By: Sally Donnelly
This blog post is the second of a 4-part blog series on the reactions and experiences of a 3rd-grade teacher's first Maker Fest with her elementary school.
The five third-grade teachers at Discovery Elementary School are a diverse group with various passions. After being introduced to the maker fest concept at the April staff meeting, we met as a grade-level team. We decided collectively how we’d incorporate maker fest work time into our schedules. We each picked a project that matched our personal interests. We agreed that the 107 third grade students could choose which of the five projects to tackle. The art teacher assisted us, creating a list of materials we would need to gather. The materials would be donated, and we put out a call for family volunteers.
Our projects included:
1. A Wind-Powered Vehicle. Two of the third grade teachers liked the idea of an atmosphere-inspired project. They found their project on the PBS Design Squad website and selected the creation of air-powered vehicles as a problem.
Just fill the balloon with air, and it moves!
Watch the video of an air-powered vehicle to see such a machine in action!
2. An iMovie Music Video. Another third grade colleague is a talented photographer. That passion sparked her interest in supporting third graders making a music video. The project was based on a commercial music video—“Brave,” by Sara Bareilles—that the students often danced to during brain breaks . Click here to view the 4-minute video they made: Discovery Brave Video on Vimeo
3. A Computer-Aided Design. A colleague with a love of computers offered to challenge students to design houses using Google Sketchup, which they had no previous experience using.
commands to render the beginning 3-D plan for this house.
4. A Soft Sculpture Using LEDs for Light-Up Eyes. The art teacher added a sewing choice with a problem-solving layer. The students would use electric thread to sew a circuit with a battery, allowing their stuffed animals’ eyes to light up! For this to work, the students had to complete an electric circuit. One student made Arno, the orange pizza guy from our Zoombini game. Another student decided to make his white stuffed figure a pirate.
5. A Zoombini Pillow. I gathered fabric remnants and pillow stuffing. I made stencils for Zoombini hair, eyes, noses, and feet, and I lined up volunteers with sewing machines to help students make Zoombini pillows.
Stay tuned for Part 3!
Resources on Making
Sally Donnelly is a third-grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School, in Arlington, Virginia.
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
At the end of April, NAEYC will launch Hello, a brand new online platform for Interest Forums and online communities.
Hello will completely transform NAEYC’s Interest Forums and create a better, more accessible online space to have conversations and create connections with peers around important early learning issues.
NAEYC’s Interest Forums are one of our most popular and valuable member benefits, offering discussion and dialogue around specific topics in early education. Hello marks a major step forward and a fresh, modern platform that allows all NAEYC members to join these valuable conversations.
Hello is: Conversation. Early educators have diverse insights and opinions about their profession. Hello offers a unique platform for you to exchange ideas and have conversations with others around the issues you are passionate about.
Hello is: Digital Networking. NAEYC’s Interest Forums are known for their fantastic face-to-face sessions at our Annual Conference. Hello brings that energy online and provides a platform for accessible, year-round networking with experts and peers nationwide—all from the comfort of your laptop or phone.
- Hello is: Connection. Never been to a NAEYC event? Trying to figure out how to get more involved? Hello is the perfect opportunity to strengthen your connection to your profession. Learn more about important issues, develop new connections and be a part of your professional association.
As a NAEYC member, you’ve been set up with an account on Hello and are a member of the open discussion forum. When the new online space opens, you’ll start to receive a digest email each day highlighting the conversations your colleagues are having in Hello. You can respond to discussions already happening or start your own. Instructions for using the site will be linked from that first digest and also available from the site’s help tab.
Eager to know what you can do to prepare for that day? We encourage you to update your member profile in our database. Login here, click “my profile,” and choose “change information.” Double check your email address is correct, then move down the screen to the area that allows you to add and remove interest forums. After choosing which interest forums you'd like to add or remove, scroll to the bottom of the screen and click ‘update information’ to save your changes.
We can’t wait for you to see what Hello has to offer our members!
Invite a friend! Hello has room for everyone, so make sure to tell your friends and colleagues to become a NAEYC member and join the Interest Forums today.
Rhian Evans Allvin is Chief Executive Officer at NAEYC
By: Aaron Morris
As an early childhood educator, you know that many parents are on a continuous journey to discover tools and resources that support their children’s learning outside of the classroom. But it’s especially hard to find tools that are engaging, educational, and developmentally appropriate for both young children and their families. With a plethora of educational resources out there, what can families do to set their children on the path to be lifelong learners in meaningful ways? As multiplatform media has become a way of life, it is becoming more important for families to balance on- and off-screen learning.
PBS KIDS recently developed and piloted Family Creative Learning, a new outreach and family engagement model with local member stations in 11 communities and funded with a Ready To Learn grant by the US Department of Education to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS. Families and children are provided with tablets during a set of workshops, and facilitators support families as they navigate the PBS KIDS ScratchJr app to create action sequences and animations for characters through block-based coding. The workshops offer families and children the opportunity to have one-on-one time to explore technology while learning collaboratively with their kids. The workshops are set in community-based settings so families feel comfortable, and dinner is provided to make it easier for them to attend amidst their busy schedules. The model for the workshops is informed by Ricarose Roque’s work, the decades of pioneering two-generational work from the National Center for Families Learning, best practices in project-based and inquiry-based learning for young children, and the idea, expressed recently by the Fred Rogers Center in this blog, that the context around media use matters. Rather than thinking about technology as a stand-alone solution, there are benefits to using it as an interactive content tool to help support learning and relationship-building.
Here are some key family engagement takeaways from the PBS KIDS Family Creative Learning workshops:
Time and space to spend together are gifts to be treasured: Family life can be hectic and chaotic. While experts talk about the benefits of coviewing and coengagement, many adults understandably use the time their child is engaged with trusted content to complete necessary tasks. While it is a big ask to get families to commit to multiple sessions of the workshops for two hours at a time, adults are grateful for uninterrupted time to engage with their kids as well as with other families. Educators who encourage coengagement among the families in their programs know that it makes a big difference. In addition to encouraging coengagement habits, it is incredibly valuable to support families by offering them the time and space to leave everything else at the door so they can hang out, play, and learn with one another without distractions.
Families deserve a strength-based approach: There is no shortage of advice and information conveyed to families, often leaving them feeling unprepared to face the many challenges of parenting. A main goal of the workshops (and all family engagement experiences) is for families to leave feeling empowered in their ability to support their children’s learning. Instead of spending time instructing families, the model encourages conversations between families in the room in an effort to build upon their ideas and their strengths, rather than imposing advice from others. This approach not only supports confidence-building in families— it also encourages the development of connections and relationship-building.
- Supporting diverse learners: Family Creative Learning is designed to support interest-driven exploration, creativity, and play among families. A critical component is providing multiple entry points and pathways for a range of diverse participants. Kids learn differently from one another—they have different interests, strengths, and ways of engaging with each other and with the world around them. The same is true for adults, who are rarely given the opportunity to assume the role of learner alongside their children. As the model evolves, additional resources and pathways will be created as needed in an effort to support both young and adult learners.
The education of young children and families is some of the most exciting and fulfilling work there is. Asking families to engage with one another in a supportive environment while enjoying time with their children can be an excellent model for sharing new technology and trusted interactive content, and helps to build a community within your program.
Aaron Morris is the senior manager of community engagement content at PBS Kids, working on behalf of the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative.
Aaron works collaboratively with education professionals at PBS Stations and the producers of PBS KIDS' media properties to create impactful learning experiences for children and families through outreach and community engagement efforts that meaningfully leverage PBS KIDS content and resources.
If you would like to implement something similar in your classroom or program, you may find the ideas and strategies in our PBS KIDS Family Creative Learning Facilitator Guide useful.
By: Sally Donnelly
This blog post is the second of a 4-part blog series on the reactions and experiences of a 3rd-grade teacher's first Maker Fest.
It was April—the fourth quarter—and as a third grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School, in Arlington, Virginia, I still had lots to do before the school year ended in June. Then the principal announced, “After testing in June, I’d like you and all the students to participate in the First Annual Discovery Elementary School Maker Fest.”
My first reaction was along the lines of “What? Another task to add to my already long to-do list at the end of the school year, when we are trying to wrap up and pack up the classroom? Really?” Then she told us we were free to create our own schedules and to choose whatever project we wanted to lead. Maybe this school requirement was going to be a lot more fun than other end-of-the year tasks.
Just like the third graders I teach, I’m happiest when I have a choice. But I still wasn’t sure how I’d find the time. With the words “choose whatever you want” in the back of my mind, I came up with an idea I wanted to integrate into the maker day: students could make pillows depicting a character from the Zoombini app we played in class. Maybe the principal had just inspired me to find the time!
What’s a Maker?
I admit, I wasn’t sure what it meant to be a maker. Fortunately, the principal had put together a Maker Support Team (the librarian, an art teacher, a gifted resource teacher, and a technology teacher) to guide us.
A maker can be any age. Students, teachers, family members, and community volunteers can all be makers. The Discovery Maker Fest would be a gathering of makers who are crafters, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science club members, authors, artists, tech enthusiasts, and more. A festival celebrating invention, creativity, problem solving, and resourcefulness! Our student makers would spend time tinkering with recycled materials, collaborating, and exploring possibilities in order to solve a problem.The “loose parts” and materials might range from everyday items, like recycled fruit trays, pipe cleaners, egg cartons, and cardboard boxes, to PVC pipes, circuit boards, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) at the high-tech end of the spectrum.
Basically, maker is a new term to describe a hands-on, playful, creative person engaged in project work. “If that’s the case,” I thought, “no problem! I’ve ALWAYS run a maker-like classroom, because hands-on learning is my mantra.” I believe children (and adults) learn by doing and learn through play. Whether teaching kindergartners or third graders, I use a workshop approach: I teach an explicit mini-lesson daily in each subject, and then I act as a guide-on-the-side. I watch the students work, and I offer guidance as they think, learn, experiment, and explain. While the state standards drive my instruction, my ultimate goal is to help students think critically for themselves, so they can live richer lives today and every day.
When I realized that maker fest was just a new label for my lifelong philosophy of project-based learning, I was a little perplexed. Why was project work being presented as something new? However, I thought back to my days as a novice teacher, sitting wide-eyed at staff meetings. I dutifully took notes to help me implement whatever new initiative was being introduced. Days later, I’d overhear veteran teachers in the faculty room say things like, “How long do you think that plan will last?” and “Isn’t that like what we did years ago, only with a new name?”
I personally vowed early in my career not to become closed minded or set in my ways. Yet, here I was about to finish my 24th year as a teacher, and I felt myself moving toward that veteran been-there-done-that mindset. However, I realized I needed to keep an open mind and keep listening.
In fact, I was really looking forward to working with my colleagues and students on the maker project.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
Resources on Making
Sally Donnelly is a third-grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School, in Arlington, Virginia.
By: Allison Master, PhD
Every young child approaches the world with a sense of curiosity and wonder. One of our jobs as educators and parents is to support children’s natural instincts to learn. It is especially important to support learning in science, technology, engineering, and math— STEM. Early STEM skills lay the foundation for later success in school. For example, early math skills are the strongest predictor of later school achievement. To support children’s learning, we have to make sure that STEM starts early.
Learning STEM is like learning a language: children need to be immersed in STEM learning opportunities to become fluent. STEM helps children learn how to analyze information and solve problems. These are skills that are useful for all of us throughout our lives. Yet less than 5 percent of classroom time in preschool involves STEM activities!
One way to ensure that children get the most out of STEM opportunities is to make each activity as engaging as possible. Our research has looked for ways to help increase children’s motivation for STEM tasks. One method? Make STEM social.
In our study, we had 4-year-olds work on two STEM tasks, a math task and a puzzle task. The children in the study participated by themselves in both of the exercises. But for one task, we told the children they were part of a group. For example, we said, “You’re in the green group, and the green group plays math games.” They wore green T-shirts and sat at a green table. For the other task, we told children that they were working alone.
We found that when the STEM task was social, children were more motivated. When children thought they were part of a group working on the task, they persisted longer at it. They were also more confident in their abilities and thought the STEM learning was more fun. Even though the groups weren’t real, feeling connected to others motivated children more.
Motivation can boost learning. When children are interested and feel successful in the classroom, learning follows.
Our society has a lot of common misperceptions about STEM. We often see it as hard, solitary, and more “for boys” than “for girls.” Children pick up on these beliefs at an early age, often based on subtle cues from the adults around them. By elementary school, girls are less interested in STEM than boys. We can help to change these beliefs by making STEM social. This may also help children (especially girls) stay confident and comfortable in STEM domains.
What can teachers do to help engage their students in STEM? Here are a couple of ideas about how teachers and parents can use these findings to talk about STEM.
Use social language when you talk about STEM: “Let’s figure this puzzle out together,” “Here’s a tool we can try as a group,” “What can you build with your partner?,” “What will happen if we do this?”
Create classroom-wide groups to make sure everyone feels included. “Our whole class does science together,” “Time for us to work on our math problems.”
For young children, STEM is all around. We want children to discover all the fun possibilities that STEM has to offer. Then they can build their interest in STEM over time. To help make that happen, we need to remember that STEM starts early.
Dr. Allison Master is a researcher at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington.
By: Rachel J. Franz
Contributions from Hector Rivera, Jenifer Fuller, and Zaina Keenan
As I was walking through security to a meeting with my senator's legislative staff, one of the security personnel noticed the small NAEYC pin on my lapel. He quickly realized that he recognized the letters from the child development program on Capitol Hill—it is a NAEYC-Accredited program! This was a powerful moment to truly realize that the individuals who represent us when making legislative decisions already look to NAEYC to affirm that their children are receiving the best care possible. —Jenifer Fuller, Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC)
On February 28, 2017, on a bustling Capitol Hill, more than 200 early educators and advocates from all over the nation engaged legislators in discussion about the importance of affordable, high-quality early childhood education and the early learning workforce. The 2017 NAEYC Public Policy Forum in Washington, DC, was the largest one yet, and this three-day event provided teachers, seasoned advocates, and early childhood policy makers with a chance to hone their expertise on early childhood education (ECE) policy and to speak out about it. Among the participants were five members of the Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC), a group of teachers, specialists, directors, students, and allies ages 18–30 who come together to bring a voice to young early educators across the nation. As one of the youngest people participating, YPAC member Zaina Keenan notes that “the NAEYC Public Policy Forum is an intimidating event. People from all over the country are gathered together to prepare for and visit Capitol Hill in the hopes of convincing legislators to pick our issues from the many issues being advocated for on any given day.”
Public Policy Forum is the place for young professionals
The Public Policy Forum can be intimidating initially. Yet, all participants felt more comfortable shortly after the first Power to the Profession session started because of an overwhelming sense of belonging. Public Policy Forum is the place for anyone who is passionate about children, families, and early childhood education. The Public Policy Forum offers many benefits for young professionals, including:
An invaluable understanding of ECE policy and funding. “Everything we do—research, classroom teaching, administration, higher education, and more—is done because of the funding we have,” asserts Keenan. Understanding policy is key to making change. The Forum organizers do a fantastic job of defining and contextualizing the jargon associated with policy, and they make it accessible to all.
Policy becomes personal. The Public Policy Forum provides a way for us to bring our personal and professional passion to the nation’s forefront. YPAC member Hector Rivera explains, “My work as a child care provider in inner city New York has gone from focusing on achieving quality care to trying to survive—in every sense of the word. Every day, families tell me how worried they are about their rights as immigrants and whether they are going to lose the support they receive to subsidize their child’s care. It was that exact urgency that ignited the fire in me to act. I knew there was no better way for me to do something than to go directly to Capitol Hill.”
Small size, big impact. With fewer than 300 participants, attendees are able to get a more personal understanding about colleagues in the field and to initiate relationships. Rivera writes, “By meeting other professionals on my state team, I was able to gain the connections and support I needed as a center director to attain the proper licensing for my center.”
Young professionals are capable professionals. The Public Policy Forum is the perfect place to step up to the plate and get out of your comfort zone. Veterans in the field are excited to involve a new generation of educators and advocates; this relationship is essential for the continued success of the field.
It’s normal to be nervous: Tips for future attendees of PPF and other NAEYC events
“Before attending the Public Policy Forum, policy and advocacy were areas in the profession that I avoided because I felt ill-equipped to participate,” says Jenifer Fuller. Aside from the participants who work primarily in policy, most first-time attendees and even returning participants had some jitters about heading to Capitol Hill. With NAEYC’s accessible presentations to help participants prepare, Fuller observes, “Attending NAEYC’s Public Policy Forum was a perspective-changing experience.”
Remember that legislators are human, too. Zaina Keenan writes, “It is nerve wracking to go and speak to legislative staff. However, it’s important to remember that they are people, too. Imagine how nervous they would be if asked to come and do a read aloud with a group of 20 preschoolers! They are experts in their field as we are in ours, and we have a lot to teach each other if we enter supplied with information to share.”
Review materials ahead of time. Policy staff put together a webinar with recommendations about how to prepare; viewing this at least two weeks before the Forum is key. This step will decrease anxiety going in and maximize the impact of your meetings and future advocacy. One easy step? Follow your legislators on Facebook and Twitter.
Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The acronyms can be overwhelming, so jot them down as you hear them and ask about them later. Jenifer Fuller says, “It was understood that we may not be experts on legislative jargon, but we are experts in what young children need to thrive. NAEYC provided the tools to make the bridge between what we know is best for children and ways to share that information with legislators so that actions can be taken to implement change.”
Pack your blazer. Dressing to impress invites others to take you more seriously, no matter your age or experience level. Hector Rivera writes, “As someone who knows that by the end of the day I will have paint and food crumbs all over my clothing, formal attire isn’t second nature to me, but it’s still a must! Also, carry plenty of business cards, as you never know when you will connect with someone.”
Make a plan for after the Forum. “My state team and I contacted Congressional staff members with a summary of our meeting and additional information that they requested during our meeting. NAEYC’s Public Policy Forum provided access to my senators and representatives in ways that will create changes to my work in the field,” writes Jenifer Fuller.
Next steps: Get involved with policy as a young professional
Public Policy Forum is a wonderful leap into the world of early childhood policy. Zaina Keenan says, “It’s an opportunity to create an annual plan for advocacy at all levels, and to kick it off in a big way—speaking to those who impact our field at the national level.” There are many things you can do before the next Public Policy Forum to get involved.
A first step is to visit NAEYC’s Policy site. Through NAEYC, you’ll find many opportunities for involvement:
- Subscribing to the Children’s Champion’s newsletter.
- Follow, tweet at, and email your local, state, and federal representatives. Find them here.
- Check in with your local/state NAEYC Affiliate.
- And, of course, becoming a NAEYC member is the best way to build your network, find the best professional development opportunities, launch your career, and have access to events like the NAEYC Public Policy Forum. Join here.
Next year’s Public Policy Forum will be here before we know it. Hector Rivera says, “To any professional contemplating attending PPF, I say go for it! It is a truly rewarding experience and every professional in our field should experience this policy forum.” The time to get involved is now.
About the contributors
Rachel J. Franz is the founder and lead teacher at Tiny Trees Preschool at Jefferson Park, an all-outdoor preschool program in a Seattle, Washington, city park. She holds an MEd in Early Childhood Education from Champlain College and is focused on helping families navigate media and consumerism in positive, healthy ways. Rachel is a certified Simplicity Parenting Family Life Coach and has presented on topics ranging from incorporating nature into early childhood settings to the influence of picture books on children’s consumerism.
Zaina Keenan is the early childhood director at Children’s Village, an NAEYC-accredited and Keystone 4 Star center in Philadelphia. In addition to her everyday responsibilities and those of the NAEYC Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC), Zaina serves on the NAEYC Member Engagement Committee, her local affiliate’s (DVAEYC) Membership Advisory Council, and the Becker’s Advisory Council, is a member of the 2016–17 Pennsylvania Early Childhood Advocacy Fellowship, and has presented at statewide conferences over the past year on strategies for effectively teaching English Language Learners.
Jenifer Fuller serves at Tulsa Community College, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as adjunct faculty and as the education specialist in the Child Development Center. Jenifer is an advocate for developmentally appropriate practice, play, infant mental health, and infusing early childhood with nature. In addition to serving on the YPAC Content Committee, Jenifer serves as the Membership Chair for her local affiliate chapter and as the Vice President of Chapters for Oklahoma AEYC.
Hector Rivera is the manager of Children and Family Programs at The DreamYard Art Center in the Bronx where he directs the school-age early childhood program. Hector identifies as a queer Afro–Puerto Rican Taino, an identity he brings to his work around the arts as a means for social change. He believes that educating young people using curriculum based in anti-bias practice and with a social justice lens is key to children’s liberation.
NAEYC’s Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC) was formed with a clear goal in mind: Helping NAEYC strengthen its recruitment, retention and engagement of young professionals in the field. Click here to learn more about YPAC!
By: Shayna Cook and Abbie Lieberman
Ms. Paredes glances at her watch. Today, the principal will visit the class for the first time this year. As she settles the children on the carpet for a read aloud using How Many Stars in the Sky?, by Lenny Hort, Principal Murin walks in and takes his seat. The story ends and the children discuss their favorite parts with a partner. Then Ms. Paredes and her assistant begin a “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” fingerplay. After that, children choose their learning centers, and Ms. Paredes circulates.
Principal Murin observes her in the science center. Two girls and a boy take an empty box and imagine that they are in a rocket ship going to the moon. Ms. Paredes asks encouraging questions like, “Where else could you go in space?” and “How will you stay seated in the rocket with no gravity?” Ms. Paredes is excited to see the children’s engagement and to hear them think about answers to the questions.
When the observation period ends, though, Principal Murin leaves the classroom confused. He appreciated the children’s engagement with the science center but wonders why such a structured lesson ended up with the children “just” playing.
This scenario is all too common. Elementary school principals don’t always recognize how much children learn through play. In fact, play is a vehicle for student-centered learning, allowing meaningful interactions and conversation. Guided play helps children learn to solve problems, persist through challenges, build vocabulary skills, and gain background knowledge in many content areas. Many studies show the value of play-based learning. Yet it is far too rare in the early grades.
We authors work at New America, a DC think tank. Last year, our Early and Elementary Education Policy team convened five focus groups of elementary school principals around the country to explore their perceptions of what instruction should look like in pre-K through third grade classrooms. The groups answered questions on staffing, student transition from pre-K to kindergarten, student assessment, professional development, and the role of a principal. We compiled our findings into a series of briefs called Principal’s Corner: Perspectives on Teaching and Learning Pre-K–3rd Grade.
Principals in our groups had different opinions about the characteristics of strong learning environments in early childhood. Many acknowledged that play is an important teaching tool when working with young children. But the majority of principals felt pressured to limit play time in pre-K, kindergarten, and the early grades to focus on academics. In essence, they did not always make a direct connection between play and learning. Here are three examples of what they said:
Play is essential to child development. When principals and other instructional leaders are able to see what learning through play looks like in a classroom, they are better equipped to help teachers promote developmentally-informed practices.
To be strong early education leaders, principals need better preparation, professional development, and support from districts and states. Some states and districts around the country are stepping up. Illinois, for example, is reaching principals before they start leading schools. The state has recently revamped its licensure system, replacing the K–12 principal license with a P–12 license. Early childhood content is now woven through the curriculum so that all aspiring principals receive preparation in pre-K. Illinois is currently the only state that requires principals to have early childhood education preparation before leading an elementary school.
Minnesota is one of a handful of states teaching principals about the importance of early education through in-service professional learning. This method reaches novice and experienced principals who are already leading schools. The state’s Department of Education worked closely with the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association on a Principal Leadership Series, which is helping demonstrate how to build strong pre-K–3rd grade programs in schools and communities.
States can take less formal approaches to familiarize principals with key elements of high-quality early education. Colorado is one of several states that has created resources to assist principals in evaluating early education teachers. Teacher evaluation has become one of the most important aspects of a principal’s job but, as shown in our opening vignette, there is often a disconnect between what teachers and their principals view as good teaching. In response to requests from both teachers and evaluators, the Colorado Department of Education worked with a group of early childhood educators to create Practical Ideas for Evaluating Early Childhood Educators, a handbook to help evaluators apply the state’s general evaluation tool to the early grades that includes specific and detailed examples.
Improving principals’ understanding of early learning can come from the top. Superintendent Steve Oats from Winston Salem, North Carolina, is often held up as an example of a superintendent who understands the value of play to children’s learning. Eva Phillips, coauthor of NAEYC’s book Basics of Developmentally Appropriate Practice: An Introduction for Teachers of Kindergartners, used the NAEYC DAP books as the basis for the professional development she provided to teachers in Oats’s district.
In the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council’s Transforming the Workforce For Children Birth Through Age 8 report from 2015, experts encourage all states to revisit their policies and standards for education leadership to ensure that they incorporate the early elementary years. It’s reassuring to see states like Illinois, Minnesota, and Colorado acknowledging the importance of high-quality teaching and learning in the early grades. We hope other states to learn from these examples and build on their own work to strengthen principal preparation and professional development systems to make sure elementary school principals are more strongly grounded in early childhood education. With this expertise, school leaders like Principal Murin will be able to see that children engaging in dramatic play with a cardboard rocket ship really are reaching for the stars.
For more information on the connection between children’s play and learning, see:
Nell, M.L., W.F. Drew, & D.E. Bush. 2013. From Play to Practice: Connecting Teachers' Play to Children's Learning. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Bohart, H., K. Charner, & D. Koralek. 2015. Spotlight on Young Children: Exploring Play. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Shayna Cook is Policy Analyst, Education Policy Program at New America
Abbie Lieberman is Policy Analyst, Education Policy Program at New America
By: Jeremy Boyle
This blog post was originally published in the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College blog.
Technology and digital media are an integral part of many adults’ lives, and the same is true for many children today. Not long ago, the conversation about digital media and early childhood learning focused on whether or not these new technologies should be part of early childhood education, at home or at school. But in recent years, the conversation has shifted to an acknowledgment that these things are a part of learning.
The Fred Rogers Center and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) were at the forefront of this shifting discourse more than four years ago with the publication of a joint position statement on “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs.”
Conversations about the place of digital media in early childhood education continue at events such as the NAEYC conference, which is the largest gathering of early childhood professionals in the U.S. The 2016 conference was held in November in Los Angeles, CA. Not surprisingly, technology and media was a dominant theme throughout the conference.
Only a few weeks before the conference, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) released a new policy statement, “Media and Young Minds,” which updates their family guidelines for managing young children’s media usage. The announcement of this policy statement was widely covered in the national media, signaling a broad public interest in these issues.
In this current conversation about media, technology and children’s learning, the focus has been on the importance of human interaction in relation to children’s media and technology use. This is reassuring to hear. The most current research is beginning to make clear that while digital media can provide significant learning benefits for young learners, the adult-child relationship is essential to obtaining these learning benefits. Our work at the Fred Rogers Center has consistently tried to echo this theme, with or without technology.
Fred said, “It’s through relationships that we grow best—and learn best.” We think this straightforward statement might offer the most essential clue to understanding how children gain the most learning benefit from their interactions with media and technology. Building on this, the essential question might be:
How does a child’s interaction with media and technology strengthen relationships?
We think it might be helpful to think about a child’s relationships in three ways:
1) The child’s relationship to self: We might ask how the experience helps a child to understand and express him- or herself and to develop both competence and confidence.
2) The child’s relationship to others: How does the experience help a child to connect, collaborate and share ideas with peers, family and others?
3) The child’s relationship to the larger world, community and environment: For example, how might the experience help a child appreciate the natural world or gain understanding and empathy for the lives of people and other creatures near and far?
This focus on relationships in all of their diverse forms aligns with the message of Fred Rogers, who spoke about media, technology and children in a far less media-saturated time: “No matter how helpful they are as tools (and, of course, they can be very helpful tools), computers don’t begin to compare in significance to the teacher-child relationship which is human and mutual. A computer can help you to learn to spell H-U-G, but it can never know the risk or the joy of actually giving or receiving one.”
As Fred knew, children become much more ready to learn when adult-child relationships are established. These relationships also enable the media experiences to contribute positively to a child’s social and emotional development. At the NAEYC conference, many strategies of joint engagement and media mentorship were recommended, such as co-viewing of media; asking children questions about a game they are playing; or making connections to content viewed in a program to the child’s environment. The AAP’s new guidelines provide recommendations on joint engagement strategies as well as on how much time children spend with media.
Technology and media are present in so many aspects of life that it is nearly impossible to imagine a one-size-fit-all approach of limits and restrictions that could meet the diverse needs of children and families. Earlier attempts that focused limitations on screen time do not address the nuanced nature of current technology and media interactions.
Following from Fred’s belief in “simple and deep,” we at the Center are looking for a simpler and clearer message to help guide parents, caregivers and educators as they navigate their own children’s media and technology use. Every child, family and context is unique, and any guidance should reflect and support individual decisions. In a recent conversation we had with Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical Center, he advised, “Our focus should be on living well with media rather than opposing or restricting it.”
There are, of course, many complex factors that will determine the quality of learning opportunities with media and technology. There are many trusted organizations working to help sort media and use based upon it being developmentally and content appropriate, having potential educational value, and promoting physical and mental health for children. But we think this focus on the idea of relationship is the most essential. It will not be the media and technology alone, but rather our use and practice together, that will help to support children to grow as confident, competent and caring human beings.
Jeremy Boyle, M.F.A, is Assistant Professor Of Learning, Media and Design at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College.
By: Tina Plaza-Whoriskey
If demographics are destiny, my family was headed for educational failure. All the signs pointed to struggle. Low-income? Check. Parents without education beyond high school? Check. A primary language other than English? Check. And parents who didn’t read to their children? Check.
These are among the factors that contribute to poor academic and life outcomes, according to Making Math Count More for Young Latino Children, newly published by the Child Trends Hispanic Institute. The researchers found that by the time Latino children in this demographic start kindergarten, they trail their white peers in math skills by the equivalent of 3 months of learning. This disparity, if left unaddressed, threatens to increase over time.
Taken at face value, these statistics paint an unflattering picture of Latino parents. Why don’t they have books in the home? Why don’t they read to their children? Don't they care about education? As a Senior Communications Manager at Child Trends, my job is to take these statistics and make them understandable. But since these statistics are so personal, I’d like to provide some context too.
Like many immigrant parents, my widowed mother did not choose to keep us out of preschool, and did not think she was neglecting us by not reading to us. She was simply too busy surviving and trying to keep four children fed on a cashier’s salary. In fact, when my oldest sister was offered a full scholarship to Harvard, my mother was willing to let her go, despite the fact that Boston seemed like a foreign land to her. She was letting go of the “second parent” in the home, her right arm, but my mother wanted her to have the best education.
Research suggests that Latino parents care deeply about their children’s education, as my mother certainly did. Against all odds, my siblings and I managed to make it out of the projects thanks to family support, government assistance and teachers who believed in us. My immediate family and the second generation that followed are engineers, accountants, law enforcement officials, lawyers and communications professionals. We are the success story.
A recent study published in a journal of the American Education Research Association revealed that policies aimed at improving school readiness are beginning to work, although there is still much more to be done. The study reported modest improvements for Latino children in the preparedness gap since the 1990s.
But, as the new Child Trends Hispanic Institute’s report finds, the gap is far from closed. We must do better. These are some of the recommendations from Making Math Count More for Young Latino Children:
- Expand access to high-quality early care and education, and make these programs more responsive to the needs of Latino families with young children.
- Make full-day kindergarten available to all families, regardless of where they live.
- Adopt guidelines for early math achievement, just as most states have adopted common standards for grades K-12.
Latinos currently represent one quarter of all U.S. kindergarteners, and by 2050 Latino children will constitute one third of the entire population under age 5. They are our future, and as the saying goes, a rising tide floats all boats.
Tina Plaza-Whoriskey is Senior Communications Manager at Child Trends.
The T in STEM: Creating Play-Based Experiences That Support Children’s Learning of Coding and Higher Order ThinkingWed, 02/01/2017 - 16:47 — NAEYC Guest Blogger
By: Tamara Kaldor
From Google Creative Labs announcing their new Project Bloks research project, to tangible technology toys aimed at parents, it can feel like excitement for coding is everywhere. Coding can be engaging and fun, but it’s only meaningful when there are strong higher order thinking (HOT) foundational skills first put in place, helping young children understand the process of coding. Young children can’t create meaningful experiences through coding without these foundational skills and without adults to help support their learning.
"Developmentally appropriate practices must guide decisions about whether and when to integrate technology and interactive media into early childhood programs."
–NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center Joint Position Statement on Technology in Early Childhood (2012)
What are higher order thinking (HOT) skills?
Computational thinking (CT), higher order thinking (HOT), and executive functioning (EF) skills are phrases we see daily in education media and educational research. At their core, these skills are quite similar because they help us reason, think critically, and problem solve. They develop at different rates for children depending on context and exposure to play and learning experiences that support their development. Play experiences like problem-solving, collaborating and designing during their playing and making are powerful experiences that all children need to be successful in life, to innovate, and to learn how to think through complex problems, such as coding. The adults in a young child’s life play a critical role as mentors, role models, and facilitators to help young children learn these skills through their use of language and their behavior. For this blog post, I will use the term higher order thinking (HOT) to refer to these combined skills.
For infants and toddlers, responsive interactions between adults and children are essential to early brain development and to cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and linguistic development.
–NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center College Joint Position Statement on Technology in Early Childhood (2012)
Early childhood educators have long helped young children hone their HOT skills through play-based experiences. Now there is a call from researchers and many others to deepen HOT skills in early childhood by introducing technology tools and coding when appropriate. We are just starting to put these ideas into practice in early childhood settings, and we are learning right along with the children, families, and educators we support.
It is a very exciting time in the world of education, young children, and technology, but it can also feel overwhelming if you are trying to figure out how to get started in your classroom. Before we introduce technology tools to use for coding, let's first get started practicing our HOT and coding muscles with children in our classroom.
Developmentally appropriate teaching practices must always guide the selection of any classroom materials, including technology and interactive media.
–NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center College Joint Position Statement on Technology in Early Childhood (2012)
Five tips to get started practicing HOT and early coding foundational skills without any technology:
1. Block play
Set up a variety of colored and shaped blocks where children can easily create and identify patterns with you. As children master the pattern and sequence making, you can collaborate to create more complex patterns and sequences that act as secret codes that children and adults have to analyze and problem-solve together to decode the pattern and sequence.
- Ask children to design and draw, and build something. Have the children pick the idea they will build as a group. Help children collaborate to make a building plan in order to execute their idea. Facilitate the children by assigning roles to make their creation and sort and organize their supplies. As they build, model and ask children to problem-solve, fix, and use directional language (right, left, down, up, under, over, etc.). Consider taking photographs of the building process and use these visuals to support children's reflection and evaluation of the process.
- Have children look for and identify patterns in the books you are reading. Look for opportunities to count together, predict what will happen next in the story, and identify where characters have to problem-solve or adapt what they are doing.
Have children work in groups to collaborate and write a story with you. Have some prompts ready to help children develop a plan for the characters; create a story with a beginning, middle, and end; and use directional and sequential language.
With one group of children, cut up different pictures and sentences from their story and have another group of children collaborate to put the story back together in sequential order. This is also a great activity to do with familiar fairy tales or favorite stories you have been reading together regularly.
Have children design and draw directional arrows and stop and go symbols with you on colored index cards. Use the same colors for each type of directional arrow (i.e. yellow for left). You can either give children a set of index cards for numbers 1–10 or have the children make them on their own.
5. Game design
Have children draw a map on grid paper for a “robot” to follow using their directional arrows and symbols (from the art activity above) as guides. Have the children count each square so they can tell their “robot” how many steps to take with each direction and have the children add those numbers to their plan. Then have children pair up and take turns pretending to be the “robot” while their partner practices giving them directions using the index cards. Facilitate children fixing, problem-solving, and evaluating to develop a set of sequential instructions (i.e. a code that their partners can follow.)
Here are some resources to use as you look for classroom activities to support HOT and coding skills:
TEC Center at Erikson Institute: teccenter.erikson.edu
Early Math Collaborative Ideas Library at Erikson Institute: http://earlymath.erikson.edu/ideas/
Association of Libraries Services for Children blog, STEM/STEM Section: http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/category/stemsteam/
Here is some research on higher order thinking, executive functioning, and computational thinking skills in early childhood:
Bernier, A., S.M. Carlson, M. Deschênes, & C. Matte-Gagne. 2012. “Social Precursors of Preschoolers’ Executive Functioning: A Closer Look at the Early Caregiving Environment.” Developmental Science 15: 12–24.
Bers, M.U., L.P. Flannery, E.R. Kazakoff, & A. Sullivan. 2014. ”Computational Thinking and Tinkering: Exploration of an Early Childhood Robotics Curriculum.” Computers & Education 72: 145–57.
Verdine, B.N., K.R. Lucca, R.M. Golinkoff, N.S. Newcombe, & K. Hirsh-Pasek. 2015. “The Shape of Things: The Origin of Young Children’s Knowledge of the Names and Properties of Geometric Forms.” Journal of Cognition and Development 12: 315–31.
Wing, J. 2006. “Computational Thinking.” Communications of the ACM 49 (3): 33–6.
Tamara Kaldor, M.S., is the Assistant Director, TEC Center at Erikson Institute.