By: Colleen MacDonald
Forward by Stephanie Olmore
NAEYC promotes quality child care and developmentally appropriate practice not just in the US but worldwide as well. This month we feature a post from Colleen MacDonald from Ontario, Canada. If you’d like to contribute to our blog, please submit your blog post ideas to us. We look forward to your comments as we continue to work together to promote quality early childhood education globally.
Full Day Early Learning in Kindergarten Comes to Ontario!
Wonder, Curiosity and Awe! Inquiry in Action
What’s this? Three, four and five year olds in school for a full day of learning? In 2010, the Ontario Ministry of Education announced its plan to implement Full Day Learning in every school across the province. The sceptics started to listen when they saw the vision unfold. Dr. Charles Pascal, Professor of Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development at OISE/University of Toronto, was asked to recommend the best way to implement early learning for four and five year olds. The result was a program capturing the vision, purpose and goals, blending curriculum expectations (standards) with developmental stages.
Among the many recommendations, several piqued the interest of the Educational and Childcare sectors.
1 – Program is inquiry-driven in a play-based environment
2 – Environment acts as the Third Educator
3 – Pedagogical Documentation captures the learning and “Makes Thinking Visible”
4 – Self-Regulation as the overriding goal of the program
5 – Before and After School Care on-site, in schools
6 – Program delivered by a Certified Teacher, partnered with a Registered Early Childhood Educator
Of all the recommendations, #1 and #6 became hot topics of discussion and debate. Teachers were used to working alone in the classroom, delivering a theme-based program in a prescribed manner. The idea of letting the curriculum emerge from the children’s interests was a new concept. Now, invite a partner into the classroom with a different background who will share the responsibilities of creating a high quality, intentional, play-based learning environment. The result was what the teams affectionately refer to as, “the arranged marriage, with children!” Teachers and principals were unsure of just what a Registered Early Childhood Educator was qualified to do. Do they assess? Do they plan? What do they learn in their course of study? Registered Early Childhood Educators wondered, will my opinion be valued; will I be treated as an equal or considered a helper? Ultimately the biggest question was: will the children still learn what they are supposed to?
In the first year of the rollout of the program, there were many questions in classrooms across Ontario as two educators began working together to form collaborative full day kindergarten teams. Both educators started to learn about each other and develop respect for one other’s backgrounds, strengths and gifts. As the “marriage” unfolded, it became clear that as the teams worked together, with the children as their priority, they flourished! A newfound respect for each profession emerged. They learned from one another and from the children. The educational and childcare worlds collided, in a positive way.
Making Five In Many Ways
Sarah, the teacher and Meghan, the Registered ECE Educator met the June before school started and they shared their stories and hopes for the program. When Meghan visited the school for the first time, Sarah was eager to share her storage room full of theme boxes that she had created over the years. Meghan didn’t place judgement but instead said,“Just wait, you may find that you won’t be needing those boxes anymore. The children will tell you want they want to learn about.” The big day arrived and as the twenty-sixth child entered the room, Meghan could feel her heart pounding. She had never worked with such a large group before! Sarah took the lead and gathered the children for whole group community time. When the children moved to the play areas, Sarah watched Meghan engage with the children, listen intently, record information and move on. At the end of the day, Sarah and Meghan sat down to reflect on how the day unfolded. As they compared notes, they saw that they were both observing the children but seeing different things. Over the next few weeks, conversations about the children revealed insights into developmentally appropriate learning opportunities. Listening to the children provided insight into their world and what they were curious about. and then the curriculum emerged.The marriage partners were now dancing, sharing the lead, and working in sync towards a common goal.
This accomplishment didn’t occur overnight. Each team participated in networked learning sessions to explore topics such as play, inquiry, and self-regulation.. At every session, time was spent on looking at the role of the team members and how to deal with difficult situations. Participants shared strategies to communicate disagreements and negotiate respectfully. It was universally agreed that decisions must be grounded in the program/curriculum and have the child at the centre.
Is it perfect yet? Are we finished? Not by a long shot, but when we embark on a new journey and learn together, there are bound to be bumps along the way. What matters most is that children are at the center of our discussions and are flourishing and learning in the way that they do best – through play, guided by two caring, professional educators.
Free Exploration - What Can We See in a Sunflower?
Colleen MacDonald is the Coordinator of Early Years at the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
Energy Balance is the balance of calories consumed from foods and beverages (Energy In) with calories burned from physical activity (Energy Out). When we maintain Energy Balance over time, it can contribute to our health in positive ways. While adults are very familiar with these concepts, preschool-¬¬aged children are not expected to understand calories or how energy is balanced. They can, however, begin to learn important concepts related to what they eat and how they move.
Educators play a critical role in bringing this message to children, but are often not highlighted for the great work they do to ensure a healthy lifestyle for the children they teach. That’s why the Together Counts program has created the Smart from the Start Awards, recognizing the practical, long-term improvements in nutrition and physical activity that educators have made at their preschools.
Last year’s Smart from the Start Award winners received a total of more than $45,000 in grants and prizes towards strengthening health and wellness programming throughout their schools. Here are a few examples of what these Energy Balance stars have done:
At Eaton Park Elementary, a Title I school in Abbeville, La., educators crafted a plan to build a youth fitness trail with exercise stations. They also conducted parent “lunch and learns” to reach not just their students, but families and the larger community, as well.
The Here We Grow Learning Center in Dunedin, Fla. created a Health and Wellness Club to equip families with tools and strategies to make smart nutritional choices and encourage them to be active participants. Here We Grow Learning Center reported that 95 percent of their families are enrolled in the Florida Department of Health’s Florida Childcare Food Program, Florida Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and/or Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
In Springdale, AK, the Early Childhood Center involves all stakeholders in tackling the issue of childhood obesity with a multi-pronged approach, as more than 36 percent of the 3-5 year olds in their school overweight or obese. The school hosts seminars for the community, has added exercise equipment to their playground, and is constructing a new greenhouse.
The LSSI Head Start Program in Chicago, Ill. purchased age-appropriate play equipment and created a children’s library filled with health-related books.
This year's Smart from the Start Awards are now open for entry. Share your vision for energy balance and you could win a $20,000 grand prize grant or one of ten $2,000 second prize grants. Submit your entry by February 27! Together Counts is a partnership led by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and Discovery Education, providing standards-aligned, free resources to help students, educators, and families lead active and healthy lifestyles.
This blog post was submitted by Discovery Education. Together Counts is a partnership led by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and Discovery Education, providing standards-aligned, free resources to help students, educators, and families lead active and healthy lifestyles.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and KaBOOM! are working together to help kids get the balanced and active play they need to thrive. Rhian Evans Allvin, executive director of NAEYC, and Darell Hammond, founder and CEO of KaBOOM!, discuss the importance of play in education and the positive impact it has on communities.
Why is play important to education?
Rhian Evans Allvin: Neuroscience has confirmed that learning begins at birth and the period from birth to age five includes rapid brain development—setting the foundation for cognitive, social/emotional, language and fine and gross motor skills. In order to achieve the academic excellence and equity that is essential—we must invest in our young children during this window of explosive development.
Young children engage in various kinds of play, such as physical play, object play, pretend or dramatic play, constructive play, and games with rules. Play gives them opportunities to develop physical competence and enjoyment of the outdoors, understand and make sense of their world, interact with others, express and control emotions, develop their symbolic and problem-solving abilities, and practice emerging skills. Research shows the links between play and foundational capacities such as memory, self-regulation, oral language abilities, social skills, and success in school.
Children of all ages love to play. From infancy, children act on the world around them for the pleasure of seeing what hap¬pens; for example, repeatedly dropping a spoon on the floor or pulling the cat’s tail. Around age two, children begin to demonstrate symbolic use of objects—for instance, picking up a shell and pre¬tending to drink as from a cup—at least when they have had opportunities to observe others engaging in such make-believe behavior.
From such beginnings, children begin to engage in more mature forms of dramatic play, in which by the age of 3–5 they may act out specific roles, interact with one another in their roles, and plan how the play will go. Such play is influential in developing self-regulation, as children are highly motivated to stick to the roles and rules of the play, and thus grow in the ability to inhibit their impulses, act in coordination with others, and make plans. High-level dramatic play produces documented cognitive, social, and emotional ben¬efits.
Darell Hammond: As global competition increases, it is imperative that children develop a skill-set relevant to today's workforce and are able to approach challenges with creative solutions to successfully navigate our complex, ever-changing world. Critical thinking and collaboration are integral to the jobs of the future, and balanced and active play helps kids develop these 21st century skills.
Unfortunately, however, play is disappearing in our schools. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 30 percent of children surveyed had little to no recess in their school day. That's nearly one in three kids. At KaBOOM!, we believe play should be part of a well-rounded school day. That is, kids need to read, write, do math, as well as practice problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity. We know play also helps children adjust to the school setting, enhances their learning readiness, and indirectly contributes to children learning more hard skills in school by mitigating behavioral problems and increasing academic engagement.
We are thrilled to partner with NAEYC, to raise awareness about the importance of play in early childhood education. As part of this commitment, we are granting Imagination Playgrounds to 10 NAEYC member sites. This unique and innovative play product will help transform regular classrooms into playspaces that encourage learning, social development, critical thinking, movement, and fun!
How does play benefit kids?
Rhian: We see a wonderful interplay of domains as children play—they demonstrate their approaches to learning, they can engage with others in a social relationship, they attempt things that are challenging, yet achievable—which enhances their self-esteem. Children express emotions as they play. There’s also an integration of math, literacy, science, and other academic areas as children play—constructing, classifying, sorting, seriating, quantifying, and practicing other skills. Physical play supports the development of gross and fine motor skills. Who knew that a classic game of Simon Says is actually building the same inhibitory control that is needed to follow academic instructions later in school? Research now demonstrates the development of self-regulation or executive function in sociodramatic (imaginative, pretend) play leads to higher achievement—a very important benefit!
Darell: At KaBOOM!, we believe that the well-being of society begins with the well-being of children. This is why we’re such big advocates of balanced and active play, which is essential—and elemental—to enable children to thrive.
Just as a healthy diet balances proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients, a balanced “play diet” should include a mix of all kinds of play, because different types have different benefits. For example, play-dough creations, blocks, and make-believe spark the imagination and teach problem-solving skills. Running, jumping, and climbing get legs moving and hearts pumping. And exploring playgrounds with families or playing hide-and-seek with friends helps kids learn to work together, collaborate, and share. A balance of play means active minds, active bodies, and active together to realize all of play’s benefits.
What impact can play have on cities?
Darell: Across the United States, cities and communities are engaged in a fierce contest for the future. They are competing for businesses, economic development, and jobs. They are competing for residents—for families who will breathe energy and enterprise into their neighborhoods. The fact is, for communities to thrive, they need to ensure that all of their residents are happy, healthy, and contributing to their community’s overall vitality. One essential ingredient in the recipe is a renewed commitment to fostering family-friendly, kid-friendly environments that allow young people to get their bodies moving and their minds engaged no matter where they are.
All families deserve to live in a safe community with ample job opportunities, great schools and abundant opportunities to play, but we currently have inequitable distribution of services, resources, and opportunities for low-income families. This inequity serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty that threatens our nation's economic future. Creating kid-friendly, family-friendly cities filled with play is a competitive advantage for cities to attract and retain residents, and it directly impacts the kids that need it most.
Rhian: The provision of family-friendly, kid-friendly environments is a hallmark of sustainable communities. All families want to live in areas where there are many opportunities for children to play outdoors in areas that are safe and conducive to big body play, using their imaginations and equipment that is tailored to their needs. That’s the kind of community I want to live in—and fortunately I do!
Want more on quality early learning? Sign up to get the latest from NAEYC.
Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
Darell Hammond is the founder and CEO of KaBOOM!
by Rhain Evans Allvin
"It’s not a nice-to-have—it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue." - President Barack Obama
On Tuesday, I listened with rapt attention as President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address. While we are less than a month into 2015, it is already proving to be a groundbreaking year for young children and their families.
As Obama addressed the nation, he drove home the importance of a continued commitment to early childhood development by presenting a major tax reform proposal that will benefit 5.1 million families by helping them to cover child care costs.
NAEYC is thrilled that the President shares the same vision as our new strategic direction: all young children thrive and learn in a society dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential.
Digging deeper into the proposal, President Obama noted that his plan will streamline child care tax benefits, but also increases the maximum child care benefit for middle class families with young children, up to $3,000 per child. That’s triple the current amount!
The State of the Union also highlighted the importance of early learning, stressing that in order for parents to work and feel secure in today's economy, affordable high-quality child care is "a must-have." We congratulate the President for taking this firm stance on the importance of child care and referring to it as a "national economic priority." NAEYC looks forward to working with the Administration and Congress to improve the quality of child care settings and to ensure that all families have access to the child care that best meets their needs.
High-quality early childhood education needs to be affordable and accessible to all families in our Nation Research in all areas – whether in education, neuroscience, or economics – points to the same conclusion: early learning matters. We have all the facts and now it is time we act on them; a public commitment will give parents peace of mind that their children are safe while they are at work and that they are engaged in learning environments that help prepare them for success in school and in life.
Combined with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESA) and the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), we are steps closer to delivering on the promise of early learning: a promise that ensures all young children have access to high quality early learning experiences and that early childhood educators serve in a valued and revered profession.
Want more on quality early learning? Sign up to get the latest from NAEYC.
Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
Adapted from Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards.
Very young children can grasp the idea of honoring people whose work makes life better for others, even though children’s understanding reflects their developmental stage. By age 4, children can begin connecting activities about social justice holidays to their own experiences with unfairness and fairness. Although they cannot understand fully all the facts and complexities of history, young children can learn that many grown ups have worked, and continue to work to make the world a safe, fair, and good place.
Here are some ideas and tips for teachers and families:
Read and discuss children's books
There are many books about justice and fairness that teachers and families can read and discuss with young children.
A few suggestions:
- The Streets are Free by Kurusa
- Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire Nivola
- No Fair to Tigers/No es justo para los tigres by Eric Hoffman
Be true to the holiday's meaning
In the United States, one of the most frequently recognized social justice holidays is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In discussing such occasions with children, be sure to make clear what the holidays truly recognize, rather than perpetuating misconceptions or oversimplifying the meaning of the person’s life’s work.
Martin Luther King, for example, was trying to make the world a more just place--not just one where everyone gets along. As he articulated often, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” Rosa Parks (1992) also made clear that she sat down in the front of the bus not simply because she was physically tired from work but because she was sick and tired of injustice.
Make collages or books
Activities provide children with materials and ideas that last beyond the specific day or celebration!
For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, make a book with the children about women and men in the children’s families and neighborhoods who help make a better life for people. Ask children and families to suggest different people. With their permission, get or take a photograph of each one and write a few sentences about the person. When you read the book to the children, invite them to add other sentences.
This excerpt was adapted from Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards.
Here are a few additional books suggestions
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Henry Coles
recommended ages: 4-8
This book tells the true story of six-year-old Ruby Bridges who in 1960 must walk through an angry mob to attend first grade at an all-white school in New Orleans.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
recommended ages: 4-8
A retelling of how in 1955 in Montgomery Alabama, Ms. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, after the white section was filled.
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
The new year is a time when we reflect on the past and think of our goals, hopes, and dreams for the future. Last year, NAEYC’s National Governing Board along with representatives from the Affiliate Council, the ECADA Commission and the Council for NAEYC Accreditation and thousands of NAEYC members, leaders, staff volunteers weighed in on NAEYC’s vision, mission, and goals. The resulting strategic direction is an excellent guide as I think about our plans and dreams for the coming year.
NAEYC's strategic direction includes:
A new vision statement: All young children thrive and learn in a society dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential.
A new mission statement: NAEYC promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research. We advance a diverse, dynamic early childhood profession and support all who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children.
A commitment to our core values (as stated in the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct) and our core beliefs.
- Appreciate childhood as a unique and valuable stage of the human life cycle.
- Base our work on knowledge of how children develop and learn.
- Appreciate and support the bond between the child and family.
- Recognize that children are best understood and supported in the context of family, culture, community, and society.
- Respect the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual (child, family member, and colleague).
- Respect diversity in children, families, and colleagues.
- Recognize that children and adults achieve their full potential in the context of relationships that are based on trust and respect.
- Excellence and Innovation—We are imaginative risk takers willing to challenge assumptions while being accountable to our mission and fiscally responsible.
- Transparency—We act with openness and clarity.
- Reflection—We consider multiple sources of evidence and diverse perspectives to review past performance, note progress and successes, and engage in continuous quality improvement.
- Equity and Opportunity—We advocate for policies, practices, and systems that promote full and inclusive participation. We confront biases that create barriers and limit the potential of children, families, and early childhood professionals.
- Collaborative Relationships—We share leadership and responsibility in our work with others. We commit time and effort to ensure diverse participation and more effective outcomes. We act with integrity, respect, and trust.
Five Strategic priorities with goals and desired results.
1. High-Quality Early Learning - Goal: Children birth through age 8 have equitable access to developmentally appropriate, high-quality early learning.
2. The Profession - Goal: The early childhood education profession exemplifies excellence and is recognized as vital and performing a critical role in society.
3. Organizational Advancement - Goal: NAEYC is a highly valued, credible, and visible organization.
4. Organizational Excellence - Goal: NAEYC reflects excellence in all aspects of organizational health and vitality.
5. Leadership and Innovation - Goal: NAEYC cultivates leadership and incubates innovative strategies that propel the field, profession, and systems of early learning.
We hope you will read the strategic direction document to explore how this re-imagined vision shapes the work you do with young children. I urge you to roll up your sleeves, lend your talent and your mind to make sure we reach our collective aspiration and obligation-- Our Vision: All young children thrive and learn in a society dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential.
With deep gratitude,
Want more on quality early learning? Sign up to get the latest from NAEYC.
Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
Forward by Megan Worthington
"There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace." –Kofi Annan
In 2013, NAEYC created an international department to meet a growing interest worldwide in NAEYC membership, conferences, standards frameworks, publications and resources. Our goal is to engage with the global early childhood development community to strengthen international early childhood systems and improve quality of 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, quality, developmentally appropriate learning environments. NAEYC is humbled to have many countries interested in our work that promotes high quality early learning and teacher preparation.
Dr. Aglaia Zafeirakou recently participated in a panel covering the topic of international early childhood education at NAEYC’s Annual Conference. As a follow-up to her conference presentation and to Universal Children’s Day, Dr. Zafeirakou shares her perspective on quality early childhood programming from her work throughout Africa. Her expertise includes policy and program development aimed at increasing the number of children in school and improving the equity and the quality of education services.
11 African countries and their partners gather in Zanzibar to make it happen
During a visit to Niger about a year and a half ago, in a small village 15 km outside of Niamey, I attended a parent-teacher meeting in a primary school that had recently been renovated by the community.
I listened to the discussions, which were about improving student learning through afterschool support programs. Because the village now had a good school building and the government covered teachers’ salaries, the community could shift its focus to learning.
Towards the end of the conversation, a man raised his hand. His question to the teacher was simple: “But Madame, what about preschool?”
Parent / Teacher meeting in Niger. Credit: GPE/Aglaia Zafeirakou
Parents everywhere demand preschool education for their children
The man was Ali, a 45-year-old grandfather who was concerned about his grandson’s readiness for primary school. He continued: “How much can first graders learn if they arrive at school unprepared? We are ready to do what it takes to organize ourselves for the younger children. Please help us to organize a preschool program! We want a preschool program in our village!”
It does not take comprehensive needs analysis studies to confirm that the demand for preschool programs is strong even in the most challenging environments. Even in villages like the one in Niger, where many parents are illiterate and many are surviving on sometimes $1 a day, working hard all day in the fields.
Early childhood education boosts learning
Frequently at global education meetings and conferences, policy makers and experts ask: “What will it take to achieve learning for all?”
There is compelling research to corroborate Ali’s point that preschool education is crucial in achieving learning for all. There is a strong recognition that Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is one of the best investments a country can make to prepare children for learning in school and for prospering later in life. Economic, educational, and social evidence shows that investing in high quality ECCE programs benefits especially the poor and otherwise disadvantaged children.[i]
Exposure to early learning experiences, such as quality ECCE, helps young children to start school ready to learn and provides them the tools to become educated citizens for the 21st century, skills the countries depends on.[ii] In terms of cost-effectiveness, the “Heckman Curve”[iii] demonstrates that the earlier the investment in human capital, the greater return on investment. No investment in human capital pays off better than investing in early childhood.
It takes a partnership to respond to Ali’s demand
Boosting ECCE programs to reach the poorest and most disadvantaged young children may seem an impossible task.
A look at gross enrollment data from the past decade in low-income countries shows that more children are going to preschool, and that this trend will continue in the future. However, access remains low: only 21% of children attend preschool in low-income countries and only 18% in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, ECCE mainly benefits children from urban areas and affluent families, and is characterized by a high private sector involvement (34% of enrollments). [iv] Only children whose parents can afford to pay for it attend preschool.
While countries plan to expand pre-primary services in a more equitable way, there is an urgent need to attract more resources and develop quality programs to target villages like the village in Niger. We need to think creatively and find innovative ways to attract resources, and to direct these to the children who need it more. We also need to build the capacity to deliver quality ECCE services.
The Global Partnership for Education is actively involved in developing and sharing knowledge about what works in ECCE. Next week key ECCE partners, including GPE, UNICEF and GIZ, are organizing a regional workshop in Zanzibar to discuss how to operationalize and bring to scale quality ECCE programs in Africa. Participating are Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe. Non-governmental organizations involved in ECCE in these countries, as well as private foundations will also participate. The workshop will take a practical look at what works in the delivery of cost-effective quality pre-primary education, and what levels of technical knowledge, planning and budgeting are needed to scale up the programs.
It will take more than coordinated efforts and sound education sector plans to attain learning for all.
It will take more parents and grandparents like Ali who demand that their children be given the opportunity to prepare for school. It will take more governments like the ones attending the Zanzibar workshop dedicated to learning what works and applying it.
It will take continued support from GPE partners to reach the children who most need early learning opportunities to be prepared for learning in school and beyond.
Aglaia Zafeirakou Ph.D, is a Senior Education and Human Development Specialist at the Secretariat of the Global Partnership for Education.
[i] Center on the Developing Child. Harvard University. Key Concepts: Brain Architecture. http://developingchild.harvard.edu/key_concepts/brain_architecture/
[ii] Heckman Equation. http://www.heckmanequation.org/content/resource/invest-early-childhood-development-reduce-deficits-strengthen-economy
[iii] The productivity argument for investing in young children. Heckman, J. J., & Masterov, D. 2007. IZA Discussion Paper Series, 2725.
[iv] GPE. 2013. Results for Learning Report.
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
This year, for the first time ever, I voted in a state other than Arizona. Steeped in the politics of the great Southwest for 25 years, I am a political novice in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Getting to know the political landscape—the key issues, the candidates, the budget situation—has been fascinating. What haven’t changed are the core tenets of candidates’ motivation to advocate for public investment in early childhood education:
- Knowing that their constituents hold them accountable for their track record on early learning
- Following the polls (thankfully, the polls I have seen place voters squarely on the side of young children—across political ideologies)
- Knowing that parents, teachers, and other early childhood stakeholders turn out on Election Day
For the past 20 years I have been involved in electoral advocacy on behalf of young children in a state known for its conservative ideologies. I have seen and been a part of candidate races and ballot initiatives. I have felt the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. At times we early childhood advocates may be too quick to anticipate failure, lamenting the lack of support and the frustration of competing with special interest groups. While effecting any type of social change is really hard work—it sometimes feels like rolling a boulder uphill that might never reach the top—we hold a lot of untapped power and potential. Examining a few myths about the politics of early childhood education may motivate you.
MYTH: Early learning is a liberal issue.
FACT: Ensuring that every child can reach her full potential is a core American value. Conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, we have a collective moral obligation to give children a fair start in life. Irrefutable research in neuroscience confirms that the first five years of life have a decisive, long-lasting impact on children’s cognitive, linguistic, social-emotional, and physical development.
MYTH: Candidates across political parties and ideologies will never come to agreement on early learning.
FACT: Red and blue states alike have signed on for the US Department of Education’s Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge funding; applied for federal preschool development and expansion funds; and passed significant appropriations for early childhood investments. Our job as early childhood advocates is to create an environment in which candidates compete to present and support bold early childhood agendas.
MYTH: The early childhood community isn’t powerful enough to affect election outcomes.
FACT: Just as powerful as financing is the sheer number of constituents who care about early learning. They need to be energized, organized, and empowered. There are one million people employed in early childhood centers and school classrooms. Add to those family child care providers, home visitors, coaches, before- and after-school program staff, specialists, and other stakeholders, and the number exceeds three million. Assume that many of them vote. Assume that they all are willing to convince two other people to vote. That is what we call a movement.
MYTH: There is no way we can pay for the electoral advocacy activities we want to organize.
FACT: As the saying goes, facts are negotiable but perceptions are rock solid. Early childhood advocates may not have the resources that special interest groups have, but well-placed grassroots tactics can be equally powerful. During the fight in Arizona to stop the repeal of the First Things First initiative, early childhood advocates organized months of phone banks. Through this effort, volunteers called all registered independents who had voted in the last several election cycles with a message to vote no on the proposition. Tens of thousands of voters were reached, and the costs were negligible. This is an example of minimal funds and powerful outcomes.
NAEYC is piloting electoral advocacy efforts with three Affiliates this year. The goal is to steadily increase the Association’s support of Affiliate strategies to promote a variety of nonpartisan election activities on behalf of young children.
For decades there have been great debates, successful and failed efforts, and political mudslinging about election reform. Whether it is campaign spending limits, soft money, or voter identification, figuring out how to open wide the gates of democracy is a critical topic. What is essential is the need for you, as an advocate for young children, to make the greatest contribution you can—to cast your vote on Election Day and to convince two friends to cast their votes too. We owe it to the young children and families we dedicate our lives to serving.
Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of Young Children.
by Sarah Smith
By: Susan Friedman
New research on how young dual language learners learn in both languages is essential to supporting children worldwide. According to the Associated Press, up to 66 percent of the world's children are raised as bilingual speakers. That is why it is particularly relevant that NAEYC is sharing best practices from two national experts on teaching young dual language learners (DLLs) on Universal Children's Day. Dr. Linda Espinosa and Karen Nemeth presented on the most current brain research and best practices related to DLLs, their teachers and their families during the second half of NAEYC's kickoff panel for Grandes Comienzos Futuros Brillantes at Annual Conference. The panel was moderated by Miriam Calderon, Senior Partner at School Readiness Consulting. Following are some highlights from the panelists' discussion.
Part II: Dual Language Learning
"The combination of living in poverty and having low access to early education increases the vulnerability of dual language learners to negative outcomes." -Dr. Linda Espinosa
Dr. Linda Espinosa, Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at the University of Missouri, Columbia, discussed the latest research in dual language learning and how it impacts how young children are taught. She started by commenting on the first panel, “I heard some things for the first time here. I was struck by the fact that we are a unified family of educators with similar goals!” She advocated for cross-national sharing of information and requested that the Inter-American Development Bank report on ECD services in Latin America be made available in English; the report has already been translated and can be found here.
Dr. Espinosa described how the term Dual Language Learner (DLL) is different from the term English Language Learner because DLL acknowledges that children aren't just learning in English, they are also learning in their home language. DLL reflects the linguistic capacity to learn in two languages. This linguistic capacity is a strength and will stay with children learning in two languages their whole lives. The term is also important because it is strength-based and reflects what children DO know (their home language) rather than what they don't know (the second language - English). In the US, Dual Language Learners’ first introduction to English often takes place in an early education program.
Dr. Espinosa explained that the past 10 years of research has revealed a developmental paradox. In the Unites States DLLs are highly vulnerable to underachievement. However, this does not mean that all Dual Language Learners are the same. Context matters! When dual language learners are from families who also carry the burden of being from a lower socioeconomic status then children are more vulnerable to underachievement. However, when Dual Language learners are not burdened by lower economic status, research shows that having a second language is NOT a risk factor.
Having a home language other than English and being a DLL is in fact a strength! DLLs have:
- Lower infant mortality rates
- Fewer mental and physical problems
- Strong social skills
- Parents support education and have high expectation
Teachers need to know more about the science of early bilingualism so that they can understand the capacities of DLLs and how to support their learning in both languages and how to engage their families. The brain development for young bilinguals is different than that of a monolingual child. All babies are born being able to hear all sounds but even before the first birthday they become more attuned to the sounds of their native language.
Young bilingual brains have better:
- Inhibitory control
- Working memory
- Cognitive flexibility
For more information see Challenging Common Myths About Young Dual Language Learners: An Update to the Seminal 2008 Report.
Karen Nemeth, an author, speaker and consultant on teaching young children who are dual language learners discussed how educators and parents can nurture DLL’s through having interesting and relevant conversations together. Ms. Nemeth reminded us that connections with other people happen through conversations. In order to have these conversations educators must think about what they are doing in the classroom, including why they are choosing specific activities and materials in relation to how they help nurture meaningful conversation.
Ms. Nemeth challenged all teachers to ask themselves:
- Why did I choose this material?
- How will the child use this himself?
- What is the connection?
- Where will the child go with this information
- What related conversations will take place?
To kick off this thinking Ms. Nemeth asked the audience to sing the song, “Head Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in Spanish, substituting the Spanish words for hair, shirt, pants and shoes. Participants experienced first hand some of the confusion that can happen when taking in information in a different language demonstrating that, “just because you said it doesn’t mean you taught it”. She then asked attendees to think of the song, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and to question whether the words and gestures really connect with the here and now of the children’s daytime preschool experience. Ms. Nemeth suggested that “Wheels on the Bus” is a more useful classroom song because a song with words children can use right away is more helpful and relevant to DLLs as they try to learn in two or more languages. Having items in the classroom that support language learned in songs is critical for conversation and connection. Most children will have seen or ridden buses. Most teachers have books in their classroom about buses and other vehicles as well as toy buses and vehicles children can play with. Children can then create and imagine buses as part of their dramatic play. A song with words children can use in an everyday context offers a DLL more opportunities for real understanding and real connections and can in turn nurture meaningful conversations and language development in both English and in the child’s home language.
“Sometimes Spanish speaking children have more words than their monolingual peers - this wealth needs to be acknowledged.” -Karen Nemeth
Ms. Nemeth provided the following recommendations for supporting staff, children, and families:
- Develop a language plan
- Communicate with staff about the goals of the plan and how it will be implemented in classrooms
- Include monolingual staff in the language plan
- Include trainings about the importance of intentional conversation planning
- Provide professional development materials in different languages so staff can continue to develop their own language assets
- Encourage educators to learn some words in each child’s language and support them in this effort
- Engage in planned conversations, stories, and activities in both the children's’ home languages and in English
- Ensure sure there is time in each language to become truly engaged with content and conversation
- Help children focus on one language at a time
- Take time to explore connections and meanings
- Remember that roving interpreters or sprinklings of language are not effective in supporting young DLLs.
- Get to know each families and their cultural context
- Show families you value their home language
Ms. Nemeth ended her talk by reminding us that having two languages is wonderful for young children. Young children are especially hard-wired to learn languages. Educators can learn how to support young children in their programs as they learn in both languages, setting the stage for their continued learning and success both in school and in life.