Putting the Position Statement on Early Childhood Science to Work in Preschool Classrooms and ProgramsFri, 07/11/2014 - 12:32 — gclarke
By: Cindy Hoisington
As an early childhood teacher, I often engaged my young preschoolers in science experiences. Whenever I could, I provided opportunities for them to explore, observe, and think about the world around them. They followed the insects they found on the playground; investigated with goop and other mixtures; designed and built structures using cardboard and paper cups; and created organized collections from the seeds, twigs, and leaves they found on our neighborhood walks.
I saw how science appealed to the children’s natural curiosity and how they benefitted physically, cognitively, and socially from their playful explorations. But what really excited me about engaging young children in science were the sometimes topsy-turvy but somehow logical ideas they came up with to explain how the world worked. “Our block buildings fall down because we’re not wearing hard hats!” “Shadows are bigger outside because the sun is bigger than a flashlight!” “It’s the shaking leaves on the trees that make the wind blow!”
As children shared these early scientific ideas with me over time, I came to understand two things. First, science and young children are “a natural fit.” Three, four, and five year-olds have the emerging capacity to think abstractly, to reason, and to wrestle with scientific ideas. And second, young children are not miniature versions of adult scientists or older science students. Young children engage with science ideas and practices within a unique developmental and experiential context that needs to be acknowledged and respected.
As a professional developer who now works with preschool teachers, these two ideas continue to guide my thinking about science in the early years. For this reason I enthusiastically welcomed NAEYC’s endorsement of the Position Statement on Early Childhood Science Education recently adopted by the National Science Teachers’ Association (NSTA). The mutual support of the NSTA and NAEYC means that those of us who are passionate about science and young children can be confident that the statement reflects an approach that is firmly rooted in both science education research and developmentally appropriate practice.
However, the position statement also makes it clear that providing young children with the types of high-quality science experiences that address these two perspectives is no small task. It incorporates the idea that children need sustained and varied opportunities for inquiry-based, direct, experiential learning over time and across formal and informal settings. Children also require the support of knowledgeable adults who intentionally prepare the environment, structure children’s experiences, support their play, and focus their observations.
The statement calls for knowledgeable educators who understand and can support children’s learning of science content and science and engineering practices that align with NGSS; who incorporate these practices into children’s daily experiences and use science as a purposeful context for integrating meaningful language, literacy, and mathematics skills and concepts.
So, what does all of this mean for you and the role you play related to children’s science learning? For me, as an instructor and coach for early childhood teachers, the position statement is an accessible tool I can use to help teachers think about children’s capacity for doing and learning science. It can help me communicate the importance of maintaining play and exploration at the center of the preschool curriculum. It can help me motivate teachers to become advocates for the time, space, and materials children need to build conceptual understanding. It can help me excite teachers about interpreting children’s science ideas and using them as launching pads for on-going investigations. And finally, the position statement can help me reinforce to teachers the critical role they play, not in answering children’s science questions, but in fostering children’s abilities to reason, reflect, and generate increasingly sophisticated theories about the world around them.
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?
This is an exciting time to be part of the early childhood education field.
Never before has there been this significant attention on the value of early learning. It is increasingly recognized as the time in a child’s life where society may have the greatest impact. If we invest time and resources so young children can have access to high quality early learning experiences, we are creating a solid foundation to set them on a strong trajectory of success in school and life.
- It is going to take us investing in the early childhood workforce.
- It is going to take us investing in continuous professional development for early childhood educators--including best practices in using various forms of technology with young children, as well as skill in communicating with parents and others who perhaps subscribe to the "either/or" form of ECE
- It is going to take a public financing system with the goal of making sure that every young child in the United States has access to high quality early learning experiences.
In a recent survey of our members one of the top three topics they cared about most and wanted NAEYC to engage in was technology. I believe our members are hungry for knowledge. They want NAEYC to help guide how to effectively use technology in the classroom.
Q: I understand that parents will develop their understanding of intentional teaching over the course of their child’s time in a program, but what would you say to families in the beginning of the year?
A: Parents may be skeptical about intentional teaching for two opposing reasons.
On the on hand when some parents hear the words “child guided” they may worry children will not learn the basic knowledge and skills they need to be successful in school.
On the other hand, some parents fear that “adult guided” means children will not develop the ability to learn on their own.
Teachers can reassure parents that intentional teachers do prepare children for school, while also encouraging initiative and independence. Children need both types of experiences, depending on the subject matter and their emerging abilities.
So, how do you get this message across? One suggestion is that you help parents feel or experience the benefits of both methods directly. For example, you could plan a meeting for the beginning of the school year where you ask families to recall experiences in their own lives (either as children or adults) when they explored a material or practiced a skill on their own, but were able to get started or advance their technique when a more experienced person provided a helpful hint (such as adjusting the stance of their golf swing, or showing them a feature of an app they hadn’t discovered on their own).
If the set-up allows, divided the parents into small groups and present them with a tool or a physical challenge, and let them try it on their own. Then offer an idea for how they can use or do it in a more complex way (such as using the tip rather than the edge of a carving tool to make impressions in clay). The “aha” moment will come when parents realize that both teaching strategies can be effective. You can then reassure them that children, like adults, learn both ways and that an intentional teacher knows when and how to use each method.
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
Over the past few weeks, I’ve followed the news about the more than 200 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped in April, and participated in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on my personal social media account. I've reflected on what this event means to early childhood educators and NAEYC.
At its core, the work NAEYC does is about promoting and supporting developmentally appropriate, intentional early learning experiences for all young children. All young children should have access to safe, quality learning environments. It’s what our association and our members work so hard to do - give the children learning experiences that will help them grow and thrive.
NAEYC created an international department in 2013 to meet a growing interest worldwide in NAEYC membership, conferences, standards frameworks, publications and resources. It’s been humbling to have countries from across the globe interested in working with us to promote developmentally appropriate early learning and teacher preparation worldwide. We’ve been encouraged that so many countries are investing energy and resources in early learning.
And yet as the crisis in Nigeria underscores, so many children face a childhood with incredible barriers to a safe, quality education.
Our goal in our international work is to engage with the global early childhood development community to strengthen international early childhood systems as a strategy to improve early care and education for all children.
As we embark on our international work we hold in mind two guiding principles: We must be sensitive to the nuances of varying contexts as we collaborate with our international partners to ensure that our global reach is culturally appropriate. At the same time we must also maintain the integrity of NAEYC’s core principles - that all young children should have access to safe, developmentally appropriate learning environments.
It is our intention that the work we're doing at NAEYC will have a positive impact long term on children, families, and society. It is our deep hope that the current international efforts focused on these girls will have an immediate impact and bring these girls home and make it safe for them to go to school. #BringBackOurGirls
Recent Analysis Downplaying the Importance of Family Engagement Doesn’t Consider Early Childhood
By Kyle Snow and Susan Friedman
In a recent New York Times article, researchers Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris put forth that, “Parental Involvement is Overrated.” They base their conclusion on analyses of data related to parent involvement among families with children in kindergarten through high school.
The authors note, parent involvement (or, as it’s more commonly called in early childhood, family engagement) is thought to be a critical aspect of children’s success and also a possible means of closing the achievement gap. They argue that it’s not.
In early childhood, family engagement is generally seen as a central element of high quality programs, and important in supporting child development and learning. So is family engagement as important as we early childhood educators think it is? The answer is Yes! Family Engagement is still important and here’s why.
The researchers did not focus on early childhood
A scan of the sources of data on which the authors base their conclusion reveals that the data they refer to primarily involves families with children above 3rd grade. The authors do not source studies involving families with children in grades below kindergarten, and even kindergartenthrough 3rd grade is not deeply represented. Most of the research data they look at is about older children.
'Parent involvement' has many meanings
From the data they analyze, the authors found that most forms of “ traditional” parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, being involved with the PTA, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework - do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.
They find that the above-mentioned types of parental involvement bring about no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of the families’ racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing.
When involvement did benefit kids academically it was difficult to categorize, as it was very dependent on the specifics of the child’s grade, the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic background of the family, and the academic outcome. This shouldn’t be a surprise - the kinds of involvement that would benefit any individual child must reflect the child's need, and his social and cultural context.
Demonstrating effects of family involvement is complicated
Measuring family involvement is not straightforward, and looking across numerous studies it is possible to find dozens of definitions and variables being used. For example: PTA participation is only relevant where there is a PTA program. “Helping with homework” is defined differently by researchers, schools, and families alike.
Another complication is that we assume that if families are involved, then students do better. But some families become involved specifically because their children are not doing well in school and in these cases, involvement would not be related to doing well in school.
In other cases, engaging families as partners – helping them to understand what a child is learning, and what activities can support that learning in the home, is clearly related to improved child learning. In this case, there would be a positive relationship between involvement and learning.
There are differences in how families are involved with young and older children
In the authors' work on the downfalls of helping with homework highlighted in the Atlantic article, "Don’t Help Your Kids with Their Homework," the focus is on the pitfalls of helping older children with assignments like advanced math in high school. This is NOT the same thing as counting apples as a way to expose children to numbers in the early years, reading aloud every day and the many other ways early childhood educators suggest families support their children’s early learning.
Family involvement is very different for families of young children than for families of high school children. Engaging families as partners – helping them to understand what a child is learning, and what activities at home can support that learning (like reading aloud), is clearly related to improving child learning.
What can we learn from this?
The authors make two points about the nature of family involvement.
First, one type of typical involvement – participating in PTA, visiting classes, and so on - does not appear to have much effect on student achievement. Rather, valuing education, discussing the child’s activities in school, and requesting specific teachers, seem to have greater effects.
An analysis of Head Start data reported in 2011 came to a similar conclusion – children who benefited from Head Start maintained their advantage most when families were active participants in their child’s learning and experiences in school – and not when more traditional forms of involvement – like sitting on parent boards and observing classes – were considered.
Second the authors suggest that schools need to find ways of involving families that are not limited to the conventional model – join the PTA, chaperone a field trip, and so on. These roles may have value to the schools, families, and communities, but not necessarily the child. Schools (and teachers) can find ways of bringing families into their child’s learning in more authentic and dynamic ways. This is where early educators can provide examples and possibly leadership.
- NAEYC’s Engaging Diverse Families tool-kit contains lots of ideas for family engagement beyond joining the PTA
- Family Engagement and Early Childhood Education – a blog post from NAEYC that highlights other recent research on family engagement
- Family Involvement Makes a Difference, a report from the Harvard Family research project
- Family Engagement, Diverse Families, and Early Childhood Education Programs: An Integrated Review of the Literature - summarizes research on family engagement in early childhood
- Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework - Head Start Approach to School Readiness is an important element of the Strengthening Families model used in many early childhood programs
- The NAEYC For Families website offers ideas and tips to help families supporting children's learning at home
By: Dara Madigan
As a Counseling Specialist for the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® IOWA scholarship program, I work collaboratively with the higher education system in our state as well as our statewide early childhood professional development system.
When my supervisor suggested I apply for a Building a Lasting Legacy Scholarship to attend the National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, I wondered if I would be a good candidate. I had previously attended the NAEYC Annual Conference once several years ago, and assumed that the Institute would be a similar event. But as I researched a little more about it, I came to realize that Institute was a good fit for me and aligned greatly with the work that I do.
As I poured over the Institute sessions online, reading every session description, I was pleased to see the variety of sessions offered and how closely they mirrored the work I had been doing on our statewide committees. It turned out that the Institute is a place to learn about examples of specific statewide work as well as a wonderful resource to learn about national best practices.
States Learning From Each Other
Some of the state-specific sessions I attended highlighted examples from and information about California’s Competencies Integration Project, Wisconsin’s credential programs offered through The Registry, and Wisconsin’s credit for prior learning options. Much of this information was very timely for me, especially as I had been working with our Early Learning Professional Development Team here in Iowa to develop resources related to our newly developed competencies and explored options for credentialing.
Best Practices at the National Level
I also attended sessions highlighting best practices at the national level. On the first day of the institute I attended a session called “Why the Field of Early Childhood Education Must Transform Professional Development,” which was presented by some very influential leaders in our field like Sue Bredekamp and Valora Washington. All of us in attendance were certainly revved up for the rest of the Institute. As a graduate student at the time I also got a little giddy about attending several sessions with big name researchers such as Marcy Whitebook, Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, and Virginia Buysse, who have been a part of some major early childhood studies. All in all this emphasized for me the high-level of knowledge being shared at this Institute. In fact I imagine that some of the new ideas shared at Institute will very well turn out to be the research and themes the early childhood field focuses on well into the future. Having received the Diane Trister Dodge Scholarship Award to attend the Institute (all expenses paid) I was ecstatic for the opportunity to attend this wonderful professional event.
Some Thoughts on Logistics
I found it was important to pace myself and take breaks throughout this multi-day event. My advice for first-time attendees would be to plan ahead and do your research on the sessions you plan to attend. Some sessions may turn out to be something different than you expected, but a quick online search ahead of time about the presenters or the topic can often provide some insight and details. It’s also important to have a back-up session or two in case of overcrowding. Taking lots of notes was very important to me as well, because after a day or two my brain was on overload from all the new information. Being able to go back and review my notes after the Institute and look at some other related resources and websites was very helpful. I’d also recommend asking presenters for their contact information if they don’t share it during the presentation. This is helpful in getting more resources and information later on.
Institute is a Unique Conference
Overall, I am very thankful for this opportunity and the Institute was a great experience that helped reaffirm for me that I am in the right line of work. I am glad that I took full advantage of the Institute and attended sessions that were meaningful to my everyday work. For me, the best part of the experience was learning about what is going on nationally and making connections with those from other states in similar positions. I also appreciated the opportunity I was given to spend some one-on-one time with Diane Trister Dodge, and enjoyed that she was able to have a lunch out with myself and some of my colleagues from Iowa.
I highly recommend that those who serve the early childhood workforce in some type of professional development role attend this event if they have not in the past. It is a very different experience than the Annual Conference.
Dara Madigan is a Counseling Specialist for the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® IOWA and Child Care WAGE$® IOWA programs at Iowa AEYC. She was the 2013 recipient of the Diane Trister Dodge Scholarship Award.
By: Peter Pizzolongo and Dorinda Williams
Early childhood educators address the mental health of young children and their families every day—whether we label our activities as ‘addressing mental health issues’ or ‘strategies for effective teaching and supporting families.’ Mental health—as well as physical health and other aspects of development—affect the ways that children and their parents think, feel, and act. Mental health affects our abilities to succeed at school, at work, and in society.
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, a program of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) seeks to raise awareness about the importance of children's mental health. Positive mental health is essential to a child's healthy development from birth. This year, Awareness Day focuses on the unique needs of young adults, ages 16–25, with mental health challenges, and the value of peer support in helping young adults build resilience in their lives. Early childhood educators can play an important role by focusing on the mental health needs of young parents and their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Young children develop in the context of relationships. In this respect, young children’s emotional health is inextricably linked to the emotional health of their parents.
What is the connection between parents’ and children’s mental health?
Many young adults are raising very young children. In a recent report the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the live birth rate for women aged 15-19 years is 31.3 per 1,000 women. This means that even though the number of teen births has dropped in recent years, there are over 300,000 babies born to young parents each year. We do know that better parent mental health is key to better parenting. Mothers’ mental health affects children’s language , social and emotional development. While less research focuses on young fathers’ mental health, we do know that fathers’ psychological health may be equally important, and that psychological distress may inhibit their involvement in their children’s lives. We also know that a parent’s mental illness can put stress on a marriage and affect the couple’s parenting capacity, which in turn can harm the child. Moreover, mental health issues are exacerbated for families living in poverty.
What is the role of early childhood educators in addressing young parents’ mental health?
In our field many roads lead to developmentally appropriate practice (DAP). Establishing reciprocal relationships with families is one of the five DAP Guidelines. Understanding the social and cultural context within each child lives is one of the DAP Core Considerations that teachers use when making decisions about what and how to teach each child. Teachers should be very aware of family situations for the children in their groups, as well as the strengths of each child’s family and the challenges they face—including the mental health needs of parents.
Through informal daily conversations as well as periodic parent-teacher conferences, early childhood educators can become familiar with the challenges faced by families as well as provide support to young parents. Early childhood programs often serve as an extended support system for families, particularly when young parents are not receiving ongoing support from other family members due to geography or other factors. Therefore, it is important for early childhood professionals to establish and maintain strong partnerships with parents. Other ways in which early childhood professionals can support young parents include:
- Be alert to signs of stress, both in young children and their parents; use your center or school’s e systems for family support and link families to support services and community resources.
- Provide opportunities for parents to become involved with the early childhood program, which is especially important for young parents who feel isolated and have not established relationships with other adults due to mental health issues or other challenges.
- Communicate regularly with parents about their children’s progress, taking opportunities to address young parents’ concerns about their children’s ‘challenging behaviors,’ which might add to young parents’ feelings of stress.
- Recognize and acknowledge parents’ everyday efforts to care for and support their young children.
How can early childhood educators support National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day?
Communities around the country participate in Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day by holding events, focusing on the national theme and adapting the theme to the populations they serve. The early childhood education community’s focus on the mental health needs of young parents will do much to add to the national focus on young adults’ mental health needs. Suggestions for planning and participating events can be found on the SAMHSA Website, including general information, suggestions for activities and tip sheets to aid in planning, and resources to aid in planning.
For additional information regarding mental health issues and parenting, resources include:
American Psychological Association—Children’s mental health
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry—information regarding children of parents with mental illness
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services / Administration for Children & Families / Child Welfare Information Gateway—information regarding strategies for supporting parents
The authors, Peter Pizzolongo and Dorinda Williams represent NAEYC and Zero to Three, respectively, on the Executive Planning Committee for National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, which is a program of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
By: Susan Friedman
Digital storytelling for dual language learners; deep diving on a virtual Titanic; and more innovative uses of technology for early learning.
Computers, tablets, smartphones, apps, and other digital tools are part of our everyday lives. When used appropriately, technology can help children explore their world, express and make sense of what they know, and interact with other children. Technology tools can also assist families as they support their children’s at-home learning.
So, how can early childhood educators choose appropriate technology tools to enhance and support children’s learning?
NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center created the position statement, Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 as a guide for early childhood educators as they make decisions about how and when to incorporate technology into their programs.
In a recent NAEYC survey, educators were asked about their use of the technology position statement. Respondents describe referring to the joint position statement as they plan university courses, develop curriculum, explain developmentally appropriate uses of technology to other teachers, administration, and families, and make decisions about when to incorporate technology into their own classrooms.
Teachers also asked for more examples of developmentally appropriate uses of technology in early childhood settings. Following are three examples of educators integrating technology into their work with young children in ways that are developmentally appropriate. We hope you will share the technology position statement and these examples with colleagues. Then let us know how you are using the technology position statement and integrating technology tools into your work with young children.
Three examples of technology that supports early learning:
A 5-year-old child fascinated with the Titanic is given a book and interactive CD-ROM with a large screen desktop computer. The transmedia materials allow him to explore and express his interests, and develop his small motor and social skills.
Parent educators in Maine integrate iPads into a curriculum that provides parents of migrant preschoolers with early literacy and math activities to help their children get ready for school.
Also to read and share: