Unexpected Benefits: What I Learned When I Joined NAEYC and How it Shaped Me as a Parent
I first learned about NAEYC when my kids were in a full-time child care center and their teachers wanted to attend NAEYC’s Annual Conference. With other parents, I helped raise money so they could attend, and I was excited to hear about their experiences when the conference was over. As a parent, my knowledge of NAEYC started and stopped there.
Fast forward several years to September 2013. I was in my fifth year of working for the American Council on Education. I LOVED working in the education arena, and ACE was a terrific experience, but I was ready for a new role and a new age group. The opportunity to interview for a position at NAEYC came my way, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
I realized two things almost immediately—the Annual Conference was again in Washington, DC, and the membership discount to attend was a GREAT deal. Plus, I figured that to actually join and understand the membership experience would be a great way to prepare myself for the interview.
The membership application process didn’t feel like it was for ME, as a parent. The questions on the application were (and are) about the age groups I served, the role I played as an early childhood educator, and the school or type of organization I worked for. Obviously, none of these questions applied to me as a parent (or so I thought). But I answered them as best I could, and as an official NAEYC member, I attended the conference and started receiving benefits, like issues of Young Children and Teaching Young Children, as well as a variety of NAEYC’s new books.
The content I received was incredibly helpful and relevant to me as a parent. It changed how I think about my kids’ developmental milestones, what I look for in choosing their preschool and schools, and how I engage with their teachers. It influenced my thinking when we had to make a stressful decision regarding whether to enroll our 5-year-old in kindergarten. It equipped me to be a strong advocate when I attended my first Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting. It allowed me to really appreciate the “team behind my teacher” when we attended a parent–teacher conference that included so many support staff and teachers, including an occupational therapist, speech therapist, and special education teacher. And when we entered a new school this year and learned about the “exploratory learning time” our children would have each day—in addition to having no homework, wiggle seats, and sensory processing tools everywhere, and “brain breaks” that include yoga—I was seriously pumped about all of it because of what I’d learned as an NAEYC member.
This was all so unexpected and yet so profoundly important in shaping our thinking about our children and their development. I will never forget sitting in a session at the 2013 Annual Conference and hearing Ellen Galinsky talk about the critical importance of visual cues for a baby’s development. She shared fascinating videos and talked at length about the science behind why infant teachers do what they do. It was astounding to me. And the content really clicked on a very personal level because we had just discovered that one of our kids was severely nearsighted. So much of what our child had missed in the first few years of life was evident to me in hearing Ellen speak, and I had a much better understanding of what we needed to do moving forward.
Every day I realize how lucky I am to work for NAEYC. Every day I get to work with a committed, awesome staff to serve our members and to help advance early childhood education. But even more than that, I am so grateful to have stumbled into joining NAEYC and gained access to a world of content and resources that has helped shaped me as a parent. It gives me much food for thought and equips me to be my children’s strongest advocate and their “first best teacher.” It has also inspired me to encourage other parents and families to think about joining NAEYC, too. As a visitor to families.naeyc.org today, I hope you will think about doing the same. NAEYC membership is truly a gateway to so much great content and early childhood development information.
Stephanie Morris is NAEYC’s deputy executive director for brand advancement, membership engagement, and professional learning.