By: Stacia Jackson
Attending a professional development conference is an energizing and exhausting experience. Your schedule is carefully planned with sessions you think will be the most interesting and relevant. With most conferences, however, you plan on being seated, listening to lectures and copiously taking notes. The NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo is not like any other conference. As early childhood educators and advocates, we spend time encouraging children to play and to immerse themselves in a new world. At the NAEYC Annual Conference, I found that it was my turn to play and to try something new.
Presenters made an effort to ensure that their presentations were as engaging as possible, incorporating attendees in their presentations. Small group discussions were ubiquitous and I found myself talking to professionals and students from across the country. However, in my experience we went beyond collaboration and discussion. In many of the sessions I found myself physically taking part in activities or immersed in some sort of sensory-based play. I was reminded of why play is so important for our students as I sat building different Lego structures in Constructing a Bright Future: LEGO Education Preschool and again as I danced and sang in Music, Movement, Drama and Art Make Picture Books Come Along!: Integrated Arts Experience with Fiction and Non-Fiction. These hands-on seminars reminded me that it was not only important for the preschool children to play but also for adults to play as well! Time flew by quickly as I molded modeling clay or played with fidget toys as I learned about play as a social justice component or the value of eliminating zero tolerance policies for gunplay. My brain was exponentially more receptive to these new ideas and concepts, something that I see with my own students as they are learning, but often forget to focus on for my personal growth.
As an early childhood educator, I firmly believe that young children need to be active and engaged in hands-on learning to be successful. As I also work with college students, those principles hold true too. A learner needs to be engaged and enjoy what they are doing in order to learn effectively. As Kelly Ruddin, LEGO Master Trainer and Senior Curriculum Specialist for LEGO Education reminded me, “If we as learners only hear or see something, it is easier to forget. As we hear, say AND do an activity, not only will we remember it, but we will also understand it better.” Hands-on education does not need to stop when schooling is over and is critical for adult minds. Not only does the information “stick” and connect, it also allows the participant to enjoy the process! The NAEYC Annual Conference and Expo enabled me to learn a great deal and remind me of what is most crucial in our field: the joy of play.
Stacia Jackson is the National Program Manager for Jumpstart for Young Children in Washington, DC. She was recognized as a Lasting Legacy Scholarship recipient in 2013.