By: Susan Friedman
“We’re a nation of tinkerers, and dreamers, and believers in a better tomorrow.” - President Obama, White House Science Fair, 2012
Although it might sound small, tinkering couldn’t be more important. It is one of the ways children learn about the world. The STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) offer many opportunities for children to use their minds and hands to play, explore, and learn. Research shows that giving children exposure to quality, hands-on STEM learning opportunities is so important and familiarity with STEM concepts early on is a key predictor of children’s school success.
On April 21, NAEYC, along with many other educational organizations, researchers and thought leaders, helped kick off a White House Early Learning STEM initiative. The initiative seeks to promote the early learning STEM work of local organizations, advocacy groups, associations, philanthropies and businesses. The aim is to increase the research base about young children’s STEM learning, support educators, child care providers, and families in engaging in meaningful STEM learning, promote partnerships with museums and zoos, and increase equitable access and opportunity for all children.
Highlights of Conversations from the STEM Initiative Reception at NAEYC
As a start to the White House STEM Initiative NAEYC hosted a reception where many enthusiastic and dedicated educators shared how they support young children’s STEM learning and tinkering. Among those I spoke with were:
- Patrick Kuhl, of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, University of Washington who described insights into the importance of social interactions to early learning.
- Chip Donahue and Tamar Kaldor from the Erikson institute’s TEC Center who shared thoughts on developmentally appropriate coding for the youngest children (which doesn’t involve coding at all but rather hands-on games where children develop concepts like sequencing and recognizing patterns).
- Denise M. Lewis, the Washington DC Regional Director of FIRST Robotics who demonstrated materials from the Junior First Lego league where children age 6 through 8 design and build a challenge using LEGOS. (Full disclosure: we also talked about the upcoming High School level FIRST Championship 2016 where my son’s team The Body Electric will be competing.)
- And Patricia Kempthorn who shared BLOCKFest, a research-based initiative designed to equip children ages 8 mo.-8 yrs. (and their families) with STEM skills through block play.
NAEYC’s Continuing Commitment to Quality, Accessible STEM Content
NAEYC is dedicated to creating and sharing rich content to support teachers and families who engage children in STEM learning and as part of our involvement in the White House STEM Initiative. We invite STEM educators to submit content to NAEYC’s publishing outlets and we are committed to providing, in the coming year, at least five new pieces of free or low-cost STEM-related content to families and educators in order to foster equitable access to high-quality STEM learning in the homes, centers, schools and communities where young children birth through age 8 spend their time.
This content, which will appear in multiple forms and formats in order to be accessible to a wide and diverse range of families and educators, will be guided by NAEYC’s position statements on Developmentally Appropriate Practice and Technology and Young Children.
From a recent blog entry about a teacher’s science-based inquiry related to “scribbling machines;” to an article in Teaching Young Children that focuses on museum exploration; to resources for families about using “toys as tools” and “bathtime science,” NAEYC is committed to ensuring that resources that support STEM learning are fun, affordable and equitably accessible. We understand that STEM can be a daunting concept for some early childhood education professionals and parents alike, and we aim to ensure that, supported by our content and related professional development opportunities, STEM is elevated and integrated into the daily routines of families and educators – and becomes an integral part of our collective conception of what high-quality early childhood education really means.
For more resources on STEM education, see the new topic page full of resources from NAEYC and other groups.
Look for this and more upcoming STEM content from NAEYC:
Beyond the Bouncing Ball: Investigating Physics with Toddlers (Young Children, July 2016)
Setting up a Classroom MakerSpace (Teaching Young Children, August 2016)
Reflecting on Teaching Length and Measurement to Young Children (Teaching Young Children, August 2016)
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Content Strategy and Development at NAEYC.
This blog post introduces the cluster (themed group of articles) for the May issue of NAEYC's journal, Young Children.
I still remember the day one of my preschoolers brought in a bird’s nest he found on his way to school. I was a beginning teacher then, and this particular boy was often tearful in the mornings—his dad was away for an extended time and goodbyes with his mom were tough. But that morning he was excited to show the class his find. We put the nest on a shelf for everyone to see and visited our school library to find fiction and nonfiction books about birds’ nests. I read the books to the class that day and then placed them on the shelf for children to look through as they observed the nest.
The next morning his mom arrived, holding her tearful son’s hand. She described to me how he had cried as he told her we hadn’t done much with the bird’s nest in class. I was confused. We’d gone to the library and found books. I’d read them to the children and placed them near the nest to explore on their own.
Years later this example still reminds me of how much I still had to learn about paying attention to children’s social and emotional needs. Sure, we’d found information on birds’ nests, but this particular boy missed his dad, and at the time I didn’t make the connection that his tears may not have been about the nest. It hadn’t occurred to me to find books featuring characters with close family members who were far away, or books that could help him through tough times.
Reading the articles in this cluster as a new teacher might have helped me see the many ways children’s books can support teaching and learning. Teachers can select books that help children feel respected and included. They can look for characters and scenarios children can identify with as they work through their own tough times. And books can also support learning in specific content areas.
In “Promoting Resilience Through Read-Alouds,” Jan Lacina, Michelle Bauml, and Elizabeth R. Taylor describe how teachers can use children’s literature to help children build resilience when they face tough times: “As teachers support students to read and reflect on characters who face strife and hardship yet find positive ways to make it through difficult situations, they are helping prepare them for life.”
In their article, “Reading Your Way to a Culturally Responsive Classroom,” Shannon B. Wanless and Patricia A. Crawford share how teachers can address race through children’s literature so that young children develop positive racial identity, build relationships across races, and recognize race-related injustices: “We see these discussions about race in relation to children’s books as part of a larger effort to revise conceptualization of high-quality early childhood education to include teaching practices that intentionally address race.”
Linda Forbringer, Andrea Hettinger, and Emma Reichert, in “Using the Picture Book Extra Yarn to Differentiate Common Core Math Instruction,” describe three teachers who used the children’s book as a starting point for meaningful hands-on mathematics instruction. In the words of one teacher: “My students could not believe we were able to read a book and do an art project during math time. They frequently ask if we can ‘read Yarn again.’ It is very exciting to know they loved it as much as I did.”
In “Getting Smarter About E-Books for Children,” Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine highlight research on e-books and children’s learning. They explore questions like, “How do adult–child interactions around educational e-books compare to the interactions around the same book in print?” and “What exactly does good educational design look like?”
In “Reflecting on Books That Include Characters With Disabilities,” Charis L. Price, Michaelene M. Ostrosky, and Rosa Milagros Santos share guidelines for evaluating books that represent children with disabilities in thoughtful ways: “Books are powerful vehicles for supporting the identity of children with disabilities, and promoting acceptance and understanding of differences.”
I hope teachers find these articles useful as they consider the many ways they can incorporate children’s literature into their classrooms.
How do children’s books support your teaching?
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Content Strategy and Development at NAEYC.
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 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
By Susan Friedman
The March 2015 issue of Young Children focuses on blocks as a great learning tool from birth through age 8 and I'll admit it. I'm block crazy. I first learned about the power of blocks as a learning tool straight from the source when I worked at City & Country School, the birthplace of the unit block. Caroline Pratt, the founder of the school developed the unit block to serve as a core basic material children could use to experiment with as they learned about the world.
The materials on the block shelves in my classroom at City & Country were similar to what had been on the block shelves of the school’s preschool classroom for years. This was not a classroom set-up I had designed. As a new teacher, I inherited the basic layout from longtime City & Country School teacher, Shirley Lanser who also taught me about the school’s philosophy with its focus on open-ended learning materials - paint, clay, water, and of course blocks.
So what was on my block shelf?
- lots of wooden unit blocks
- boxes of small colorful wooden cubes
- squares of cloth
- simple baby dolls
- painted wooden trucks
- painted wooden figures that could be imagined to be a person (when vertical) or a train, bed, etc (when horizontal)
- small pots and pans
Overtime I added a few other items:
- block sized animals
- a basket of natural materials like pinecones
But the basic materials and what was on the shelves remained the same. The classroom had no toy stove, toy sink, or toy beds. Much of the dramatic play that might happen in other classrooms, in places like a housekeeping corner, took place among the blocks.
I remember being surprised when teachers visiting from other schools asked how we got so many girls to spend time in the block area. When I visited other classrooms I thought I knew the answer. Take away the toy stove, sink, and beds, I thought at the time, and put in more space for blocks. The kids will build the stoves, tables, and beds from blocks!
City & Country school is a unique school with a unique history. Not every program can devote so much of the classroom space to block building.
What’s on your block shelf? And what’s not in your classroom that the kids recreate with blocks? More more ideas on blocks make sure to read the March 2015 issue of Young Children which focuses on the power of blocks!
Susan Friedman is Executive Editor of Digital Content at NAEYC.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and KaBOOM! are working together to help kids get the balanced and active play they need to thrive. Rhian Evans Allvin, executive director of NAEYC, and Darell Hammond, founder and CEO of KaBOOM!, discuss the importance of play in education and the positive impact it has on communities.
Why is play important to education?
Rhian Evans Allvin: Neuroscience has confirmed that learning begins at birth and the period from birth to age five includes rapid brain development—setting the foundation for cognitive, social/emotional, language and fine and gross motor skills. In order to achieve the academic excellence and equity that is essential—we must invest in our young children during this window of explosive development.
Young children engage in various kinds of play, such as physical play, object play, pretend or dramatic play, constructive play, and games with rules. Play gives them opportunities to develop physical competence and enjoyment of the outdoors, understand and make sense of their world, interact with others, express and control emotions, develop their symbolic and problem-solving abilities, and practice emerging skills. Research shows the links between play and foundational capacities such as memory, self-regulation, oral language abilities, social skills, and success in school.
Children of all ages love to play. From infancy, children act on the world around them for the pleasure of seeing what hap¬pens; for example, repeatedly dropping a spoon on the floor or pulling the cat’s tail. Around age two, children begin to demonstrate symbolic use of objects—for instance, picking up a shell and pre¬tending to drink as from a cup—at least when they have had opportunities to observe others engaging in such make-believe behavior.
From such beginnings, children begin to engage in more mature forms of dramatic play, in which by the age of 3–5 they may act out specific roles, interact with one another in their roles, and plan how the play will go. Such play is influential in developing self-regulation, as children are highly motivated to stick to the roles and rules of the play, and thus grow in the ability to inhibit their impulses, act in coordination with others, and make plans. High-level dramatic play produces documented cognitive, social, and emotional ben¬efits.
Darell Hammond: As global competition increases, it is imperative that children develop a skill-set relevant to today's workforce and are able to approach challenges with creative solutions to successfully navigate our complex, ever-changing world. Critical thinking and collaboration are integral to the jobs of the future, and balanced and active play helps kids develop these 21st century skills.
Unfortunately, however, play is disappearing in our schools. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 30 percent of children surveyed had little to no recess in their school day. That's nearly one in three kids. At KaBOOM!, we believe play should be part of a well-rounded school day. That is, kids need to read, write, do math, as well as practice problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity. We know play also helps children adjust to the school setting, enhances their learning readiness, and indirectly contributes to children learning more hard skills in school by mitigating behavioral problems and increasing academic engagement.
We are thrilled to partner with NAEYC, to raise awareness about the importance of play in early childhood education. As part of this commitment, we are granting Imagination Playgrounds to 10 NAEYC member sites. This unique and innovative play product will help transform regular classrooms into playspaces that encourage learning, social development, critical thinking, movement, and fun!
How does play benefit kids?
Rhian: We see a wonderful interplay of domains as children play—they demonstrate their approaches to learning, they can engage with others in a social relationship, they attempt things that are challenging, yet achievable—which enhances their self-esteem. Children express emotions as they play. There’s also an integration of math, literacy, science, and other academic areas as children play—constructing, classifying, sorting, seriating, quantifying, and practicing other skills. Physical play supports the development of gross and fine motor skills. Who knew that a classic game of Simon Says is actually building the same inhibitory control that is needed to follow academic instructions later in school? Research now demonstrates the development of self-regulation or executive function in sociodramatic (imaginative, pretend) play leads to higher achievement—a very important benefit!
Darell: At KaBOOM!, we believe that the well-being of society begins with the well-being of children. This is why we’re such big advocates of balanced and active play, which is essential—and elemental—to enable children to thrive.
Just as a healthy diet balances proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients, a balanced “play diet” should include a mix of all kinds of play, because different types have different benefits. For example, play-dough creations, blocks, and make-believe spark the imagination and teach problem-solving skills. Running, jumping, and climbing get legs moving and hearts pumping. And exploring playgrounds with families or playing hide-and-seek with friends helps kids learn to work together, collaborate, and share. A balance of play means active minds, active bodies, and active together to realize all of play’s benefits.
What impact can play have on cities?
Darell: Across the United States, cities and communities are engaged in a fierce contest for the future. They are competing for businesses, economic development, and jobs. They are competing for residents—for families who will breathe energy and enterprise into their neighborhoods. The fact is, for communities to thrive, they need to ensure that all of their residents are happy, healthy, and contributing to their community’s overall vitality. One essential ingredient in the recipe is a renewed commitment to fostering family-friendly, kid-friendly environments that allow young people to get their bodies moving and their minds engaged no matter where they are.
All families deserve to live in a safe community with ample job opportunities, great schools and abundant opportunities to play, but we currently have inequitable distribution of services, resources, and opportunities for low-income families. This inequity serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty that threatens our nation's economic future. Creating kid-friendly, family-friendly cities filled with play is a competitive advantage for cities to attract and retain residents, and it directly impacts the kids that need it most.
Rhian: The provision of family-friendly, kid-friendly environments is a hallmark of sustainable communities. All families want to live in areas where there are many opportunities for children to play outdoors in areas that are safe and conducive to big body play, using their imaginations and equipment that is tailored to their needs. That’s the kind of community I want to live in—and fortunately I do!
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Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
Darell Hammond is the founder and CEO of KaBOOM!
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 Sarah Smith
By: Susan Friedman
New research on how young dual language learners learn in both languages is essential to supporting children worldwide. According to the Associated Press, up to 66 percent of the world's children are raised as bilingual speakers. That is why it is particularly relevant that NAEYC is sharing best practices from two national experts on teaching young dual language learners (DLLs) on Universal Children's Day. Dr. Linda Espinosa and Karen Nemeth presented on the most current brain research and best practices related to DLLs, their teachers and their families during the second half of NAEYC's kickoff panel for Grandes Comienzos Futuros Brillantes at Annual Conference. The panel was moderated by Miriam Calderon, Senior Partner at School Readiness Consulting. Following are some highlights from the panelists' discussion.
Part II: Dual Language Learning
"The combination of living in poverty and having low access to early education increases the vulnerability of dual language learners to negative outcomes." -Dr. Linda Espinosa
Dr. Linda Espinosa, Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at the University of Missouri, Columbia, discussed the latest research in dual language learning and how it impacts how young children are taught. She started by commenting on the first panel, “I heard some things for the first time here. I was struck by the fact that we are a unified family of educators with similar goals!” She advocated for cross-national sharing of information and requested that the Inter-American Development Bank report on ECD services in Latin America be made available in English; the report has already been translated and can be found here.
Dr. Espinosa described how the term Dual Language Learner (DLL) is different from the term English Language Learner because DLL acknowledges that children aren't just learning in English, they are also learning in their home language. DLL reflects the linguistic capacity to learn in two languages. This linguistic capacity is a strength and will stay with children learning in two languages their whole lives. The term is also important because it is strength-based and reflects what children DO know (their home language) rather than what they don't know (the second language - English). In the US, Dual Language Learners’ first introduction to English often takes place in an early education program.
Dr. Espinosa explained that the past 10 years of research has revealed a developmental paradox. In the Unites States DLLs are highly vulnerable to underachievement. However, this does not mean that all Dual Language Learners are the same. Context matters! When dual language learners are from families who also carry the burden of being from a lower socioeconomic status then children are more vulnerable to underachievement. However, when Dual Language learners are not burdened by lower economic status, research shows that having a second language is NOT a risk factor.
Having a home language other than English and being a DLL is in fact a strength! DLLs have:
- Lower infant mortality rates
- Fewer mental and physical problems
- Strong social skills
- Parents support education and have high expectation
Teachers need to know more about the science of early bilingualism so that they can understand the capacities of DLLs and how to support their learning in both languages and how to engage their families. The brain development for young bilinguals is different than that of a monolingual child. All babies are born being able to hear all sounds but even before the first birthday they become more attuned to the sounds of their native language.
Young bilingual brains have better:
- Inhibitory control
- Working memory
- Cognitive flexibility
For more information see Challenging Common Myths About Young Dual Language Learners: An Update to the Seminal 2008 Report.
Karen Nemeth, an author, speaker and consultant on teaching young children who are dual language learners discussed how educators and parents can nurture DLL’s through having interesting and relevant conversations together. Ms. Nemeth reminded us that connections with other people happen through conversations. In order to have these conversations educators must think about what they are doing in the classroom, including why they are choosing specific activities and materials in relation to how they help nurture meaningful conversation.
Ms. Nemeth challenged all teachers to ask themselves:
- Why did I choose this material?
- How will the child use this himself?
- What is the connection?
- Where will the child go with this information
- What related conversations will take place?
To kick off this thinking Ms. Nemeth asked the audience to sing the song, “Head Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in Spanish, substituting the Spanish words for hair, shirt, pants and shoes. Participants experienced first hand some of the confusion that can happen when taking in information in a different language demonstrating that, “just because you said it doesn’t mean you taught it”. She then asked attendees to think of the song, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and to question whether the words and gestures really connect with the here and now of the children’s daytime preschool experience. Ms. Nemeth suggested that “Wheels on the Bus” is a more useful classroom song because a song with words children can use right away is more helpful and relevant to DLLs as they try to learn in two or more languages. Having items in the classroom that support language learned in songs is critical for conversation and connection. Most children will have seen or ridden buses. Most teachers have books in their classroom about buses and other vehicles as well as toy buses and vehicles children can play with. Children can then create and imagine buses as part of their dramatic play. A song with words children can use in an everyday context offers a DLL more opportunities for real understanding and real connections and can in turn nurture meaningful conversations and language development in both English and in the child’s home language.
“Sometimes Spanish speaking children have more words than their monolingual peers - this wealth needs to be acknowledged.” -Karen Nemeth
Ms. Nemeth provided the following recommendations for supporting staff, children, and families:
- Develop a language plan
- Communicate with staff about the goals of the plan and how it will be implemented in classrooms
- Include monolingual staff in the language plan
- Include trainings about the importance of intentional conversation planning
- Provide professional development materials in different languages so staff can continue to develop their own language assets
- Encourage educators to learn some words in each child’s language and support them in this effort
- Engage in planned conversations, stories, and activities in both the children's’ home languages and in English
- Ensure sure there is time in each language to become truly engaged with content and conversation
- Help children focus on one language at a time
- Take time to explore connections and meanings
- Remember that roving interpreters or sprinklings of language are not effective in supporting young DLLs.
- Get to know each families and their cultural context
- Show families you value their home language
Ms. Nemeth ended her talk by reminding us that having two languages is wonderful for young children. Young children are especially hard-wired to learn languages. Educators can learn how to support young children in their programs as they learn in both languages, setting the stage for their continued learning and success both in school and in life.
ExchangeEveryDay invited readers to weigh in on the "Best Books for Preschool Teachers" and we’re proud to see four of NAEYC’s books on the list!
- The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Young Children’s Learning by Ann S. Epstein
- Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 by Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp, eds.
- Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards
- Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning by Amy Laura Dombro, Judy Jablon, and Charlotte Stetson
We’d also like to highlight two more preschool teacher favorites, Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Focus on Preschoolers and Teaching Young Children (TYC), NAEYC’s award winning magazine for preschool teachers.
Any other favorites you’d like to add to the list?