ECE in the Classroom

Five Lessons We Learned from the EWA Conference

Education reporters and experts nationwide gathered at Chicago’s Erikson Institute in November for a two-day seminar on early learning, hosted by the Education Writers Association. Through panels, speeches and site visits, the seminar tackled some of the most pressing issues in early learning, including federal policy and funding, the importance of home visiting, and challenges facing the childcare workforce. No Small Matter co-director Greg Jacobs also spoke at the seminar and shared potential challenges people encounter when crafting strong narratives that help elevate the importance early childhood investment.

We were able to share this information with our Twitter community by live tweeting the workshops.

Below, we picked quotes that reflect why early childhood education is one of today's pressing issues. 

Right now we don’t really have an early-learning system. Parents can’t find good care, and can’t find affordable care.
— Libby Doggett, Early Learning Expert and Consultant

During a panel on tax code and federal policy, early education consultant Libby Doggett stressed that children start to learn the moment they are born, but the federal government has yet to realize that childcare and home-based care are learning settings. She said the current system, which uses the tax code to offset child care costs, doesn’t really help to build a high-quality system of early learning, and that low-income families cannot choose among nor afford the handful of high-quality programs.

I’d like to see every baby in Illinois have at least one home visit.
— Diana Rauner, President of the Ounce of Prevention Fund

Diana Rauner, also Illinois’ First Lady, held a conversation to discuss how public policy in early learning is changing in Illinois. As president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, she said the philosophy behind a home visiting program is simple: “the time you start parenting is when you are pregnant with your child.” Sustained home visits increase positive outcomes for children, as these interactions will help with their physical and mental health growth. However, Congress has not renewed the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program, which provides vital services to children and families across the state. Rauner reminds us that we need to keep the pressure on them to complete the process.

I’m not a babysitter. I’m a professional, and I should be treated as such.
— Patricia Twymon, Wee Are the World Daycare

Patricia Twymon, a childcare provider from Wee are the World Daycare, which she operates from within her own home, debunked many misunderstandings about the early childhood workforce. She said that her job goes beyond just keeping kids safe and happy. “Give the kids a little time, and they’ll show you what they learned.” One of the problems facing childcare workforce, according to Twymon, is that many childcare providers are leaving because of low pay, and some are even losing their homes.

When we push for quality issues, it can sometimes push out whoever is doing the work.
— Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro, Latino Policy Forum

Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro of Latino Policy Forum emphasized the importance of providing further education access to childcare providers. According to her research, currently Illinois has a shortage of teachers who can work with English learners, which is the fastest growing segment of students. The solution to quality programs with qualified teachers is never to push out staffers who lack degrees — rather, higher education institutions need to support adult learners to professionalize the early learning field.

We are making an issue doc about an issue that people don’t really think of as an issue.
— Greg Jacobs, No Small Matter Co-Director

Last but not least, our very own Greg Jacobs concluded the day’s seminar by presenting the ideas behind No Small Matter. Many people who still have a hard time wrapping their heads around the importance of “early learning” often assume the topic is superficial and irrelevant. In Jacobs’ own words, “why would I think someone else’s 2-year-old has an impact on my life?” But in reality, early learning involves so many fields, including economics, brain science, and psychology. It is the most powerful and most plausible policy tool to address many interlocking problems, but our childcare system has yet to catch up with this idea. No Small Matter’s goal, therefore, is to redefine the public understanding of what’s going on in children’s brain from birth to five, and push their needs to the top of the nation’s social and political agenda.

Want to learn more about early learning and how you can take actions to raise awareness of the issue? Follow us on Twitter, check out our YouTube Channel, and give our Facebook page a like to receive regular updates!

Mac-N-Cheese Please!!

Are you ready to have the greatest mac-n-cheese ever?!? It may come as a surprise but did you know that children's book author and illustrator Todd Parr is also an amazing cook?! Well, he is! Here is Todd's recipe for the the best mac-n-cheese EVER. 

Let’s start with the ingredients

  • 1 box of pasta (if you use elbow macaroni you can talk about different body parts!! Science!!)
  • 2 cups of cheddar cheese
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 2TBS butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do.

Boil water and cook macaroni. Set aside.

In a separate pot over medium heat add 2 TBS of butter.

When melted add a small handful of the cheddar cheese.

To the cheese and butter add a full can of condensed milk.

Add remaining cheese and turn the heat on low.

Stir continually until the cheese is completely melted.

Add the cheese to the pasta and stir.

WARNING: This will be hot!

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wanna turn this into a tasty math and science lesson? Here’s how.

Start with the measuring. Have the little ones measure out the butter and cheese. If your child is anything like me make sure to watch them with the cheese (I’m a totally cheese sneeker!) Measuring allows your child to work on quantity, volume, fractions, and one-to-one correspondence.

Boiling the water is a great place to insert some science. You can talk about the properties of water. Ask your little learner what happens when water gets cold and when it gets hot. Ask them to make predictions about what will happen when you add heat. You can even do a time exploration by making predictions about how long they think it will take for the water to boil.

Bring in some more science with the cheese sauce. Discuss how cheese is a solid (another place to insert some science vocabulary). Then ask them what they think will happen when you add the cheese to the heat.

Finally, you can wrap up this mini lesson with setting the table. Have your little one count how many cups, plates, and forks you will need for dinner. Let them set the table and count as they do each place setting.

Sharing a meal is a powerful thing. According to The Family Dinner Project, sharing regular meals with family reduces substance abuse and depression, while promoting higher grade point averages and boosting self-esteem. 

MASSIVE thanks to Todd for sharing his home, his food, and his friendship! Check out Todd Parr for all things Todd! 

                                            -Ms. Giannini


Pt. 2 - Overcoming STEM Anxiety with Adults

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America Foundation just released their STEM Starts Early report, exploring science, technology, engineering, and math learning for young children. We had the chance to ask lead author Elisabeth McClure a few questions about the report, for a three-part blog series.

In Part 2 - It's not just little learners that have anxiety around STEM topics. Parents, and even teachers, don't always feel comfortable diving into science and math.  

Q: How can parents and educators effectively check on our biases (and maybe anxieties!) about science and math in approaching these topics with young children?

McClure: The first step is just to be aware of those biases! Parents and teachers are some of the most influential STEM guides in a child’s life, so when parents and teachers show that they are anxious about STEM topics or demonstrate that they don’t think they’re as important as other domains, or that they are more important for boys than girls, the children quickly pick up on these attitudes and carry them with them into the future. But, conversely, when parents and teachers are confident and enthusiastic about STEM topics and engage the children in developmentally tailored STEM activities, they pass along that excitement to their children.

In terms of what you can do right now, today, I would say: just start feeding your own curiosity! It’s a little like the old “stop and smell the roses” idea. Start being more aware of all the amazing things around you, encourage your own wonder, and then openly express that. Be vocal about saying “Wow!” and, instead of feeling pressured to answer all your students’ “Why? Why? Why?” questions, start asking “Why?” back, and start answering with, “I don’t know! I wonder if…” and then collaborating with students to find ways to answer your questions together. STEM isn’t just a set of topic areas – it is, fundamentally, a way of thinking. So, as a teacher, when you model those ways of thinking as a co-learner (rather than an information-giver), you are nurturing that way of thinking in them as well. If you can cultivate that wonder and curiosity in yourself and in them, then children will have the tools to acquire the content they encounter.

Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

Q: We loved that the report highlighted STEM work already happening in preschool classrooms! How do we better close the loop between longstanding "engineering" and scientific exploration taking place in early childhood settings (fort building, block play, etc.) and building a classroom culture of scientific inquiry that represents what we now know children are capable of?

McClure: The key here is to notice when it’s already taking place, to realize that the child is not only capable of attaining the goal (getting the object) but also of meeting the challenge (solving the problem) with your support, and then take advantage of that opportunity by engaging the child in an interaction that encourages their scientific inquiry. Children already have that natural curiosity – we say they are “born scientists” – but they need your support to grow that curiosity into true STEM skills and habits of mind.

Q: So much STEM early learning happens at home. How can teachers use documentation to illustrate STEM learning and encourage parental buy-in? 

McClure: It can be really helpful, when talking to parents, to explain it in this way: STEM learning is a lot like learning a language. If we want our children to become fluent in STEM, they need to be immersed in STEM learning and be able to practice it across all areas of their lives.

Parents have an enormous opportunity as their child’s first teachers, as well as a consistent presence as they grow and across their environments, to help connect the dots between separate learning experiences and make their learning truly immersive.

And it’s so important for parents to understand that we’re not talking about doing massive science fair projects at home every night. We’re talking about things like keeping an eye out for opportunities to ask their children the “WH” questions – “Who, what, when, where, why?” We’re talking about noticing when their child is experimenting with something, in all those thousands of ways they do every day, and helping to scaffold that process and make it more explicit. Parents don’t need to be experts – they just need to be willing to learn alongside their children, encouraging them to ask questions, and to participate with their child in trying to figure out the answers.

In Part Three of our interview, we'll explore policy and curriculum recommendations for better incorporating STEM holistically into early learning environments.

Candy Candy Candy

Trick-or-treating is a scary good time….but you know what would make it better? Turning the sweet candy haul into a fun math lesson!!