Hindsight is 20/20 (Guest blogger: Mrs. Jordan Szechowycz)

 “Mrs. Szechowycz, you are the best teacher ever!” Hearing something like this makes all the stressfulness and craziness of teaching completely worth every second. When I was in third grade I decided that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. I was so jealous of my teacher because she got to write on the chalkboard anytime she wanted. I wanted my own classroom so I could write on the chalkboard at any time! As I grew older my dream of teaching continued, but because I wanted to work with kids and teaching seemed like a great way to fulfill my dream.
In college, I felt very comfortable with planning activities to meet the state standards that kids would also enjoy. I felt confident in my ability to set high standards for my students and help them reach their full potential. I had seen several classrooms and watched many teachers handle difficult behaviors and keep their students on task. I was ready to step into the classroom with students who were ready to learn and ready to conquer the world!
My first year I realized just how un-prepared I really was. There are so many things that college CANNOT prepare you for!
I Wish Someone Told Me:
SUBBING IS VERY BENEFICIAL! If possible, sub for at least a year before your first full-time teaching job. This allows you to see multiple grades and multiple districts. You also get the chance to see many different classrooms and you are able to get an idea of how you want to set up and organize your own classroom. You also get the chance to see other teachers handle classroom management and you can borrow ideas from them.
BECOME A VOLUNTEER! Along with subbing, volunteer in as many classrooms as much as possible! This gives you the opportunity to see the reality of what a teacher does on a daily basis and how to handle the difficult behaviors that you may not have seen.
FIND A MENTOR! Once you get hired, find someone you can go to as a mentor who is able to provide anything and everything for you. My first year I had a mentor who gave me every activity she did each week and walked through her lesson plans with me every week. Even though you have so many amazing ideas about all these fun activities, you will not have time to do it all your first year. I was able to start out using everything she gave me and then slowly adding in my own activities as I got more comfortable with the age group and the district in which I was teaching.
PAY IT FORWARD! After your first couple of years hopefully you found an amazing mentor who was able to help you when needed and who was able to share activities and ideas with you. When a new teacher joins your team, give them all the support and help they need. Offer ideas that you have used or strategies that you found successful. Talk them through difficult behaviors and possible strategies to try to help lessen the difficult behaviors. If you don’t have an answer, point them in the direction to find the answer.
COLLABORATION IS KEY! Collaboration is so important as teachers because the job can be so overwhelmingly stressful. Teachers need a support system of people who understand exactly what the others are going through. Your job will be so much more rewarding if you have someone you can work through the difficult times with.
There is no way to be fully prepared for teaching because it is a job where you just have to experience it. You have to be thrown into a classroom and survive the day, making sure no one gets injured and everyone makes it home at the end of the day. Every day is different at teaching, and every student is unique. There is no way for you to be fully prepared because in this job you are working with humans. They will throw you curveballs that you will hopefully learn to be ready for, but when you see the lightbulb turn on or when you hear, “You’re the best teacher ever!” it makes all those difficult times completely worth it! 

Mrs. Szechowycz graduated from Western Illinois University with her Bachelor’s Degree in 2011 and her Master’s Degree in reading in 2015. She is a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln School in Macomb, Illinois and she has taught kindergarten for 7 years.

Why Science Matters to Early Childhood Preservice Teachers? (Guest blogger: Dr. Abha Singh)

In current times, career options for today’s children are in the field’s which require knowledge of science and math. Any reduction in the science could lead to a domino effect with an initiation of science content restriction early on which results (I think) in students not having an interest in science, and may lack stronger science foundation, which may further lead them not to pursue science careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in the future.

This makes science different from other content areas.

I think we need to think about – what message about science are we conveying to our pre-service teachers, and then to children by reducing the semester hours for the only ECH science methods course?

I’ve listed a few points from the attached article – STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) SMART BRIEF.

The problem:

  1. Approximately 40% of U.S. children are not ready for kindergarten, and too many children reach Grade 4 lacking key science and math skills and knowledge.
  2. Only 34% of Grade 4 students achieved a score of “At or Above Proficient” on the science portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2014), which means, 66% of students DO NOT achieve a score of “At or Above Proficient” on the science portion of the NAEP.

Possible Reasons for the Problem from Research:

The main challenges are in three crucial areas of the PreK-3 grades learning landscape that bar the way to the successful STEM learning of children ages 3 to 8.

  1. Curriculum and Instruction
  2. Educator Development
  3. Standards

Teachers are the key ingredient in effective PreK–3 STEM learning. They must be prepared to adeptly draw upon strategies to promote children’s learning and tailor curriculum to meet the needs of each child.

Yet recent reports indicate that current systems of PreK–3 teacher preparation, licensure, and hiring are often inadequate, and that young children’s educators do not have the training they need to support children’s learning.


Teachers who have received high-quality pre-service and in-service training focused on science, effective instruction and curriculum, and how to draw upon standards and assessment to enhance each child’s STEM learning is essential.


Bornfreund, L. A. (2011, March). Getting in sync: Revamping licensing and preparation for teachers in pre-Kindergarten, and the early grades. Washington, DC: The New America Foundation

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011).Science 2009: National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 4, 8, and 12. Washington, DC: Author.

Clements, D., Agodini, R., & Harris, B. (2013, September). Instructional practices and student math achievement: Correlations from a study of math curricula. NCEE Evaluation Brief. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20134020/pdf/20134020.pdf

Worth, K. (2010, May). Science in early childhood classrooms: Content and process. Paper presented at the STEM in Early Education and Development Conference, Cedar Falls, IA. http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/beyond/seed/ worth.html

Clements, D. (2013, September). Math in the early years. ECS Research Brief: The Progress of EducationalReform, 14(5). Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/4787293/ Math_in_the_Early_Years_ECS_Research Brief_The_progress_of_educational_reform

Dr. Abha Singh is an Associate Professor at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois USA. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in science education and education. Dr. Singh has facilitated several science professional development (PD) for elementary, middle and high school in-service teachers for ISBE grant initiatives through the Regional Office of Education: 1. Northern Illinois Mathematics and Science (NIMS) for two years; 2. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) PD for Western Illinois Mathematics Teacher Transformation Institute (WI-MTTI) for two years; 3. PD for K-6 teachers in the integration of science and literacy through a grant from the Tracey Family Foundation. Her research is in the area of integrating science and literacy. She presents at State, National and International Conferences and facilitates science education workshops for in-service science teachers. Her research is in teaching science with literacy.

Correspondence: A-Singh@wiu.edu

Mud Play: The Benefits of Saying “Yes” to the Mess (Guest blogger: Anna Owen, M.S.Ed)

Many children enjoy playing in the mud because it’s just plain fun. Think back to your own childhood…do you have fond memories of making mud pies or digging in the dirt? We can take advantage of children’s intrinsic motivation to get their hands dirty as we foster their learning and development in many important ways through mud play.

The possibilities for what children might do with mud are limitless. The open-ended nature of mud allows children to play with it in ways that support their developmental levels and unique interests. Younger children might simply enjoy the sensory experience of running their fingers through the mud, while older children might engage in more sociodramatic play where they pretend to serve up creative flavors of mud pies that feature special ingredients such as leaves, pinecones and rocks. Children will work with mud in ways that are “just right” for them, allowing teachers to support and scaffold their development and learning in many areas.


Let’s take a look at some of the ways that mud/dirt play can foster development and learning.

 Social-Emotional Development

Mud play offers many opportunities for children to follow rules, work together, collaborate and assist each other. Whether they are working together on a mud sculpture, taking turns jumping into a mud puddle or helping each other get cleaned up, they are practicing important social skills. Children also gain confidence as they assess and take risks, formulate plans and try out their unique ideas. We often see children naturally exhibiting positive approaches to learning such as curiosity, persistence, creativity, problem-solving, self-direction, engagement and sustained attention as they engage in this type of play.


Physical Development and Health

Through mud play, children have multiple opportunities to use their large and small muscles, as well as to practice balance and coordination of movements. As children squeeze, poke, dig, scoop, mold, scrape, stir, fill, lift, climb, stack, build and jump their way through mud puddles they are practicing important motor skills. In addition, researchers have even found that playing in the mud can be good for both physical and mental health (Horvath, 2013). It has been found to reduce symptoms of allergies and asthma, improve resistance to disease, reduce anxiety/stress and boost mood (thanks to the friendly bacteria found in soil that causes the brain to release serotonin – the “feel good” hormone).




Language Development

Children will express themselves as they play and communicate about what they are doing. As teachers, we can also introduce new and interesting words as we notice and describe their efforts, “Look at how your mud has changed. At first, it was really thick but you added water and diluted it…now it’s not as thick.”



Cognitive Development

That same release of serotonin in the brain that triggers happiness has also been shown to improve cognitive function! How about that? Playing with dirt and mud can even make children smarter! In addition, we can facilitate learning in several content areas as children engage in mud play. They will explore math concepts such as measurement, comparison and volume as they mix up their mud pies. They will learn about one-to-one correspondence as they put just one pinecone onto each of their mud muffins. They will learn spatial concepts as they navigate a toy truck over, under and through the mud trenches that they have created. They will explore science concepts when they make predictions, investigate and observe changes (such as what happened to the wet mud when it dried overnight?)  There are opportunities for literacy when we provide children with easy-to-follow recipes that can be laminated and kept in the mud kitchen. Children will do art and use creativity as they paint with mud, use sticks to draw in the mud, create interesting mud sculptures and participate in imaginative mud play. Children are able to become fully engaged because they are using the mud in ways that are interesting to them, while also practicing many important skills and dispositions in an integrated way.

There are a variety of ways to explore mud play in an early childhood classroom. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Create an outdoor mud kitchen that is stocked with materials for making mud pies (smocks and rain boots make clean-up easier).
  • Have a designated space for dirt and mud play, adding items such as shovels, small animals and/or vehicles.
  • Fill a sensory tub with dirt and let the children squirt and pour water onto it.
  • Allow children to paint, draw and get creative with mud.
  • Have children create mud sculptures, adding natural items and loose parts.
  • Create mud bricks for building.
  • Encourage children to jump in mud puddles.
  • Give children a target for throwing mud.
  • Have a Mud Celebration Day!

“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” -E.E. Cummings

Special thanks to St. Ambrose Children’s Campus in Davenport, Iowa for allowing me to capture photos of the children playing with mud in their outdoor classroom!


Horvath, J. (2013) Don’t be afraid of mud, Early Years Educator 15:4, v-vii


Anna Owen, M.S. Ed., is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist with STARnet Regions I & III. Anna has been involved in the field of early childhood since 2003. She received her Master’s degree from Western Illinois University in 2013. Her previous job titles include training coordinator, parent educator and preschool teacher. In her role as an Early Childhood Resource Specialist, she provides technical assistance and training to early childhood professionals and families. She is passionate about the arts and serves as the co-chair for the Creative Expressions Art Gallery that takes place biannually at the statewide Sharing A Vision conference. She provides professional development on a variety of topics related to curriculum, assessment, lesson planning, intentional interactions and much more. In her spare time, she enjoys photography and spending time with her husband and two young children.

Holistic Planning: Strategies to Nourish Spirituality in the Classroom (Guest blogger: Dr. Jennifer Mata-McMahon)

As Early Childhood Educators we are taught to plan and implement developmentally appropriate experiences for children under our care in order to ensure their learning and development progresses adequately. We know from empirical research and evidence-based data, that developmentally appropriate practices, based on differentiated instruction and open-ended play, are the best pedagogical approach for young children (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). Nevertheless, when studying child development, we tend to focus on the four major development areas: cognitive, language and literacy, social and emotional, and physical. Leaving aspects pertaining to the spirit outside the realm of what is facilitated in the classroom. I propose that under a holistic view and understanding of the child, we need to incorporate the child’s spirit, and look into ways in which we can not just support its development, but also nurture and nourish its growth.

In my book Spiritual Experiences in Early Childhood Education, I explain what children’s spiritual experiences look like for kindergarteners. By observing kindergarteners closely in their school environment I was able to develop profiles for the children I observed, and through those profiles, I found specific ways in which these children experienced and expressed their spirituality. Specifically I found, (1) joy (joyfulness and delight), (2) concern for others, kindness, compassion and caring, (3) relationships (importance and value of friends and family), and (4) Imagination (use and exploration in play), were the ways in which these children expressed their spiritual selves (Mata, 2015).

While interviewing in-service (Mata, 2012) and pre-service (Mata, 2014) early childhood educators, I found that spirituality is considered an important and valued aspect of childhood. Teachers shared they would be willing to explore and learn how to nourish spirituality in the classroom. For the most part, teachers find spirituality important and would be willing to include planning for its nourishment for the children under their care. One common thread in my findings was that teachers, although willing, seemed to be unprepared and did not know where to begin, when addressing children’s spirit. In my recommendations I propose teacher preparation programs include this type of course work in order to prepare early childhood educators to best provide this support for young children. In my work as a teacher educator, I have included this in some of the courses I teach, incorporating it into our studies of child development, as well as curriculum design.

In a more recent research project I have been working on with my colleagues Michael Haslip and Deborah Schein, we have set out to survey teachers at a national level, in order to uncover what in-service educators are doing to promote and nourish spirituality in secular settings (Mata-McMahon, Haslip & Schein, 2018). So far, we have received 33 responses representing 16 US states. Analyzing the data from educators’ responses to the open-ended questions of our online survey, we found explicit ways in order for educators to more consciously nurture the spirit of young children. The following recommendations for early childhood educators, for practice and implementation, stem directly from the analysis of the data collected through this survey based study.

  1. Drawing on one’s personal spirituality as a resource. We found that educators pulled from their beliefs and spiritual practices, such as yoga, meditation and prayer, to inform the work they carried out in the classroom and the quality of the relationships they fostered with children and families. 
  2. Preparing a beautiful and well-organized classroom environment that includes spaces for quiet time and retrieval for children, allowing for pondering.
  3. Using a flexible schedule that allows for extending the time allocated to activities and conversations regarding spiritual inquiries, allowing for exploring children’s ponderings.
  4. Nurturing and developing loving relationships with peers and adults.
  5. Developing children’s love for nature through indoor and outdoor interactions with plants and animals.
  6. Maintaining a child-centered curriculum, in which children are allowed to follow and explore their interests.
  7. Emphasizing moral and character development by modeling and teaching children about virtues.
  8. Promoting social and emotional development, by making it a priority in the curriculum.

By recognizing and then affirming the inner life force within children, educators can create a new perspective through which to understand holistic child development and then translate that vision into their pedagogical practices and educational environments (Mata-McMahon, Haslip & Schein, 2018).

A visual summary and resource on this topic can be found in a video I filmed for my You Tube channel, entitled How can we nurture children’s spirituality? – Strategies for the Classroom.



Copple, C. and Bredekamp, S. (Eds.) (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs: Serving children from birth through age 8. (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Mata, J. (2012). Nurturing Spirituality in Early Childhood Classrooms: The Teacher’s View. In M. Fowler, J. D. Martin III, & J. L. Hochheimer (Eds.), Spirituality: Theory, Praxis and Pedagogy (pp. 239-248). Oxford, UK: Inter-Disciplinary Press. ISBN: 978-1-84888-091-7

Mata, J. (2014). Sharing my Journey and Opening Spaces: Spirituality in the Classroom. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, 19(2), pp. 112-122. DOI: 10.1080/1364436X.2014.922464

Mata, J. (2015). Spiritual Experiences in Early Childhood Education: Four Kindergarteners, One Classroom. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-41583-470-4

Mata-McMahon, J., Haslip, M. J., and Schein, D. L. (2018). Early Childhood Educator’s Perceptions of Nurturing Spirituality in Secular Settings. Early Child Development and Care. DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2018.1445734

Jennifer Mata-McMahon, Ed.D. – Is an Early Childhood Educator, Researcher and Scholar, originally from Caracas, Venezuela, working in the field since 1995, with an M.A. (1998), Ed.M. (1999), and Ed.D. (2010) from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York. She is the coauthor of Ambiente en Acción (Environment in Action) (Unimet, 2006), author of Spiritual Experiences in Early Childhood Education (Routledge, 2015), and coeditor of Spirituality: An Interdisciplinary View (Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2016), as well as the author of several book chapters and journal articles on children’s spirituality.

Email: drjenmata@gmail.com

Publications: https://jennifermata.academia.edu/research#papersandbookchapters

Twitter: https://twitter.com/drjenmata

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drjenmata/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/drjenmata/

Website: http://drjenmata.webs.com

Website: http://www.jenmata.org

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkFQQWW5YuY37cbq-gZQgKg


Web links in text:

Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs: Serving children from birth through age 8 https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/books/developmentally-appropriate-practice-early-childhood-programs-serving-children

Spiritual Experiences in Early Childhood Education https://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Experiences-Early-Childhood-Education/dp/0415834708

Sharing my Journey and Opening Spaces: Spirituality in the Classroom https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1364436X.2014.922464?journalCode=cijc20

YouTube Video “How can we nurture children’s spirituality? – Strategies for the Classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTU0lYF896Y&t=1s

Early Childhood Educators’ Perceptions of Nurturing Spirituality in Secular Settings https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/KBiS7rDG7DQU9JqvpvVM/full

“That’s the Way We’ve Always Done it.” (Guest blogger: Emily Reilly)

As a professional and in my personal life, I tend to think I am pretty even keeled. It typically takes a great deal to put me over the edge, and likewise I have to be really impressed to show a great deal of enthusiasm. But if there is something professionally that can make my blood boil it’s the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” So what is it about that phrase that sends me through the roof? I have taken some time to reflect on that over the years and have come to the conclusion that it links back to exactly what I am doing in the process of trying to understand my strong feelings about those seven little words. Reflection or should I say the lack thereof? Or could it be a feeling of incompetence and frustration on my part? As an administrator I felt the gold standard of being effective was having teachers and staff who were innovative, problem-solvers, reflective and intentional in their decision-making. That was the key. It was time to be intentional and provide a culture of reflective practice. This became my mission as a new administrator.

Reflective practice is not always neat and orderly and can be an uncomfortable process for some. But I had to figure out how to make it work. I could not stand the thought of hearing “that” phrase AGAIN! So slowly but surely, I started to find ways to infuse reflective practice into everything we did. It had to become part of our DNA as a program to get people to reverse their thinking. My goal was to get the initial response to questions along the lines of, “Tell me about how you decided to do things that way” to something reflective in nature, anything but, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” I learned for many people, reflection is not always a natural process and that teachers need a time and space to support this type of work. This was the case for myself as well. I began absorbing myself in reflective practice articles, attending trainings on reflective practice and began to transform the way I thought about my work and modeled reflection for staff. I learned reflective practice had to become a way of being and doing, not a checklist item to be completed. Professional development and in-service trainings became more reflective in nature, always allowing time for critical thinking and analysis, rather than simply sharing of information. Teachers were given “reflection time” to support discussion of observations and how it might impact their teaching and lesson plans. Staff meetings became a context for discussing and problem solving, no longer a laundry list of items or updates on an agenda that could have just been emailed to teachers. Meaningful conversations and expecting teachers to share their ideas and input about how things were going had to become the norm for staff to be comfortable in being reflective. Reflective supervision became the model of support for staff and I was able to get to know and understand teachers better. I began to see the benefits of the parallel process. The reflective support I was providing for staff was exactly the expectation I had for staff in their interactions with practicum students and children. As a lab school, it was crucial to support young professionals in developing the skill of reflection. “That” phrase began to be removed from staffs’ vocabulary. I would like to think it was not simply because they saw smoke come out of my ears when I heard it, but because reflection became part of the culture and value of the program. Hearing comments and phrases that started off with, “I wonder…” or “Maybe we should reconsider…” or “I noticed…” or “I’m not sure this practice is still in alignment with our current thinking…” became music to my ears!

You might be saying, this all sounds great, but we don’t have time for one more thing! I hear from many teachers and administrators that their staff are tired and overburdened by the requirements of teaching; that there is no time to “add-on” one more thing to do. However, reflective practice is not something you check off your list or a task to do; it’s a way of being, a way of thinking. Are you hearing the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it” or some other version of it? If so, it might be time to see what reflective practice can do for you and your program. It’s an investment you cannot afford to pass up!


Emily Reilly is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist with STARNET Regions I and III and former administrator and teacher in a university lab school program. Emily’s professional interests include emergent curriculum, reflective practice and code of ethics. She is a wife and mother of one, and enjoys running, yoga, trying new recipes and spending time with her family.

Important information to share

ILAECTE member, Elizabeth Sherwood, from SIUE sent the following request to the ILAECTE board:

Last week, about 10 of our juniors were in placements that went on high alert because of a shooting threat. Among other things, it made us aware that our students aren’t trained in their placement crisis policies. We are working on how to make that happen. Most of our students are feeling vulnerable and are looking to us for guidance. Do any of you have something already in place to address these issues?

​ILAECTE member, Linda Dauksas, from Elmhurst College responded:

In an attempt to have our students understand school policy, school boards, and state laws, we address the creation of two relatively current school policies (related to school safety) and subsequently the procedures supporting the policies in a seminar course, the semester prior to student teaching. During this semester the students are in the field 2 days/week.

We specially look at the Illinois School Safety Drill Act (ISSDA) and illustrate how state statute generated the creation of policy. The students have to read the policy for their field placements and we assess the students’ understanding by having them “write a newsletter” to the families of their students explaining the procedures for practicing the drills defined in the ISSDA. ​

The other policy that we examine is the bullying policy. Again students have to read the respective policies of the districts and look at alignment with procedures in student handbooks. We also use the Bullied materials (DVD, discussion guides) from the Southern Poverty Law Center. We assess the students by having them design a lesson addressing one aspect of bullying (as required by law), tied to social emotional standards.

For both of these policies/assignments, students are expected to talk with their teachers to learn about teacher responsibilities for all drills and bullying procedures.

We have also had students involved in a lock-down in a neighboring elementary school. I’m not sure these assignments lessen the students’ fears but the assignments do give the students some knowledge about the intentionality of planning for school and student safety.

I think this topic deserves our attention. Collectively we have spent hundreds of years in schools. Based on our days, weeks and years WE need to make the decisions about how to make our school safes – not the NRA or the gun industry.

Embedding Course Assignments into Practicum (Guest blogger: Dr. Bernadette Laumann)

Last semester I had the pleasure of teaching the Early Childhood Assessment Course to a class of early childhood undergraduate teacher candidates and master’s students. The course content covers the assessment of young children with disabilities ages birth to five years. A variety of assessment related topics are discussed throughout the semester. All of the teacher candidates and masters students were concurrently placed in practicum settings where they could directly communicate with families of young children with disabilities and conduct a variety of assessments. We also conducted two “labs” where the teacher candidates participated on an assessment team to plan and implement play-based assessment activities for a parent and child dyad. We are fortunate to have some wonderful parents and young children in our community who participate in the labs.

As a course instructor I have learned that embedding course assignments within practicum and even within a “lab” setting can be difficult and just plain messy. For example, young children get sick often, they might move away, families are busy and may not have time to respond to a teacher candidate’s carefully crafted questions, parent permission forms have to be translated into the appropriate home language and returned before assessment activities may begin, etc. Yet, as difficult as the logistics of completing “embedded” assignments can be, I strongly believe that the more course assignments can be completed within practicum settings the more teacher candidates directly experience the complexity of the assessment process with young children with disabilities.

When using real activity based assessment tools with young children with disabilities the teacher candidates were surprised at the amount of planning they needed to do in order to complete a curriculum-based assessment on a child they had been working with all semester. Conversations with parents and cooperating professionals also provided the teacher candidates and masters students with the understanding that assessment is done in collaboration with other significant adults who can provide critical developmental information about the child in different contexts and settings.

As a teacher educator I have learned to be much more flexible with assignment due dates. This was important in order to ensure that a teacher candidate does not panic when the child she is assessing misses two days of preschool in a row. I believe the extra effort involved in arranging assessment labs and embedding course assignments in practicum is worth it when teacher candidates describe their understanding about the assessment process and feel more confident collaborating with parents of young children with disabilities.


Bernadette Laumann, PhD is the Co-Principal Investigator for the Illinois Early Learning Project and the Illinois Families and School Success Project. She has been a teacher educator, principal of an inclusive pre-k program, and an early childhood special educator.


Literacy…It Takes a Village (Guest blogger: Dr. Janaya Shaw)

Have you ever seen or heard these statements?

“They learn to read at school.”

“The teacher is responsible for teaching reading.”

Well, I disagree. For children to excel in all of the literacy skills, it takes a village. Literacy skills include awareness of sounds of language, awareness of print, the relationship between letters and sounds, decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Educators and parents must work together to make sure that children are getting the tools necessary to be successful readers. Literacy skills are not just “school skills,” they are life skills.

So, how do we, as educators, get the parents on board to help? We educate them, while we educate their children. There is nothing wrong with hosting monthly parent workshops on literacy topics. Discuss what is being done to enhance literacy in the classroom and what can be done to enhance literacy at home. Don’t do too much at one workshop. We don’t want our parents to feel overwhelmed and stop attending the workshops. Take baby steps.

I’ve found that some of the best ways to get parents to buy-in to the parent workshops are: (1) explicitly say that their child needs their help to reach their full literacy potential, (2) explain the importance of practicing these literacy skills in the home, (3) ask their opinions, (4) ask for their availability, (5) have another classroom or gym open where their children can be entertained and supervised, and (6) have food. You may ask, “why food?” Many parents will be attending these workshops after a long day of work. They come straight from work and it’s nice if they can get something to eat at the workshop. A full meal is not necessary, but something that will give them a boost to be able to sit through your workshop for about one hour. Potlucks are an excellent idea.

In summary, students need multiple opportunities to practice literacy skills. Classroom practice is not enough. We need our students working on these skills with their parents at home. This can be successful if we let the parents know of the need, ask for their help, and educate them on what activities they can be doing at home with their child.


Dr. Janaya Shaw is an Assistant Professor in the Curriculum and Instruction Department of Western Illinois University. Her research interests include literacy development, performance assessment, trends in middle level education, and technology.


STEAM in Early Childhood Education (Guest blogger: Bridget Meis, M.S. Ed)

STEAM is a concept that has become increasingly popular lately and has even become a ‘buzzword’ in early childhood. It started as STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEAM embeds the Arts into these concepts. Adding the Arts into the STEM process is a natural process in early childhood. The purpose of STEAM is how these skills are integrated with one another instead of looking at each skill in isolation from the others. When children are young, they have not developed the habit of separating subjects into categories; they naturally blend these concepts as they explore their everyday environments. When we look at early childhood, this is an optimal time to capitalize on helping children to build these skills.

Science: Science includes observing and experimenting with materials; asking questions and working to find the answers; making predictions about what might happen and then seeing what really happens; sharing what you have learned with others; and figuring out how things work.

Technology: Looks at using tools to help get things done. Often when we hear the term technology, we think of computers, phones, or tablets. Technology is just a fancy term for tools. In early childhood, we see children use technology all the time, such as: scissors to cut; pencils to write; rulers to measure; and magnifying glasses to look closely at an object.

Engineering: Engineering is how we solve problems by using a variety of materials; designing and creating solutions; and building things that work.

Arts: The Arts are a way of expressing and representing what we know. Children may draw, sing, dance, or even act out what they have learned about a concept or represent what they are trying to figure out.

Math: Math includes many concepts such as counting, measuring, comparing, sorting, working with patterns, and sequencing. Children naturally engage in math concepts every day! When we look at math, there is a wonderful opportunity to engage in mathematical language which helps children to express what they know and have learned.

What might this look like in an early childhood classroom?

When children build in the block area, they are working on their engineering skills. They are planning and trying different strategies to make a creation, which uses trial and error which is a science concept. Even when children are just exploring the blocks by piling them up, putting them in a line, they are figuring out how to make the blocks work. Children also explore to see which blocks fit together, a math concept when we explore how shapes work. We can embed The arts, by encouraging the children to plan and sketch what they would like their structure to look like before building or after building their creations. And, of course, the blocks are the tools/technology that the children are using to create their structure.

This is just one example that integrates all areas of STEAM. Often, when children are engaging in activities, when we leave the activities open ended, they engage in 2-3 of the STEAM concepts at a time.

The children in our care right now, need to develop skills for jobs that are not even created yet. By providing opportunities for children to develop their creative thinking and reasoning skills now, we are providing them with skills that they will need for the future.


Bridget Meis, M.S. Ed, is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I & III. During her time with STARnet, she has presented on a variety of topics including: Apps and Assistive Technology, Social/Emotional development, Creative Curriculum, Teaching Strategies GOLD, Portfolios, Lesson Planning, Mathematics in Early Childhood, Science and Mathematics, STEAM and Family Engagement. Bridget has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education since 2003.


Managing Behavior in the Preschool Classroom (Guest blogger: Dr. Emily Sartini)

Preschool teachers in Illinois are often expected to accommodate students with a range of problem behaviors, including aggressive behaviors such as hitting and kicking. What can we do to ensure young children with problem behaviors can remain in preschool settings? How can we meet the needs of children with significant problem behaviors while ensuring other students remain safe in the classroom?

Positive behavior supports (PBS) have a growing amount of support in the early childhood literature and have led to success in preschool classrooms (Stanton-Chapman, Walker, Vorhees, & Snell, 2016). PBS involves the use of assessment, individualized behavior plans, and instruction in pro-social behaviors, as well as the establishment a structured environment, clear expectations, and positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior (Carter & Van Norman, 2010).

For preschool children with severe problem behaviors, such as aggression, Functional Behavioral Assessment can be conducted that includes assessment to determine the function of the problem behavior. Behavioral function refers to the reasons why behaviors occur, such as to obtain attention, access to a desired item, or escape from an undesired activity (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Once the team has identified the function, they can design an intervention that teaches the child to achieve that function more appropriately (e.g., asking for a break from an undesired activity, saying a peer’s name to receive attention). The team then implements and takes data on the effectiveness of the plan (Stanton-Chapman et al., 2016).

There are some general techniques that can benefit all preschool students in the classroom. Carter and Van Norman (2010) investigated a variety of strategies that can be implemented class-wide to facilitate success for all students. They found that these strategies resulted in high rates of academic engagement in preschool classrooms. The following techniques can be implemented with entire classes in the preschool setting to increase academic engagement and minimize problem behavior:

  • Posting 3-5 positively phrased rules with picture cues
  • A picture schedule
  • Development of behavioral expectations across multiple classroom routines (e.g., washing hands, walking in the hallway)
  • Using a transition signal with visual as well as a verbal cue
  • Provide notice of transitions before they occur
  • Reminding students of appropriate behaviors before the transition
  • Praising appropriate behaviors with specific, positive praise at a ratio of 4 positive statements to 1 corrective statement
  • Preschool teachers should plan to implement the above strategies for the entire class to create a positive learning environment that minimizes the occurrence of behavioral issues (Carter & Van Norman, 2010). While children with more extreme behavioral needs will require individualize behavioral intervention, most children can benefit from class-wide strategies that increase positivity and clarify expectations.


Carter, D.R., & Van Norman, R.K. (2010). Class-wide positive behavior support in preschool: Improving teacher implementation through consultation. Early Childhood Education Journal, 38, 279-288.

Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NI: Pearson.

Stanton-Chapman, T.L., Walker, V.L., Vorhees, M.D., & Snell, M.E. (2016). The evaluation of a three-tier model of positive behavior interventions and supports for preschoolers in Head Start. Remedial and Special Education, 37, 333-344.

Dr. Emily Sartini is Assistant Professor of Special Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Western Illinois University. Her research interests include Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and access to core content for students with Intellectual Disability.