By Susan Friedman
The March 2015 issue of Young Children focuses on blocks as a great learning tool from birth through age 8 and I'll admit it. I'm block crazy. I first learned about the power of blocks as a learning tool straight from the source when I worked at City & Country School, the birthplace of the unit block. Caroline Pratt, the founder of the school developed the unit block to serve as a core basic material children could use to experiment with as they learned about the world.
The materials on the block shelves in my classroom at City & Country were similar to what had been on the block shelves of the school’s preschool classroom for years. This was not a classroom set-up I had designed. As a new teacher, I inherited the basic layout from longtime City & Country School teacher, Shirley Lanser who also taught me about the school’s philosophy with its focus on open-ended learning materials - paint, clay, water, and of course blocks.
So what was on my block shelf?
- lots of wooden unit blocks
- boxes of small colorful wooden cubes
- squares of cloth
- simple baby dolls
- painted wooden trucks
- painted wooden figures that could be imagined to be a person (when vertical) or a train, bed, etc (when horizontal)
- small pots and pans
Overtime I added a few other items:
- block sized animals
- a basket of natural materials like pinecones
But the basic materials and what was on the shelves remained the same. The classroom had no toy stove, toy sink, or toy beds. Much of the dramatic play that might happen in other classrooms, in places like a housekeeping corner, took place among the blocks.
I remember being surprised when teachers visiting from other schools asked how we got so many girls to spend time in the block area. When I visited other classrooms I thought I knew the answer. Take away the toy stove, sink, and beds, I thought at the time, and put in more space for blocks. The kids will build the stoves, tables, and beds from blocks!
City & Country school is a unique school with a unique history. Not every program can devote so much of the classroom space to block building.
What’s on your block shelf? And what’s not in your classroom that the kids recreate with blocks? More more ideas on blocks make sure to read the March 2015 issue of Young Children which focuses on the power of blocks!
Susan Friedman is Executive Editor of Digital Content at NAEYC.
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!
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Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
Darell Hammond is the founder and CEO of KaBOOM!
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 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.
ExchangeEveryDay invited readers to weigh in on the "Best Books for Preschool Teachers" and we’re proud to see four of NAEYC’s books on the list!
- The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Young Children’s Learning by Ann S. Epstein
- Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 by Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp, eds.
- Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards
- Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning by Amy Laura Dombro, Judy Jablon, and Charlotte Stetson
We’d also like to highlight two more preschool teacher favorites, Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Focus on Preschoolers and Teaching Young Children (TYC), NAEYC’s award winning magazine for preschool teachers.
Any other favorites you’d like to add to the list?
This is an exciting time to be part of the early childhood education field.
Never before has there been this significant attention on the value of early learning. It is increasingly recognized as the time in a child’s life where society may have the greatest impact. If we invest time and resources so young children can have access to high quality early learning experiences, we are creating a solid foundation to set them on a strong trajectory of success in school and life.
- It is going to take us investing in the early childhood workforce.
- It is going to take us investing in continuous professional development for early childhood educators--including best practices in using various forms of technology with young children, as well as skill in communicating with parents and others who perhaps subscribe to the "either/or" form of ECE
- It is going to take a public financing system with the goal of making sure that every young child in the United States has access to high quality early learning experiences.
In a recent survey of our members one of the top three topics they cared about most and wanted NAEYC to engage in was technology. I believe our members are hungry for knowledge. They want NAEYC to help guide how to effectively use technology in the classroom.
By: Susan Friedman
Digital storytelling for dual language learners; deep diving on a virtual Titanic; and more innovative uses of technology for early learning.
Computers, tablets, smartphones, apps, and other digital tools are part of our everyday lives. When used appropriately, technology can help children explore their world, express and make sense of what they know, and interact with other children. Technology tools can also assist families as they support their children’s at-home learning.
So, how can early childhood educators choose appropriate technology tools to enhance and support children’s learning?
NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center created the position statement, Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 as a guide for early childhood educators as they make decisions about how and when to incorporate technology into their programs.
In a recent NAEYC survey, educators were asked about their use of the technology position statement. Respondents describe referring to the joint position statement as they plan university courses, develop curriculum, explain developmentally appropriate uses of technology to other teachers, administration, and families, and make decisions about when to incorporate technology into their own classrooms.
Teachers also asked for more examples of developmentally appropriate uses of technology in early childhood settings. Following are three examples of educators integrating technology into their work with young children in ways that are developmentally appropriate. We hope you will share the technology position statement and these examples with colleagues. Then let us know how you are using the technology position statement and integrating technology tools into your work with young children.
Three examples of technology that supports early learning:
A 5-year-old child fascinated with the Titanic is given a book and interactive CD-ROM with a large screen desktop computer. The transmedia materials allow him to explore and express his interests, and develop his small motor and social skills.
Parent educators in Maine integrate iPads into a curriculum that provides parents of migrant preschoolers with early literacy and math activities to help their children get ready for school.
Also to read and share:
Here are the four strategies:
1. First, align quality and access by addressing the inequities that are a result of historical distinctions between child care and early education.The growth in publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs is enormously important, but these programs will only partially support seamless experiences for children as long as serious gaps in quality and access remain for infants, toddlers, 3-year-olds, and children in before and after school care. Financing mechanisms must simultaneously address family needs for child care and family support and children’s needs for high quality learning experiences.
2. Second, address the different expectations for professional preparation, professional development, and compensation across settings and sectors. Children deserve skilled teachers and caregivers regardless of how their program is funded—whether child care, Head Start, state preK or school funding formula.
We recommend the NAEYC Early Childhood Professional Preparation Standards as a unifying framework. These evidence-based standards specify what all those working with young children birth through age 8 should know and be able to do. They start with a focus on child development, within the context of culture and community, and address family engagement, effective curriculum, intentional teaching, appropriate assessment and professionalism. The same standards apply across associate, baccalaureate and advanced degrees. When NAEYC implements these standards through accreditation, practicum experience is required in two of the three age groups—infant/toddler, preschool, and kindergarten/primary, critical to promoting a seamless continuum.
A common knowledge base is critically important, but children will not experience seamlessness without ensuring compensation parity for those with comparable responsibilities across settings. Until we have seamless opportunities for professional preparation and career advancement across the birth to 8 continuum, we cannot expect seamlessness for children.
3. Third, integrate early care and education practice with Kindergarten through third grade practice. Educational quality and outcomes would improve substantially if elementary teachers incorporated the best of preschool’s practices (for example, attention to the whole child; integrated, meaningful learning; and parent engagement) and if preschool teachers made more use of elementary school practices that are equally valuable, such as robust content and attention to learning progressions in curriculum and teaching.
4. Finally, and perhaps most important, ensure that teachers and administrators across the birth to 8 continuum reflect the diversity of children they serve and have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to help all children achieve their full potential.
TYC contributor Laura Colker answered this question in an online Q&A* about the value of creating a construction focused learning center in a primary classroom, and how to explain its importance to an administrator.
The key to approaching an administrator who may question how Legos, blocks, and other building materials fit into the curriculum is providing clear examples of the ways a construction learning center can inspire and enhance academic learning. To do this, focus on the clear link between construction and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) learning. It is generally agreed that to be competitive in our global economy children need to develop learning and skills in science, technology,engineering, and mathematics. Building with blocks, Legos, and other building materials can connect to STEM learning in many ways.
*Adapted from a January 2013 Q&A with Laura Colker on Learning Centers.