach and Teacher at Paradise Babies Day Care Center on the island. She has earned a B.S. in Child and Family Studies and a M.A. in Early Childhood Education. Prior to moving to Roatan, she was a 4-H Extension Agent in Cabarrus County, NC and taught Early Childhood Education at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC.
Interview compiled by Caroline Cummings
Nicole MacIntyre graduated from the University of Maryland College Park in May 2015 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. The University of Maryland College Park is one of ten institutions in the state of Maryland with baccalaureate and graduate degree programs that have earned NAEYC National Recognition by providing evidence that they provide students with learning opportunities that align with the NAEYC Early Childhood Professional Preparation Standards.
This fall, Nicole is working as a literacy teacher at a preschool in southern California. Fellow University of Maryland student and NAEYC summer intern Caroline Cummings asked Nicole a few questions about how she got to where she is now, how college prepared her for the profession, and what she hopes her classroom will be like.
What made you interested in a career in early childhood education?
The elementary education major was more content based, while the early childhood program focused more on human development and I found that to be more interesting. A child’s early years are so critical in developing their personality, passions, interests, and skills. When children first enter school, their desire to learn is very prevalent. I believe that I can encourage their love for learning, helping to extend and sustain that passion as they grow older.
Are there specific classes that prepared you for your upcoming position?
I enjoyed a class on how to involve families in the learning process and develop positive relationships with the community and families. I worked on a family involvement project where we tracked student learning in a specific content area for a couple of weeks and got to see the difference in student learning after the lesson was implemented. Getting to see the excitement on my students faces when they came back with the work they completed with their parents was something I'll never forget. The more parents are involved in their child’s learning, the more the children benefit and this also builds trust between parents and teachers.
What was your student teaching like?
I taught full time in a kindergarten and completed multiple takeover weeks when I took over as the head teacher. Many children didn’t speak English as a first language and many were from low-income families. It was an honor to watch these children go from knowing not a word of English to being able to meet reading benchmarks by the end of the year. It also challenged me to be a better teacher. Those takeover weeks made me realize how overwhelming it can be to be responsible for a classroom all on your own. When my mentor teacher would leave, I felt the pressure that the learning and well-being of these children was all on me. I began to develop my own teaching styles and routines and grew more comfortable with the various responsibilities.
What unique experiences do you hope to bring children in classroom?
As a teacher, my number one goal is to make learning fun and engaging. I want to make learning as meaningful and relevant to my students' lives as possible. I hope to teach thematic units where I can pick topics that the children are interested in and center learning around that topic. Many people tell me that because the children I’m teaching are so young, they won't even remember me. For me, that is alright. What I hope to achieve is the personal understanding that I play a crucial role in helping set these children up for successful lives.
What kind of class or training did you have in working with children with a home language other than English?
When I worked with children who spoke English as a second language, we only instructed them in English. I had taken classes on cultural difference and integrating culture into the classroom. Although these classes were helpful in understanding the backgrounds of the students I was working with, I think it would have been beneficial for my program to have required us to take Spanish classes because so many of us work with students who speak Spanish as a primary language. We need more preparation for working with a variety of cultures and populations in the field of education.
In what ways did the mentor teacher help you?
My mentor teacher was a tremendous help during my student teaching experience. She always made a list of what she noticed I did well in and what she thought I could improve on. She maintained a good balance between giving advice and pulling back and allowing me to grow as a teacher by developing my own unique teaching style. My mentor was always open to my feedback and gave me the freedom I needed in order to become more confident in my own abilities. At the end of the year, she also gave me a flash drive with all the activities she's accumulated over the years, a helpful resource for me now that I have my own classroom!
Fulfilling the Promise of Early Childhood Education: Advancing Early Childhood Education As a Professional Field of PracticeMon, 10/26/2015 - 08:40 — 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.