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 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.
By Pamela Ehrenberg
Remember that incident with the class guinea pig? Or the act of kindness at the sand table? In our early childhood classrooms, stories unfold around us every minute. If you’ve ever dreamed of capturing one of these stories by writing a children’s book, here are five things to know:
1. The world needs your stories
As children and families in the U.S. become increasingly diverse, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin found that fewer than 10% of children's books in the past 21 years contain multicultural content. As multitudes of librarians and others advocate that #WeNeedDiverseBooks, you might consider: especially if you teach children of color, English language learners, children with disabilities, children in “nontraditional” families, and/or children in poverty, who better than you to write these stories?
2. You don’t have to draw the pictures
For most books, the publisher takes care of identifying an illustrator whose artwork will add a new dimension to your story.
3. Books that are published today are different
Picture books are shorter than they used to be, and most of them avoid didactic lessons and talking animals. Look beyond old favorites at books being published today, and make it easy for a publisher to see how your work fits with their goals.
4. Getting published takes a (long) while
Be ready to revise, rewrite, edit, and revise some more. Then show your work to some critical friends and prepare for more revisions. After having two young adult novels published, I was still surprised when my 100-word board book about parsley went through months of revision and two consultations with a botanist. What a great lesson for the children you work with in pursuing a goal without giving up.
5) Help is available!
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (www.SCBWI.org) offers regional and national/international publications and conferences, and assistance in finding critique groups. Meanwhile, participants in Picture Book Idea Month each fall generate 30 picture book concepts in 30 days (http://taralazar.com/piboidmo/). And my board book was created during a 12x12 picture book challenge; registration for this year’s challenge is open through February 28 (http://12x12challenge.com/).
But the most important resources are your relationships with young children and your dedication to capturing their stories. Do you have a break during your workday when you can write—even for 20 minutes? Can you wake up early to write, before the demands of work and family consume your day? And how can you ensure you’ll keep writing through the inevitable roadblocks?
There are no guarantees that even the most brilliantly told story will find its way to publication. But the more early childhood teachers who commit themselves to this work, the more young children who will see themselves, and their stories, in the books they read and listen to. On behalf of both the book community and the early childhood community—thank you for telling those stories.
Pamela Ehrenberg is Program Review Manager in NAEYC’s Higher Education Accreditation and Program Support division, and the author of Ethan, Suspended and Tillmon County Fire, both from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, and the forthcoming Planting Parsley from PJ Library.
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.
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.
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Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
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.
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 Kyle Snow, Ph.D.
October has been designated Bullying Prevention Awareness Month by the PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) since 2006. The movement has grown to include federal efforts highlighted on www.stopbullying.gov.
While much attention is paid to bullying among older children – both in the media and in research - relatively little focus has been paid to bullying in early childhood. In part, this may be due to a view that behaviors thought of as bullying in older children are "part of growing up." This is certainly part of it. However, measuring bullying is challenging to do among young children. They tend to over-report behaviors as bullying that most definitions would not include.
The body of knowledge on young children and bullying, however, is growing. This excellent Guidance Matters article from Young Children adjusts what is known about bullying among older children to suggest developmentally appropriate prevention tips and resources for young children. A research review paper was published in Educational Psychology Review by Vlachou and her colleagues that provides an excellent overview of current research on bullying in early childhood. Here are a few highlights:
Bullying has three elements: it is an act is aggressive and intended to do harm; these are repeated over time; and, they occurs within the context of power imbalance. In other words, it is a series of acts intended to hurt another child, committed by a child to gain or to assert greater power over another child. The definition is important because it distinguishes bullying from rough and tumble play and other aspects of young children’s developing social skills. This article explores the difference between rough and tumble play and fighting, for example. Bullying can be physically aggressive, but can also be verbal (name calling), or social (social exclusion) in nature.
Bully, victim, and bully-victim
Researchers who study bullying use specific terms to describe the roles children tend to fill in social settings. The bully/aggressor is the dominant child acting against one or more other children. The victim is the clear target of the bullying, and the bully-victim tends to of fill both roles at different times, with different peers. Of course, there are some children not involved in bullying at all, and some how are not directly involved in the bullying act (children who comfort a victim after an act, for example).
How common is bullying in early childhood?
Studies that quantify how many children are bullies, victims, or bullying victims are rare. Data from one study of children’s experience with violence showed that 20.4% of children ages 2-5 had experienced physical bullying in their lifetime and 14.6% had been teased (verbally bullied). Vlachou’s paper provides some estimates suggesting that bullying is more common among young children than school aged children. They report one study of 4-year-olds showing 25% of children as bullies and 22% as victims, and 2% as victim/bully. In other words, just about half of children studied were involved in bullying – as aggressor or victim. By contrast, data for older school-age children, show 7-15% as bullies, 10% as victims and up to 10% as bully-victims. The limited data also suggest that the roles children assume in preschool are less stable than they are among older children – so a child who is a bully today may be a bully-victim or victim later in the year.
Changes in bullying with age
While the prevalence data show more bullying occurring among younger children, the data also show less bullying, overall, as children grow older. This general decline in bullying occurs even while the nature of bullying changes from more overt, physically aggressive behaviors to other forms of bullying, such as verbal attacks and social exclusion, both of which become more common as children grow older. The limited data that exist also suggest, though, that even as young as 4-years, there are sex differences in the nature of bullying, with boys more likely than girls to use physical aggression in their bullying.
Bully and victims in groups
While early research suggested a “type” of child who was a bully and who was a victim, recent research suggests much more diversity in the social and emotional experiences of bullies and victims of bullies. This diversity is only beginning to be teased apart for older children, and not yet undertaken among younger children. One finding that emerges in studies of bullying among preschool-aged children is that bullies tend to be well embedded in social networks (that is, they have many friends), though they also tend to associate with other bullies. There is an interesting gender difference – girls who are bullies are more likely to be socially isolated. It seems like bullying is more acceptable for boys than it is for girls. By contrast, victims of bullies tend to have fewer reciprocal friends in the social group. Whether victims’ social isolation is the result of bullying or a contribution to it is unclear - having few friends makes children vulnerable to a bully, but bullies tend to enjoy higher status among their peers than do victims.
Bullying and the setting
It may not be surprising that bullying activity occurs in some parts of the child’s setting but not others. Research shows that aggression is more common in areas that include activity spaces (e.g., block corner, water table) and playgrounds. Aggressiveness is also more common in spaces that are open and less clearly defined, possibly because the expectations for children activity is less defined.
Where is bullying coming from, and what can I do about it?
The general consensus among researchers is that bullying is in part driven by children’s developing social skills and behavior and emotion regulation skills. These skills are very fluid among young children, with the result being a range of challenging behaviors, which may include bullying. As children build social and regulatory skills, challenging behaviors and bullying tend to decline. This research paper examined predictors of bullying or being victimized by bullying. The broadest finding is that children who bully, and children who tend to be victims, score on the extremes using measures of behavior problems. Bullies score extreme on externally – acting outwardly in extreme ways, while victims score high on internalizing, such as withdrawal and passivity. Bully-victims score high on both. In short – all have poor social and behavioral skills. So programs that focus on building children’s social skills are often considered to be one broad bullying prevention measure.
- In addition to the Guidance Matters article mentioned above, this compilation of teacher competencies to support children’s positive behavior development may be of interest. This report provides a deeper research review of these same ideas.
- The Bernese Program against Victimization (Be-Prox) is one evidence-based model for kindergarten teachers and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is one model used for older children.