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.
by: Kyle Snow, Ph.D.
In 2015, the Apple App Store included more than 80,000 apps classified as education or learning-based. These apps are finding a ready audience. A 2013 survey by Common Sense Media found that 58% of parents of young children had downloaded apps, a number that is certainly higher today. A 2014 report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that just over half of parents thought their children learned “a lot” from educational technologies, but they also said they were looking for guidance on how to choose educational apps from trusted sources.
How do we know whether an app is educational?
Most online sources for apps include customer reviews. Web sites like Common Sense Media and Children’s Technology Review provide reviews as well. But to date there has not been a clear view about what makes an app educational, creating what some have called “the digital wild west.”
Applying the Science of Learning to defining education apps
A recently published paper by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and her colleagues provides a frame for evaluating the learning potential within apps. They describe four “pillars” of learning from the emerging research field called Science of Learning. These pillars describe the best circumstances for children’s learning. They are:
1. Active Learning - This is not just physical activity, but mental activity. Simply tapping or swiping to make something happen on the screen is not as “minds on” as moving images around to complete a puzzle or word, for example. Many apps get children touching the screen physically without much active learning.
2. Engagement in the learning process – Engaging in the learning process means not just getting the child’s attention, but also holding it on those elements of the app that support learning, and avoid distractions. As the authors write, in many apps, “animations, sound effects, and tangential games might be appealing to a child when activated but not add to the child’s understanding of the primary content because they disrupt the coherence of the learning experience and the child’s engagement.”
3. Meaningful learning – Learning occurs when it connects directly to the child. It could be meaningful because it is directly relevant to the child, because it relates to things the child already knows, or because it provides information the child was looking for.
4. Social interaction – Apps can allow for social interaction in several ways: (1) children can interact in-person with the app as a focus of their interaction; (2) multiple users can engage in the app at one time, interacting through the app but not in-person; and, (3) children can interact with characters in the app itself.
Not all apps are educational
While many apps can be active, engaging, meaningful, and interactive, the apps that produce deep learning are those with a designed educational goal that guides the child’s learning. Apps that hold children’s attention and engage them can lead to deep learning if they are built around an educational goal that is appropriate for the child. Some apps can be effective at engaging children, but without an educational goal built into the experience do not lead to deep learning. What is appealing about the model described by Hirsh-Pasek and her colleagues is that is recognizes that apps can be used by children for many purposes – to engage in an educational process and learn, or to be engaged in technology in ways that are playful.
How to use this research
While there continues to be debate around young children’s exposure to technology, it is clear that technology, and apps marketed as educational, are here to stay. The framework provided by Hirsh-Pasek and her colleagues can be a valuable guide to parents and teachers making choices between apps should they choose to use them. It also provides a framework for developers to consider in designing apps that are highly appealing for young children and can support deep learning.
Parents and teachers can use this framework to evaluate apps that children are using. Applying the four pillars to other information from review sites can guide intentional choices about what apps to allow children to use and which ones to avoid.
Developers can use these pillars to guide the design and implementation of apps that can maximize the potential for learning while clearly providing an educational goal.
Guidance on how to use technology with young children
- Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 - A joint position statement issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College
- Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight—Research-based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old - A White Paper from Zero to Three
- A framework for quality digital media for young children - Fred Rogers Center
- Linn, S., Wolfsheimer Almon, J., & Levin, D. (2012). Facing the screen dilemma. Young children, technology and early education. Boston, MA: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. New York, NY: Alliance for Childhood.
- Guernsey, L. (2012). Screen time: How electronic media—from baby videos to educational software―affects your young child. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Kyle Snow, Ph.D is the Director of the NAEYC Center for Applied Research
by: Kyle Snow, Ph.D
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released its annual State Preschool Yearbook. The NIEER Yearbook has chronicled the number of state programs providing early education to 3- and 4-years-olds since 2003 and has become a key source of data on early care and education generally. Here are 12 numbers of interest from the 2014 Yearbook:
1. 40 states plus the District of Columbia offer public preschool programs.
2. 53 state-funded programs operating in 40 states plus DC fund preschool programs serving 3- or 4-year-old children.
3. 1.3 million children attended state-funded pre-K in 2014; 1.1 million were 4-year olds and 200,000 were 3-year-olds.
4. 41.5% of all 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded or Head Start programs.
5. 6 state programs meet all 10 NIEER benchmarks for quality.
6. 17 state programs meet 8 or more of the NIEER benchmarks for quality.
7. $5,556,840,884 – total amount of state preschool spending in 2014 for 3- and 4-year-olds (increase of approximately $120,000,0000 from 2013).
8. 75 – number of years it would take to enroll 50% of 4-year-olds in state pre-k programs at the current rate of growth.
9. 53 (out of 53) state programs include comprehensive early learning standards.
10. 30 (out of 53) state programs require teachers to have BA degrees (in ECE or related field)
11. 18 (out of 53) state programs require teaching assistants to hold a CDA or equivalent.
12. $2.2 billion – the difference between total funding for programs serving 4-year-olds in 2014 and what economist Tim Bartik estimates it would cost to provide those same children with consistently high quality programs today ($7.4 billion vs. $5.2 billion estimated for 4-year-olds only)
Kyle Snow, Ph.D is the Director of the NAEYC Center for Applied Research
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
Is early childhood education a profession? Is it a field? Are early childhood educators custodial caretakers, or are they supporting children’s development of cognitive and social and emotional skills based on significant hard science? Is there a name for the profession we can all agree to? When we define the profession, are we leaving people behind? By defining the profession and pushing for an increase in compensation and wages, are we pricing families out of high-quality early learning or demanding greater public investments? What thresholds of licensing, certification, and education will federal initiatives and state systems agree to? Are institutions of higher education preparing early childhood educators to be effective teachers of young children birth through third grade?
In the March 2015 issue of Young Children I announced the launch of NAEYC ’s Strategic Direction and outlined the first of five strategic priorities, High-Quality Early Learning. The second, and equally important, strategic priority is The Profession.
The goal is simple: “The early childhood education profession exemplifies excellence and is recognized as vital and performing a critical role in society.“
- Professional preparation and development for birth through age 8 educators is aligned and grounded in NAEYC’s standards and delivered in innovative ways.
- Skills, knowledge, competencies, and qualifications are agreed upon and used to define the early care and education profession.
- Early childhood professionals are diverse, effective educators and leaders working within a compensation and recognition system that supports their excellence.
- Professional development and preparation systems support seamless progression for early care and education professionals to advance their education, professional learning, and careers.
Despite the goal’s simplicity and straightforwardness, I believe it will take every bit of courage, open-mindedness, innovation, and political savvy we NAEYC members can muster to attain it. The conflicts run deep—agreeing on the threshold of basic skills and competencies required to be an early childhood educator, determining whether certain roles constitute a professional position, and deciding what certifications are necessary and whether they should vary by state. Finally, we have made little or no progress in ensuring that early childhood educators work in a system of compensation and recognition that supports their excellence.
“So,” skeptics may say, “why now? It’s not as if this goal hasn’t been proposed before.”
They are right. Our field has been addressing this goal for decades. In fact, within NAEYC there are reams of documentation and a rich history of discussions and similar initiatives. At the risk of seeming to see the world through rose-colored glasses, I argue that today is different. Today, as never before,
- Social scientists in early learning and developmentally appropriate practice are strongly supported by hard science—neuroscience—confirming that learning begins at birth
- Economists state clearly that there is a strong return on investment to society, families, and individuals when young children have access to high-quality early learning
- Significant federal, state, and local public funds have been invested in a system of early care and education
- Stakes are high for all young children—regardless of race, ethnicity, ability, or socioeconomic status—to start kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life
- Seven in 10 Americans say they favor using federal money to make sure high-quality education programs are available for every child in the United States
This all bodes well for recognition of the important role of early childhood educators.
In the new Strategic Direction NAEYC confirms its eagerness to be an innovative, risk-taking organization. Engaging with politicians, influencing policy, building consensus, developing resources—all will be essential in reaching this goal for the profession. Many of NAEYC’s partnering organizations also recognize that our collective time has come. And while we set out on this journey toward professional excellence and recognition, here is a glimpse of several new resources that will guide us in the next months:
- NAEYC’s National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, June 7–10, in New Orleans. The theme is The Early Childhood Profession We All Want: What Will It Take to Get Us There? You will want to be there to join in this conversation!
- Professionalizing Early Childhood Education As a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era, by Stacie Goffin. NAEYC is copublishing this title with Redleaf Press, for release in June (a comprehensive member benefit). Known for her clarity, purpose, and tireless advocacy, Stacie offers our field a roadmap for initiating a conversation from the inside out. Her premise is that we have to own this agenda rather than having a definition created for us.
- #InvestInUs. NAEYC will be using #InvestInUs during a six-week campaign to highlight teacher testimonials.
- NAEYC’s national marketing and behavioral research, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Richard W. Goldman Family Foundation. What motivates early childhood educators to make decisions about their careers? What messages about early childhood educators influence the perceptions and decisions of likely voters? And who are the messengers? Look for the release of these research results in fall 2015.
- Fall 2015 projects funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. A series of new resources are slated for release in the fall, including a national higher education directory, an online community for higher education faculty, and a pilot designed to test the expansion of NAEYC’s Early Childhood Associate Degree Accreditation (ECADA).
- The collection of articles in this issue of Young Children, which focuses on the theme Leadership: Supporting a New Generation of Early Childhood Professionals. This cluster offers diverse views of what it means to be a leader at this time of national emphasis on early childhood education, and provides specific strategies that emerging leaders can use to hone their leadership skills.
How the questions that open this column are answered is up to us—in our action (or inaction) to professionalize the field of early care and education. The resources listed above are just the beginning. I assure you NAEYC is totally committed. But it will take the entire field and our key stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels to move this agenda forward. So I leave you with a request: If this is a top priority for you, if you have waited way too long and have not seen nearly enough progress, what are you going to do in your role—tomorrow, next week, this year—to move the needle on behalf of yourself and your colleagues? Are you ready to join this movement?
Want more on quality early learning? Sign up to get the latest from NAEYC.
Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
By Marilou Hyson
Horse milk. That’s what we received as a parting gift, in little plastic bottles, following a great discussion accompanied by bountiful food at an early childhood center located on Sumbawa, one of Indonesia’s 18,307 islands. The refreshments may have been unusual, but the teachers’ dedication to their work—and the challenges they face—were very similar to what one can find in the United States. For over ten years I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a consultant with the World Bank and Save the Children, supporting early childhood projects in many developing countries, and often working with governments to help implement their vision for young children’s development and learning. This is one small slice of that work, or a sip of that horse milk.
- Indonesian children rank near the bottom on most international comparisons of academic achievement, with the poorest children having the worst outcomes
- Many poor children experience stunted growth, caused by poor maternal nutrition and inadequate early feeding; stunting limits children’s physical and intellectual development, often for life
- Families with low incomes have fewer resources to stimulate children’s early development and learning
- Most low-income families do not have access to affordable early childhood services
Early Childhood in Indonesia—Professional Development Launching Pads
Public policies and statements from the government of Indonesia reflect a strong commitment to education, including programs for parents and their young children. However, the level of funding for these services has not kept pace with the government’s stated commitments. Additionally, the quality of services remains low. To address the quality issue, the government has introduced a number of new teacher training efforts.
Observing these professional development activities in various corners of this large, diverse island nation I have come to think of them as “launching pads:” platforms that have the potential to support excellent early childhood professional development but that are not yet ready to provide such support. For example:
1. National Early Childhood Training Programs: The Ministry of Education has developed group teacher training sessions at the basic, intermediate, and advanced levels. As elsewhere, many teachers lack formal education and experience, so this is a much-needed platform. However, the training is currently too theoretical and uses mainly a lecture methodology. Even the “basic” training is at too high a level for complete beginners.
2. Teacher Cluster Groups, or Gugus PAUD: Begun in primary and secondary schools, these monthly meetings have now spread to early childhood. The goal has been to create opportunities for peer interaction and continuous professional development. Visiting these meetings, I’ve observed teachers eagerly participating. However, the problem is that often their time isn’t well spent. “Make-and-take” workshops are popular, and at the other extreme so are formal, Power Point-heavy lectures. With funding from the World Bank and others, our team of international and national consultants, government officials, and other ECE stakeholders aims to develop practical handbooks for leaders of these groups, with lots of ideas for how to enrich these learning communities.
3. Week-Long Internships, or Magang: The government has identified many early childhood programs to serve as sites where groups of teachers spend a week observing quality practices and learning from the staff and directors. Again, teachers love this opportunity, but it needs to be enhanced. Too often, there is a disconnect between the Magang site (large, rich in learning materials, and serving well-to-do families) and the small village programs to which Magang attendees will return. Our team hopes to bridge these gaps with basic handbooks and resources to help the hosts and the participants get more out of the Magang experience.
4. Early Childhood Supervisors, or Penilik: Every district in the country has these supervisors, who make regular visits to early childhood programs. This creates great potential for coaching. However, most Penilik have little understanding of early childhood, which is only part of their responsibility. Building their knowledge base and coaching skills is a top priority.
A Question for You
So...Indonesia has some potentially great launching pads, but these activities need tweaks and, in some cases, major repairs to get them into full operation. What are your local professional development launching pads? Are the challenges for improvement similar? What lessons can we share?
Marilou Hyson is a consultant in Early Childhood Development Education and an Adjunct Professor with the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
by Deanna Ramey
How do you demonstrate leadership in the field of early childhood education?
But wait,” you say, “how can I lead? I don’t know if I am really leadership material.” Have no fear. It is very likely that you are a stealth leader already.
The May 2015 issue of Young Children explores leadership issues and highlights the importance of encouraging a new generation of early childhood professionals to step into leadership roles. Whether you are new to the field or a seasoned veteran, now is the time to reveal your inner leader—and it may be easier than you think.
10 Ways to Tap Your Leadership Potential
1. Volunteer to create handouts about early education issues for families, the community, and other stakeholders.
2. Ask your director, manager, or principal for leadership opportunities.
3. Share your expertise by registering as a professional development provider.
4. Seek out opportunities to mentor preservice and induction-year teachers.
5. Present your expertise at state, regional, and national early childhood conferences.
6. Pursue leadership development programs offered through your school, district, or professional organization.
8. Join an NAEYC interest forum and volunteer to serve on a committee.
9. Contact your local NAEYC Affiliate about available leadership opportunities.
10. Engage in teacher research and submit your findings to Voices of Practitioners, NAEYC’s online teacher research journal.
Have you tried any of the items on this list? Share your experiences or tell us other ways you serve as a leader in early childhood education!
Deanna Ramey is the Journal Editor at NAEYC.
By Dr. Martha Cheney
Early childhood educators are poised at an exciting threshold of professionalism. The current focus on care and education for young children, along with the increased emphasis on accountability for PreK–12 educators, is shining a bright spotlight on the qualifications of those of us who work in this vitally important field. By taking the necessary steps to advance their knowledge and skills, early childhood educators can advance professional development, enhance the profile of the entire profession, and improve public perceptions of those who work in the field. As a program director of early childhood programs at Walden University, I work daily with students who want to make a real difference in the lives of young children and families and who are able to advance their own learning and marketability through achievement of a long-dreamed-of degree.
For those who work directly with young children in early childhood classroom settings, taking the next step on the learning ladder can build confidence and reinvigorate practice. Gaining new skills in such important areas as collaboration, leadership, brain research, and language and literacy development can boost teacher effectiveness and lead to improved outcomes for young children and families. Of perhaps equal importance, the pursuit of the next degree level provides excellent modeling of a commitment to lifelong learning for colleagues, parents of children in your setting, and to the children themselves.
Taking the next step
The increased knowledge and specialized skills that are acquired through continued learning and education can lead to opportunities beyond the classroom. When I began my career back in the 1970’s, work in the early childhood field was generally limited to teaching and caregiving. Since that time, the very notion of what it means to be a professional in the early childhood field has changed dramatically. The field continues to expand with new roles evolving across the multiple interconnected systems that serve young children and families. In addition to their critical roles as caregivers and teachers, early childhood professionals work in hospital and mental health services, in government and nonprofit agencies, and as parent educators in a variety of settings.
However, many early childhood educators may be reluctant to take that next step because of real or perceived barriers. In addition to typically long working hours, there are likely other personal responsibilities and commitments that make great demands on their time. It can seem daunting to add a program of study to an already exhaustive “to do” list. However, emerging models for degree programs provide a variety of options to meet the preferences and needs of adult learners. Public and private institutions offer traditional course-based programs, but these are not fully accessible to students who have limited transportation options, live in rural areas, have varying work schedules, or are caring for young children or elders in their own families.
A new way to learn
To help address these challenges, online programs offered by a variety of institutions provide greater access and flexibility for adult learners. In addition, new competency-based education (CBE) programs provide an exciting alternative to the course-based model. These programs allow early childhood educators to apply prior knowledge and skills gained through classroom practice as they progress through certificate and degree programs. Because they have traditionally been able to practice without formal degrees or certifications, many early childhood educators and caregivers have amassed years of valuable experience, but with little or no college credit. For these educators, competency-based programs may provide a more rapid and affordable pathway to degree completion. Walden University currently offers a CBE program for early childhood educators—the MS in Early Childhood Studies with a specialization in Administration, Management, and Leadership. Students in CBE programs demonstrate competency through authentic assessments instead of taking courses. This model enables them to leverage their prior knowledge and experience so that they can move through a program in less time. Students in CBE programs can focus on what they don’t know rather than what they do and progress through the program on their own schedule without deadlines. For students looking to find a CBE program, I’d recommend they look for accredited institutions that are approved to offer CBE and have previous experience in delivering high quality education programs as well as a history in delivering new and innovative learning models Equipped with the new knowledge, skills, and confidence that come with the pursuit of higher education and earning an advanced degree, early childhood educators can rightfully claim their role as professionals and promote a brighter future for children, families, and their beloved field.
Dr. Martha Cheney is the program director for the BS in Child Development, MAT in Early Childhood Education, MS in Early Childhood Studies, and Reading Endorsement K-12 programs in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership at Walden University. She’s previously taught at the university level both at Walden and at the University of Montana, Missoula’s school of education. Formerly a teacher, she began her career as a writer in educational publishing. She serves as a program reviewer for NAEYC and as a CAEP site visitor as part of the CAEP accreditation process.
To learn more about Tempo Learning and the competency-based M.S. in Early Childhood Studies program, visit www.waldenu.edu/programs/tempo-learning.
by Leshia Hoot
NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child is a wonderful time to celebrate the importance of early childhood education. Today’s early learners are the creative problem-solvers of tomorrow building the world of the future. How can we help them work together to practice creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking?
Today’s early learners will enter the workforce around the year 2030. In this fast-paced global economy, it is difficult to know which exact careers will be in highest demand. However, it seems safe to bet that flexible, creative thinkers who can work and collaborate together in a team environment will be ready for success in any vocation. According to IBM’s Global CEO study, navigating a complex, global, and interconnected environment is the biggest challenge enterprises will face in the future. The creativity and flexibility needed to learn and grow over time is therefore essential. According to research conducted by the LEGO Learning Institute, a foundation of critical thinking is developed through early childhood experiences that foster curiosity, initiative, independence, and effective choice. The research found that a combination of “skill, will and thrill” creates lifelong learners; students must learn content knowledge while also developing the will to continue learning along with an understanding of the how of learning. How does what I’m learning today apply to the world around me? Play often brings a needed element of thrill to create a fully engaging learning experience.
Teachers in classrooms around the world share that when they integrate hands-on learning materials like DUPLO bricks into their curriculum they see great learning benefits. Pre-K teacher Sharon Dudley of Laurel, Maryland says she has seen a huge boost in students’ verbal expression. According to Sharon, “While children are playing and building, their receptive and expressive language improves dramatically.” She has found that children who would normally answer questions with only a “yes” or “no” have begun speaking in full sentences such as, “Look! I made this bridge. The troll lives under here. The billy goats are gonna come across!”
In the kindergarten classes at A.J. Whittenberg Elementary in Greenville, South Carolina, Tom Roe, the school’s curriculum director, shares that students learn problem solving in a team-based environment, creating excitement and helping children feel successful at the end of a challenge.
So, what can we do today? We can create classrooms and playful learning experiences where children can work together, play together, and learn together. We can encourage risk-taking and support children in experiencing that making mistakes is a necessary element of learning. By incorporating play throughout lessons, we can make learning together fun. Together, we can inspire young minds to explore and discover the world.
What are some practical ways that you can create playful, collaborative learning activities? There are countless ways using a variety of resources and tools, and the Lego Foundation loves to share ways to use LEGO and DUPLO bricks for working and learning together. Check out our 20 days, 20 ways Pinterest page for inspiration.
Leshia Hoot is Sr. Segment Manager, Preschool and Elementary for LEGO Education. LEGO Education seeks to enable every student to succeed through playful learning experiences.
By Michelle Figlar
This week we’re celebrating the Week of the Young Child, the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) annual campaign to garner nationwide support for the under-8 set.
The event highlights the critical nature of the early years, calling for greater investment in high quality early learning opportunities and support for the caring adults who help provide them. This year’s schedule is overflowing with professional development, community events, conferences, media screenings, and parties. But the annual extravaganza is also a great reminder of the critical programs that support our youngest kids all year long.
In the decades following the inaugural Week of the Young Child in 1971, we’ve learned a fair amount about childhood development and neurobiology. Crucially, we’ve learned how creative play and exploration positively affect brain development.
By navigating game play and creating imaginary situations, kids develop vital skills: They problem-solve, build rules and structure, communicate and share. In these social interactions and negotiations, the young brain develops new circuits in the prefrontal cortex, Sergio Pellis, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge,
“The science behind play, what exists, should be sufficient to argue at least for its inclusion, if not a focus, in early education,” Kyle Snow, NAEYC director of applied research, has said.
Yet while we were making leaps in our understanding of the importance of play, young kids are spending less time in unstructured play. According to one study, contemporary kids ages 6-8 experience 25 percent less play than their counterparts in the 1980s. Kids age 6-8 in 2002 spent only 11 hours a week in unstructured play, and outdoor play on their own is significantly less. Therefore, the Week of the Young Child is a welcome opportunity to highlight the programs and organizations that—in an increasingly structured society—are providing kids with the chance to make believe, run around, and get creative.
In some places, cross-sector collaboration has fostered play-friendly scenes. Pittsburgh—whose NAEYC chapter is fond of stretching the Week of the Young Child into a month of festivities—is a prime example of a city where disparate organizations have banded together with the shared mission of boosting play. With one another’s support, the members of Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative educate lawmakers, host community activities and discussions, and create places for play.
“We’re all able to support our individual goals without any mission drift at all—that’s very unusual,” Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy director Marijke Hecht told Remake Learning. “Play is the kind of topic that crosses many sectors.”
That’s because teachers and technologists alike know that hands-on exploration leads to learning. The encouragement of discovery and active engagement is central to the Teachers’ Innovation Project. The partnership, a spin-off of the Children’s Innovation Project, began as a small experiment but now counts Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Clarion University, the Fred Rogers Center, and the Sprout Fund among its members. The project introduces technology—simple circuit blocks and other raw materials—to kids as young as kindergarteners, emphasizing exploration as a path to producing and creating rather than just being a consumer.
We’re thrilled to celebrate the many initiatives that provide kids with vital opportunities for play. But they’ll be most successful if new programs that want to follow in their footsteps have all the community and political support they need to do so. So this month—we’re calling for national attention on the critical issue of play.
How are you celebrating WOYC and what does it mean to you as an Early Childhood Education professional?
Michelle Figlar is the executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children
by Rhian Evans Allvin
Our time has come! It’s up to all of us in the early childhood education field to show the courage and leadership needed to attract and retain the most effective educators and to support best practices in children’s learning and development.
A seminal report, “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation” from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Center, recognizes the diverse skills and nuances that define the early childhood education profession and the multiple pathways that exist for those entering into and advancing within the field.
The report’s recommendations rest on a solid foundation of research, policy, and practice and are closely aligned with with key elements of NAEYC’s new Strategic Direction, released in November 2014. They recognize the science of how young children learn, the sophistication that is required to ensure educational excellence, and the systems approach necessary to support young children and early childhood educators on multiple fronts. (See NAEYC’s press release on the report.)
NAEYC's members represent the full spectrum of the profession. NAEYC, as the association for all early childhood educators is committed more than ever to providing content and resources rooted in the most up to date science and research. We are working on behalf of our members and the field on a number of projects and initiatives that focus on bolstering the profession and aligning content and resources around the science behind best practices that support how children develop and learn.
We are strengthening state early childhood professional development systems with our PD System Indicators project as we develop a strategic planning tool to benchmark the quality and effectiveness of state early childhood professional development systems, supporting the work ahead in states and communities. The PD System Indicators project builds on NAEYC's Workforce Designs: A Policy Blueprint for State Early Childhood Professional Development Systems, as its framework.
We are enhancing both the public perception of careers in early childhood education and the capacity of higher education programs to grow the field with the Strengthening the Professional Pipeline project: With support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, (1) The Quality Improvement and Capacity Building in Higher Education Project focuses on strengthening the quality and capacity of higher education programs and their faculty to meet the demand for professionals with specialized degrees and credentials in early childhood education. (2) The Career Awareness, Investment, and Retention Campaign focuses on enhancing the image of the early childhood profession so it is viewed as a viable career option. This initiative will also serve as a vehicle to promote investments, public and private, for professional development systems, institutions, and individuals.
We are reviewing our content, aligning it with current research, and making it more accessible: NAEYC has a longstanding history as creator and publisher of high quality research based content that promotes best practices in early learning. As NAEYC thinks toward the future we are transforming our content stream. The end goal will be to offer users the robust array of NAEYC content in ways that are easy to use and that make connections between NAEYC’s position statements and program standards, emerging trends, research, and needs.
We are exploring the theme, The Early Childhood Profession We All Want: What Will It Take to get Us There? at NAEYC’s National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development taking place June 7–10, in New Orleans. Always a place for new knowledge, this is the year to be there to join in this conversation!
We are co-publishing the upcoming book, Professionalizing Early Childhood Education As a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era, by Stacie Goffin. with Redleaf Press, (for release in June as a comprehensive member benefit). The book will offer our field a roadmap for initiating a conversation from the inside out. Stacie’s premise is that we have to own this agenda rather than having a definition created for us.
We invite you to explore our resources and initiatives, become a member if you’re not one already, mentor your students and a colleagues with resources from NAEYC and join us us as we work together to bolster and support our field.
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Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.