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!

Pt 3. - STEM for Early Educators on a Shoestring


For our third and final installment of our interview, we asked about the practical — how do we implement recent findings on STEM educators?

Q: The report dives into a number of policy and messaging recommendations for better prioritizing STEM in early learning. One obvious constraint is education spending. How can we better integrate STEM, technology in particular, into early learning environments with tight budgets?

McClure: In the early childhood setting, more (and more expensive) technology isn’t always better. In fact, one of the best pieces of technology a teacher can use with very young children is a simple digital camera! Children can use it to record and research bugs and plants they find outside, or document the growth process of plants on the playground. They can take pictures of their body parts and make a puzzle out of them. They can document steps in their daily routine and use the pictures for sequencing activities. The possibilities are endless, and the technology doesn’t have to break the budget.

I think it’s also important to remember that technology isn’t just media or digital media. Technology is about tools and tool use. That can be something as simple as using scissors, or kids figuring out that they need to use a stool to reach something. So, again, this doesn’t need to be an expensive or complicated endeavor. It can be about pointing out to children when they can use a tool to help them meet a challenge they’re facing. So, let’s say a child is trying to get something she can’t reach. Instead of just reaching it yourself and handing it to the child, talk through the situation with her and work through a problem-solving scenario: “Hmmm, let’s stop and think why you might not be able to reach it … Oh, you’re not tall enough? What can we do to make you taller?” And sometimes a child might find a solution like getting a stool, or other times they might surprise you with a really creative solution you hadn’t thought of. So there’s this creative element woven into that problem-solving as well. So by simply scaffolding the child’s critical process during this challenge moment, you’re encouraging math by comparing heights, science by encouraging experimentation, technology by helping her think about tool use, creativity in imagining a solution, and engineering by letting her make her imagined solution into a physical reality. And, on top of all of this, you’re giving her great practice in executive function skills! It’s STEM and so much more.

Courtesy of the Cooney Center,  STEM Starts Early

Courtesy of the Cooney Center, STEM Starts Early

Q: The report touches on a few examples of holistically integrating STEM into the classroom. Do you have any resources for where teachers can see full lesson plans with tool kits and standards met?

I think a great example of a starting point for teachers or administrators that feel a little uncertain about how to incorporate STEM into their classrooms is this program called STEM from the Start. It’s a series of short videos, supported by PBS, that are meant to be used in the classroom. These video segments are used along with a free teacher guide, which can be downloaded free from the website – and what you do is you show the kids these few minutes of video that get them interested in a STEM question or challenge. Then the teacher follows the teacher guidebook to engage the kids in that STEM activity. After that they return to another follow-up video, etc. It requires very little preparation or expertise on the part of the teacher, and preliminary research is showing that it is really engaging for kids – even those who are English Language Learners or have attention problems. It also is great for teachers who are anxious about teaching STEM and don’t really know where to begin – by walking through the steps in this scaffolded way, it gives teachers an opportunity to experience success and to see how easy it can be to incorporate STEM into their classrooms in an exciting, hands-on, engaging way. It essentially gets their foot in the door so they can start imagining and creating their own ideas. It’s also great because it uses technology that teachers are pretty likely to already have in their classrooms.


We're so thankful to the Cooney Center and Elisabeth for sharing their expertise on STEM with us - and hope y'all got some helpful, creative tips for "engineering" (see what we did there?!) STEM into your daily interactions with little learners.