It's with great sadness that we share that early childhood education advocate and icon Gwen Morgan passed away on September 4, 2015. She was such an incredibly important person to NAEYC and the field. We are happy to share this reflection on Gwen's life written by Barbara Willer, Senior Advisor for Strategic Initiatives at NAEYC.
Gwen Morgan did so many things and so many things well. She was an amazing, visionary woman whose life’s work transformed the field of early care and education.
From her earliest days as a program director, Gwen worked to build effective systems for early care and education. Gwen was a founding “mother” of the child care resource and referral movement services. She co-founded Work/Family Directions, a company that encouraged and supported corporations to address work/family issues, including child care. Involving corporate leaders helped build broader recognition of the importance of early care and education and assisted thousands of families access higher quality services. As a faculty member at Wheelock College, she served as a mentor not only to her students but also to many others in the field.
Gwen’s conceptual leadership was legendary. She was uncanny in her ability to take complex issues and distill them into clear images that fostered greater understanding. Two that immediately come to mind are the 3-legged stool to describe the interrelationship of quality of child care, the compensation received by child care staff, and affordability for parents and the leaky funnel that described the inadequacies of increasing professional development without addressing compensation—many people enter the field, but when they leave because of inadequate compensation, investments in their professional development are also lost along the way.
Gwen was elected to the NAEYC Governing Board in 1982, serving until 1986. Talk about a pivotal time for the association: the NAEYC Academy for Early Childhood Program Accreditation was launched; the first position statements on nomenclature, licensing, and developmentally appropriate practice were adopted; and the first staff hired specifically dedicated to public policy and advocacy (I was that lucky staff person!). One of my responsibilities was to support the Public Policy Committee, and so I worked closely with her as a key member of that committee. Gwen gave me a crash course in child care licensing as the committee consolidated earlier statements on licensing of family child care and centers into a comprehensive statement on licensing and regulation.
In the early 1990s, Gwen established the Center for Career Development at Wheelock College that worked to build state professional development systems, once again a trailblazer for a burgeoning area of interest. The Center worked collaboratively with NAEYC on efforts to develop and implement an effective, coordinated delivery system of early childhood professional preparation. I
Ironically, Gwen’s death comes at a time of renewed focus on building consensus on national definitions for the profession. In many ways, her life’s work provided the foundation for these efforts—it’s about addressing the 3-legged stool and the leaky funnel effectively and comprehensively so that all children have access to high-quality early learning through systems that are sufficiently funded to attract, prepare, support, and retain a diverse, highly skilled workforce. Nothing would honor Gwen more than accomplishing this goal.
To honor Gwen and her extensive career as an advocate and early childhood leader, NAEYC invites you to make a memorial donation to the Lasting Legacy Leadership fund.
Why Initiatives to Level the Playing Field Need to Empower Parents
By Dana Suskind, M.D.
In 1995 a world-famous study by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4th birthdays than others. The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school. These same kids, when followed into third grade, had bigger vocabularies, were stronger readers, and got higher test scores. The bottom line: the kids who started out ahead, stayed ahead; the kids who started out behind, stayed behind. This disparity in learning is referred to as the achievement gap.
I believe those thirty million words are key to closing the achievement gap and giving children the best start in life.
Recognizing the importance of language in a child’s early brain development is an unprecedented opportunity. It allows parents to understand their power in helping their children realize their ultimate potentials. Even more important, it shows parents the steps to enhance that power. Understanding the thirty million word gap also helps set the stage for turning the tide for all children. In this regard, the science is clear. In order to close the achievement gap, in order to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve their potentials, well-designed, carefully monitored programs, based on scientific evidence, must exist to help it occur. And those programs, geared at helping the children, are parent/caretaker dependent as they are a child’s first teacher.
This is a great paradox. While early childhood is really the story of parents, and although we know the importance of parents in the eventual intellectual outcomes of children, parents are often afterthoughts in program development and reforms for closing the achievement gap. They may be mentioned in the discussion but, in the end, they are usually treated as an add-on rather than the key tool to make the necessary changes. And here’s the historical irony: It was the failure of Hart and Risley’s preschool project to help children become school ready that impelled them to do a longitudinal study on parental influences in children’s academic outcomes.
The importance of preschool is not disputed. But when children enter without the prerequisites for learning, it is largely remedial. To give preschool maximum strength, and to make sure that the lack of school readiness does not predict an academic lifetime of “catching up,” or failure, the children entering its programs have to be ready to learn.
This emphasizes the need to design solid early-childhood programs that include parents to help ensure the school readiness of children who may need additional support. These programs would help parents provide an optimum language environment in the first three years of their child’s life, when essential brain development is occurring. Home visiting would help parents set language goals; careful monitoring would help parents achieve those goals. In order to assure success, and to accurately assess program design, programs would include a built-in procedure for evaluation and improvement.
Success will be dependent on a strong support system. While parenting interventions, in the past, have had problems, and may need more research or evidence-based program development, science demonstrates that making the effort is essential since it will only be when parents, or a child’s primary caretakers, are actively involved as engaged partners in a child’s early years that outcomes will improve.
It’s also true that until we, as a nation, understand the importance of parental involvement, offering appropriate support where such is needed, the lives of millions of our children will essentially be a lifelong game of catch-up.
Can we really do it?
If we can develop a tiny antibody to travel through a body and attack a specific cancer cell, if we can discover how to push a few buttons and call Shanghai from New York, if we can find a way to defy gravity and send a spacecraft to the moon, we can do this.
Dana Suskind, M.D, is the founder of Thirty Million Words and author of THIRTY MILLION WORDS: Building A Child’s Brain.
Every fall, many children reach a milestone - they start kindergarten. While the first day of school may bring images of a common experience, not only does kindergarten differ for children today from what we may recall as adults, it differs for children based upon where they happen to live. Here are ten facts about kindergarten as we start the 2015-2016 school year:
1. Number of children expected to enroll in kindergarten in the US in fall 2015: 3.7 million. (Source)
2. Number of children to be enrolled in prekindergarten programs: 1.3 million. In 1990, 25 years ago, 303,000 children were enrolled in public prekindergarten programs. (Source)
3. Number of states requiring school districts to offer ½ day kindergarten: 34.
4. Number of states requiring full day kindergarten: 11 plus D.C.
5. Number of states not requiring districts to offer kindergarten: 5 (Alaska, Idaho, New York, Pennsylvania; in New Jersey, only the Abbott districts must offer kindergarten). (Source)
6. Number of states requiring children to attend kindergarten: 15 states plus DC (35 do not). (Source)
7. September 1 – the most common birthdate by which children must turn 5 to be eligible to enroll in kindergarten (19 states). (Source)
8. The birth date cut-off ranges from as early as July 31 (Hawaii, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota) to as late as January 1 (Connecticut). (Source)
9. As of May 2014, the average salary for a kindergarten teacher was $53,480. (Source)
10. 15% of children entering kindergarten for the first time in fall 2010 spoke a language other than English as the primary language in their home (Source)
Kyle Snow, Ph.D is the Director of the NAEYC Center for Applied Research
How do we prevent bullying? Despite decades of study and numerous programs claiming to be the solution to bullying, few programs have actually been shown to be effective. One of the main issues is that “bullying prevention” is often a misnomer; instead of trying to stop the behavior before it begins, the focus of many programs is on reducing already high rates of bullying. By the time students enter sixth grade, the earliest grade for which nationally representative data is collected, nearly 28 percent report having been targeted in the past year. For younger children, data are far more limited, but suggestive. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found that 20.4 percent of children ages 2-5 had experienced physical bullying in their lifetime and 14.6 percent had been teased (verbally bullied).
To actually prevent bullying before it starts, we need to focus on how bullying behaviors develop—for those engaging in bullying behaviors and those being targeted—starting in early childhood. Child Trends recently conducted a literature review and convened an expert roundtable, which NAEYC took part in, to document current understandings of the roots of bullying in early childhood. We identified key contextual factors linked to bullying behaviors, promising and evidence-based programs that help address emerging behavior, and the need for further research.
Research on bullying and early childhood development is limited. When we talk about bullying, the early childhood audience is often forgotten. There remains immense debate in the field about how to distinguish between typical, sometimes aggressive behavior that young children show and the more strategic and deliberate behaviors that define bullying. In preparing their uniform definition of bullying, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined bullying as being between “school-aged youth,” recognizing that the behaviors observed in young children are often not what we traditionally think of as bullying, but are developmental in nature, as children first begin to navigate interactions with peers. Many young children who are aggressive with their peers will not engage in bullying behaviors in later childhood and adolescence. Likewise, being the target of an aggressive behavior does not mean that child will be victimized for life. Still, these early aggressions (and conversely, the early skills of sharing, listening, and empathy) are precursors to later behavior, and it is important to intervene early. More research is needed to understand the trajectory of early aggression into bullying behaviors.
Despite the limited literature, four key factors consistently seemed to be related to bullying behaviors in young children:
1) Parents’ treatment of each other, their children, and others influences how young children treat their peers. Specifically, parents’ use of harsh discipline and children’s exposure to domestic violence are related to increases in bullying behavior, while parents’ positive engagement in their children’s lives, such as through interactive play, reading, and meals together, seems to be protective against bullying behavior. Parents serve as role models for their children, and modeling empathy, concern, and care for others may help deter later bullying. Resources such as those provided by the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education can help parents expand their own “circle of concern” and help their children do so, too. (It should be noted here that the majority of current research looks at the behaviors and characteristics of mothers; studies looking at the role of fathers are more limited, primarily because mothers are more likely to be the primary caregiver for young children and more likely to respond to the research. Some effort is being made, however, to address the role of fathers in bullying prevention.)
2) Young children exposed to maltreatment are more likely to be involved in bullying, both as the target and the aggressor. Not only can maltreatment change children’s behaviors, it has been shown to fundamentally alter the development of young children’s brain structures, which can lead to developmental deficits including in the social and emotional domains. Early intervention is critical to help stem these delays. Adults and Children Together (ACT) Against Violence Raising Safe Kids, an evidence-based program specifically aimed at helping reduce child maltreatment and promote positive parenting strategies, is one approach that shows promise.
3) Television and other media can contribute to the development of both aggression and pro-social skills. Screen time for your children is one of the most debated subjects among early childhood advocates. Research shows that increased television watching is related to increases in aggressive behavior even if the content is not inherently violent. Conversely, when shows are specifically designed to promote skills such as sharing, empathy, and other pro-social skills—shows like Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, or in past generations, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—children are more likely to engage in these behaviors after viewing.
4) Building young children’s social and emotional skills and promoting welcoming classrooms can significantly reduce aggression. Evaluations of several evidence-based social and emotional learning programs for young children, such as PATHS for Preschool, Second Step, and Al’s Pals, show that helping children understand and control their own emotions, and understand those of others, can significantly reduce conflict and aggression. Even without these formalized interventions, teachers of young children (and parents for that matter) can work to reduce bullying behaviors. The Guidance Matters column in the professional journal Young Children provides a number of resources that can support these efforts.
Overall, it is clear that more attention needs to be paid to identifying, researching, and preventing the roots of bullying behavior in young children. It is only when we recognize that bullying behaviors do not simply appear in elementary or middle school, but may be part of a developmental trajectory, that will we be able to stop bullying.
This blog entry is also posted on the Child Trends web site.
By: Katie Charner-Laird
Last school year, I found myself in one too many meetings with discontent parents talking about homework. Some parents felt the homework was not meaningful. Others were upset because they felt there was not enough feedback from teachers. Still, other parents wanted teachers to be individualizing homework more. In each of these meetings, it became uncomfortably clear that I really didn’t know what was happening across the school with regards to homework.
By the end of that year, I had made one firm commitment both to myself and to several parents. We would spend some time as a staff, before the school year started this year, articulating our beliefs and approach to homework, and develop what some might call a homework policy.
Over the summer, I read a number of articles about how we have to get better at homework, the argument being that homework is a problem for children and families because it is tedious and doesn’t ask children to think critically and creatively. While I didn't completely disagree with these articles, I also didn’t find a strong rationale for why we give homework or how much homework we should be giving.
I had heard of Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth, but in truth, I was avoiding reading it. As a former teacher, I had always felt that homework was a critical part of children learning organizational skills and responsibility and a way to practice newly developed skills. Moreover, the idea of getting rid of homework seemed a bit too unconventional. But when I finally did pick up The Homework Myth, I couldn’t put it down. One by one, my reasons for considering homework an essential part of the elementary school experience were dismantled.
Time management and organizational skills: Kohn points out that rather than teaching time management to students, homework actually requires parents to do more to organize children's time.
Newly learned skills: Kohn argues that it is rare that all students need the same practice at the end of a lesson. For some, additional practice may be confusing, while for others, it may be unnecessary.
What the research says: Kohn scoured the research to find that there is no evidence that homework in elementary school leads to an increase in student achievement.
At our opening staff meetings last August, I asked teachers to read excerpts from The Homework Myth, and discuss the article with grade level colleagues. Many teachers were as dumbfounded as I was when challenged to think about their long held beliefs about homework. I asked each grade level team to decide on a common homework approach for the coming school year. While I knew where I stood on the homework issue at this point, I felt it was important for teachers to make these decisions themselves after I had provided them with research and the opportunities to discuss it. As I met with each grade level team, I also felt it was my responsibility to ensure that there was some semblance of a trajectory from Kindergarten through fifth grade.
The School’s New Homework Policy:
Last school year for the first time, I knew the homework expectations for each class in the school!
- In Kindergarten, students dictate stories to their families on a regular basis, but with no official due dates. Parents were encouraged to read to their children, but there were no set expectations for how much or how often.
- Starting in first grade, students were expected to read nightly and this include families reading to children.
- Most grade level teams opted out of reading logs or other accountability structures, noting that these often devolved into a meaningless checklists lacking accountability altogether.
- Third graders were asked to write nightly. Students determine the content and form of their writing, which is not graded. Third graders are also expected to practice their math facts based on both grade level expectations and personal levels of mastery
In my experiences as both principal and teacher, parents often voice two significant complaints: homework either took too long, or not long enough; AND parents didn’t understand the homework, so they couldn’t help their child. These issues have been addressed in our new approach to homework. All homework is now open-ended enough to avoid these common complaints. Teachers give parents information about other elements also taught in class so they can be supportive of the related homework. When a teacher asks students to read for 30 minutes, some students may read 10 pages, and others may read 30. Parents can help children find a regular time to do that homework because the time needed is consistent. Moreover, if a parent wants a child to do more homework, it is quite simple to just have them keep reading. There is no ‘wrong way’ to do the homework. And this has led to many families reporting that the level of stress in their household has decreased dramatically this year.
So last year, Cambridgeport became ‘the school that doesn’t give homework' yet I heard repeatedly from students, teachers, and parents about the significant, meaningful work they are doing at home. A fourth grader was begging to take home his writing notebook on the third day of school so he could keep working on the story he had started in class. A class of fifth graders requested additional practice problems to take home with them. A father-daughter pair showed me the model they created of the setting of the book they were reading together. Our school may be giving less homework but we have more students engaged in more meaningful learning activities at home than ever before.
Katie Charner-Laird is the principal of the Cambridgeport School, a PreK-5th grade elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to being a principal, she taught grades 3-6 and was a literacy coach.
By Susan Friedman and Kyle Snow
A recent report, Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness published in the American Journal of Public Health finds that children with better social competence in kindergarten are more likely to become well-adjusted adults who have jobs and contribute positively to society. In this study, social competence was based upon teacher’s ratings of how well children cooperate and resolve conflicts with peers, understand feelings, and are helpful to others. Many news outlets summarized the report including NPR with Nice Kids Finish First: Study Finds Social Skills Can Predict Future Success and Edweek with Social Competence in Kindergartners Linked to Adult Success.
Supporting social and emotional development and academic rigor can coexist
To most early childhood teachers the fact that social and emotional skills in the early years are important and that teachers and families can foster these skills is foundational to how they approach their work. Economists argue that the long-term return on investing in high quality early childhood education may be due to these social and emotional skills (often called soft skills) that are nurtured in early childhood. The importance placed on social and emotional skills comes at a time when kindergarten has become more focused on academic content areas as described in another blog post, Not Yesterday’s Kindergarten.
Many parents and educators point to the Common Core State Standards as the cause of increased academic focus in kindergarten. NAEYC’s resources on the Common Core include a white paper, DAP and the Common Core Standards: Framing the Issues. It is not the case that academic rigor and supporting social and emotional development are in conflict. A forum at the Erikson Institute in 2012 “High Quality Pre-K-3rd in the age of the Common Core” provided several strong arguments against this false dichotomy. There is a growing body of knowledge about how to meet academic standards, including the Common Core, through DAP focused on teachers of children in kindergarten and 1st-3rd grade.
The importance of social and emotional skills alongside the academic content, continue to be hallmarks of early childhood education - sitting at the center of early learning standards, NAEYC’s Early Childhood Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria, and Developmentally Appropriate Practice.
Developmentally appropriate learning experiences support social skills
Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) means looking at the whole child. Academic content like literacy, math and science can be embedded into joyful learning experiences appropriate for children’s development. This example (Preschoolers investigate a Taco Truck) shows children learning about nutrition, food, and their community as they develop math, literacy, and social skills. A child reading a book would be learning and practicing literacy related skills and may also be learning content about science, developing attention and focus, and at the same time laughing at a joke. Children can learn academic content and develop skills through hands on play, engaging learning opportunities, and with lots of time to interact and problem solve with friends. Not only do developmentally appropriate experiences offer children opportunities to learn reading, math, science, and more in meaningful ways but they also offer lots of opportunities to build social skills. Indeed, social and emotional skills support learning across domains, but they are also critically important for children’s development on their own.
Resources from NAEYC
NAEYC embeds strategies, and examples to foster children’s social and emotional skills within our content, resources. position statements and early childhood program standards.
Members of NAEYC receive Young Children and Teaching Young Children and every single issue is full of tips, ideas, and research about how to support children’s social and emotional development. NAEYC’s books offer deep information about content areas like math. science and literacy within the context of developing hands on playful learning experiences with plenty of opportunities for social and emotional learning.
We’ve included links to many NAEYC resources that offer learning ideas within the context of children’s social and emotional development. Explore all NAEYC has to offer to learn more.
- Developmentally Appropriate Practice (books, articles, tips for teachers of children birth-8)
- DAP: Focus on Kindergarten
- DAP: Focus on First-Third Grade
- Guidance Matters (a column from Young Children on fostering social and emotional development)
- Big Body Play and Why It’s Important
- Five Essentials to Meaningful Play
- 10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play
- Tools as Toys: Every Day Science Experiences
It is with a heavy heart that I share that Gail Perry, Editor of NAEYC’s Voices of Practitioners, passed away on July 22, 2015. Gail, who received her doctorate from Harvard, joined NAEYC in 2006. She brought with her a highly impressive and incredibly well respected 50-year career in early childhood education. She was a passionate early childhood advocate and researcher who participated in discussions that led to the creation of Head Start.
In addition, Gail taught at the graduate and undergraduate level, consulted, and researched a range of topics, including classroom discourse, the Reggio Emilia approach, and teacher research. Gail authored numerous books, book chapters, and articles, including writing “Alternate Modes of Teacher Preparation,” which appeared in Continuing Issues in Early Childhood Education; editing Our Inquiry, Our Practice: Undertaking, Supporting, and Learning From Early Childhood Teacher Research(ers), with Barbara Henderson and Daniel R. Meier; and contributing to Early Childhood Education: The countries, by Moncrieff Cochran. The most recent issue of Voices of Practitioners, volume 10, edition 2, was issued just last week.
Gail Perry was also revered and deeply appreciated for her dedication as a colleague and for her mentorship of others. In fact, Debra Murphy dedicated her dissertation to Gail in 2013. Anna Golden, recently wrote about Gail’s mentorship in a blog post, Thoughts about a Mentor: Gail Perry which we are sharing below. The world of early childhood education will forever be changed as a result of her contributions, and she will be deeply missed by her friends and colleagues.
- Rhian Evans Allvin
Thoughts About a Mentor: Gail Perry of NAEYC
If we're lucky, we all have a few people in our lives who help us go further than we could on our own.
Gail Perry is the long time New Book Editor at NAEYC, but I know her as the Editor of 'Voices of the Practitioners'. I am so grateful to Gail, not only for publishing such wonderful work, but also for her nurturing care and attention while editing my own work. I can't imagine a better editor for a first piece of published writing. Gail applied her skill as a researcher, book editor combined with a wealth of knowledge about young children. She really shepherded me and other authors through the whole process.
Gail told me a few stories about her most loved and admired Mother, Alice Coe Mendham Powell, a fascinating woman who was a classmate of Margaret Mead, worked for the rights of domestic workers and became the wife of a diplomat who served in the Roosevelt administration. After studying anthropology and child development, and meeting John Dewey and traveling with him in Russia in the 1928s, Alice came to believe that education was the engine of social change. She founded the Green Acres School outside of Washington In 1934. This school was ground-breaking because it was open to all children, used a sliding scale for tuition, and because it brought John Dewey's progressive ideas to to the nation's capitol. Gail grew up at this school, which was located on a farm where the family also lived. Green Acres school continues today (www.greenacres.org/history.pdf).
This blog post was originally published on Anna Golden's blog.
We received this post from Katrina Watson about how the ideas from Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards, authors of Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves inspire her work with young children. Has an NAEYC author or book inspired your work? Share how in the comments below!
The language we use with young children shapes their experiences and perspectives in life. Language gives someone context, an understanding of what to expect, what to do, and what to think about any given situation.
Using intentional language is critical in supporting children as they develop a sense of self.
“Why are you playing with dolls? Dolls are for girls,” is something I’ve heard many educators, parents and adults say to young boys. As children get older they begin to repeat these words and although they may not know why, this phrase becomes a reality.
Intentional language is key to eliminating stereotypes and biases. When we think carefully about what our words mean when we speak to young children, we convey positivity and respect, which influence children's developing ideas of the world around them. Being mindful of language is one more way we promote high quality care. Providing children with gender neutral, anti-bias views, allows them the chance to independently shape their own unique ideas and opinions.
Reflect on the following statement and questions.
“Why are you playing with dolls? Dolls are for girls.”
- What kind of information do you think a child gathers from hearing this phrase?
- How is this information similar or different for boys and girls?
- What are your own personal beliefs around this statement?
Quality childcare centers where educators carefully consider the language they use promotes positive social and emotional growth. This leads to the development of emotional intelligence and a strong sense of self. Boys who hear, “I see you're taking care of a baby, you are being so gentle while changing her diaper,” gather different views about themselves and their preferences than a boy who may hear, “Why are you playing with dolls? Dolls are for girls.” A young child who is interested in something will not understand why that object or experience is only for the opposite sex but will begin to develop this view and idea as being true.
What does self-reflective practice around intentional language look like?
The use of intentional language requires a lot of self-reflective practice. This requires two pieces; the first is reflecting on our language to see where our biases (conscious and unconscious) lie, the second is beginning to understand where these come from (childhood, social media, etc.). Once we uncover these biases we can better understand and alter our views and ideas and become more mindful in the language we use. In order to create a place where young children can understand their own preferences, thoughts, feelings, and ideas we must ourselves work to eliminate the stereotypes and biases that we hold.
In Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves the authors provide guidelines for selecting anti-bias children’s books. These guidelines are also useful for educators as we reflect on our own practice. Below is an outline of the information provided by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards.
Self Reflective Practices
- Be sure the images counter stereotypes—don’t always show boys playing outside, girls playing inside, African Americans as athletes, White people working as professionals, and so forth.
- Be sure your books reflect both similarities and differences within every group as well as between groups.
- Do not select books that depict only traditional, ritual or historical images of a group—this happens frequently with Native Americans, for example.
- Ask yourself: Can all of the children in my classroom find themselves in my book collection?
- Find books that encourage children to take action when faced with unfairness toward themselves or others.
Questions to Continue Self Reflective Practices
Ask yourself or discuss at a staff meeting:
- What biases do you have?
- Where do these biases come from?
- What can you do to disrupt patterns of bias in your work?
- Where in your work have you used language intentionally with children to eliminate biases or stereotypes? What can you do to continue this work?
When educators think about the information they are sharing, how that information may be interpreted and what view the child may develop from hearing that particular information they are promoting high quality experiences. These changes in an educator’s thinking and the development of self-reflective practices can support quality care and education for young children.
Katrina Watson, M.Ed, is an early childhood educator and advocate for young children at a private preschool in Silicon Valley.
by Cindy Hoisington and Beth Van Meeteren
Note: This blog post represents the thoughts of the NAEYC Science Interest Forum. NAEYC’s Interest Forums are vibrant communities where early childhood educators come together around topics they're passionate about to connect, discuss, and share information.
Recent research on young children recognizes their emerging capacity for conceptual learning in science as well as their developing abilities to learn, use, and apply science and engineering practices. It also clearly indicates the importance of quality early experiences in laying a strong foundation for later science learning and achievement (Duschl and Shouse, 2007). In the context of the current K-12 focus on the STEM disciplines and the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), this research has stimulated unprecedented discussion about science teaching and learning in the early years, particularly when it comes to preschoolers.
In 2014 the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) took the lead in this national conversation by soliciting and adopting a position statement on early childhood science focused on this age group. This statement frames a research-based approach to science education for 3-5 year olds that addresses their capacities for doing and learning science, the types of experiences and teaching that support it, and implications for teacher professional development and national policy. As early childhood educators and professional developers who are passionate about science and science teaching, we were thrilled when the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) quickly endorsed the NSTA position statement. However, we would like NAEYC to adopt its own position statement on early childhood science. Given that NAEYC has already endorsed the NSTA statement, why do we think this is so necessary?
Our primary reason is that NAEYC is nationally recognized as the principal authority on developmentally appropriate practice for educators and programs serving children birth through eight. As such, its position statements carry weight with teachers, administrators, teacher-trainers, curriculum developers, and others responsible for making informed decisions about science in early childhood settings. NAEYC also serves to remind us that early childhood does not begin at preschool and end at the threshold to Kindergarten. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, AND children in grades K-3 share a need for learning experiences that are responsive to their cognitive capacities as well as integrated, centered on direct experience, and playful. All of these children need teachers who have knowledge, not only about science, but also about how young children develop and learn science, and the teaching practices and strategies that make science content and practices accessible to them (Shulman, 1987). What organization outside of NAEYC is better situated to provide guidance to early childhood educators on how to integrate these three types of knowledge?
How a science position statement would benefit K-3 teachers and learners
Science specialists and policy makers may want to promote K-3 science teaching that aligns with the NGSS, but are confronted with two large constraints: first, the lack of support for science instructional time in K-3 and second, the lack of expertise in science instruction within K-3 teachers. The national push to consistently increase scores on standardized literacy and mathematics tests has placed K-3 public school teachers in the position of devoting more instructional time to literacy and mathematics to ensure these scores keep increasing. Many public school districts with low or stagnating literacy scores panic and demand their K-3 teachers devote more instructional time to literacy even to the point of totally excluding science. A few teachers report they face formal reprimands if they include science in their lesson plans. Even when K-3 teachers recognize the importance of including science in the curriculum and are allowed to do so, they struggle with how to effectively implement it. K-3 teachers are most often hired based upon their preparation and expertise in teaching early literacy, not teaching early science. Because their wide knowledge of literacy instruction and children’s literature, K-3 teachers often design lessons around a collection of books that address an NGSS core idea. In these units of study, children are assigned a question to investigate by reading through the books to learn how others have problem solved to find the answer. There may or may not be a hands-on component to these units of study, but all too often, the hands-on component is assessed by how well a child follows directions to get to a correct answer or result. An NAEYC science position statement could help K-3 teachers understand the importance of creating an educational environment that provokes thinking about several NGSS core ideas over time. It could educate teachers about the importance of encouraging primary investigations that address children’s curiosity and questions and allow children to design a plan for finding answers; document what they notice through writing or labeling drawings; look for patterns; explain what they think; and read, listen, and respond to their peers’ explanations. It could help K-3 teachers recognize that science is often the stimulus for developing the tools of literacy.
How a science position statement would benefit preschool teachers and learners
Fortunately for the preschool world, the NSTA position statement clearly describes the types of experiences that support science learning for 3-5 year-olds and the components of PD that build teachers’ abilities to facilitate them. Unfortunately however, many of the preschool teachers I work with are unfamiliar with NSTA and the big ideas and practices of science. They frequently have leftover anxieties related to their own school science experiences that seldom included opportunities to ask and investigate their own questions and share their own science experiences and ideas. This uncertainty often makes them leery of facilitating children’s science explorations for fear of taking the spontaneity, playfulness, and enjoyment out of them. On the other hand K-12 science educators and policy makers, anxious to raise levels of STEM learning and achievement for older children, often view the preschool years as an opportunity to start teaching concepts and skills early, often in ways that are unresponsive to the unique developmental characteristics of 3-5 year-olds. An NAEYC position statement could help integrate preschool teachers’ knowledge of child development and science educators’ knowledge of science content, allowing both audiences to build their knowledge of developmentally appropriate science teaching approaches and strategies that could bridge the two.
We believe that NAEYC can do for early childhood educators across the 0-8 spectrum what NSTA has begun with preschoolers. An NAEYC position statement on early childhood science could communicate a clear vision for early childhood science that forges connections between the early childhood community and the broader science education world for ALL young children.
The two authors of this blog have combined expertise in preschool (ages 3-5) and kindergarten/elementary (ages 5-8) science education and a joint interest in advocating for quality science teaching across the 0-8 age-span. We also have individual but overlapping perspectives on the need for an NAEYC science position statement.