2017 Higher Ed Forum

For those of you who were able to attend this year’s Higher Ed Forum in Bloomington, you know how informative it was. It was also great networking with all the others in the state of Illinois who work with teacher preparation! We are so fortunate that Gateways to Opportunity has been able to provide us with this venue to learn and work together. With funding uncertainty, this may not always be possible, at least in its present form, so taking advantage of it while we have it is so very important.

Competencies was definitely the “buzzword” for this forum. Gateways to Opportunities has done much work in this area with the help of Nancy Latham and Johnna Darragh Ernst. This is the direction that the field seems to be moving so learning what these are, how they will effect teacher preparation, and when they will go into effect are important for institutions of higher education to know as they are implementing their new programs.

Speaking of new programs, the time to implement new programs is approaching fast. If you have not already redesigned your early childhood teacher licensure program, you will need to know what needs to be done and by when. One of the presentations at the forum was about this timeline.

Everyone recognizes that all of those involved in teacher preparation have multiple demands on our time and energy. What that means is that, even if we wanted to attend, we are not always able to do so. That is where we are doubly blessed! Gateways videotaped all the sessions and will be posting these videos on the HERO website (http://www.ilfacultyresources.org/ – videos should be posted soon). If you missed the entire event, you can view the various presentations; if you came but could not go to all the breakout sessions you wanted, you can view the ones you missed. Either way this is a great resource!

I have talked about the HERO website in past blogs. It is a great resource to those of us working in preparing early childhood educators. You must register on the site in order to access all its components but the registration is simple and FREE! In addition to the videos from the 2017 Higher Ed Forum, there are lots of other items to explore.

Lastly, I have been honored to be the ILAECTE blogger for the past two years. It has been an interesting journey, learning how to blog (style, length, etc.) and how to navigate the program that Western Illinois University uses for blogs. I have enjoyed doing this and hope that the blog readers feel they have been better informed because of the blog. I am turning over the mantle of blogger/webmaster to Dr. Boh Young Lee, my colleague at WIU. She will be the one organizing the ILAECTE blog and website and I am sure she will do a great job.

The blog, however, does need all of your help in two ways. First, we are always looking for guest bloggers. If you have a particular pedagogy strategy that has worked for you, share it. Any research you have done? Share it! Any new and/or important information on early childhood education statewide or nationally? Share it! Lastly, this blog was developed to provide you, the teacher preparation faculty in Illinois, a way to share your voice. Even if you do not want to write a blog, you can still comment on those written by others. Our desire is for this blog to be a two-way communication venue for our members. Share your thoughts!

Farewell and thank you for this opportunity!

Debbie Lee recently retired as an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Illinois University. She has worked in the field of early childhood for more than 44 years, doing everything from running a licensed day care home to teaching on the college level.

Aesthetics – Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

When I originally planned this blog I was thinking about the importance of aesthetics in the Reggio Emilia preschools. I DO want to talk about that, but I would like to broaden the scope when discussing aesthetics to bring up some ideas I have had over the past few years.

I mentioned in earlier blogs that three things struck me when I visited Reggio Emilia last spring: rights, lights, and aesthetics. The aesthetics are so very much a part of the culture of Italy. Even when driving through poorer parts of cities there, I saw flower boxes. The Italians seem to have a very deep-seated appreciation for beauty and accept it, even expect it, throughout their lives.

The example above is beautiful to see but we would never see it in the United States. Our society has become so litigious that we have veered far on the side of “safe.” It makes me wonder what our children here in the U.S. are missing. Maria Montessori, another Italian early childhood educator, believed that an organized and aesthetically pleasing environment called children to become engaged and taught them to care about their surroundings. Could our children learn to handle glass and mirrors if they were exposed to such at an early age? I wonder.

We here in the U.S. have thought about aesthetics in the past few years. When I started in this field, preschool classrooms had a red, blue, green, yellow color scheme. Those bright colors were supposed to project a happy place. More recently the trend has been to the softer more relaxing colors of nature. This has also extended to the materials used. We are seeing less plastic and more natural materials wicker, wood, etc. Is what is evolving a new sense of aesthetics in our early childhood classes?

In my methods classes I talk about how to make materials for a classroom. No preschool classroom has unlimited funds and being able to make materials that cost 4-5 times as much in a school supply catalog is an important skill. However, maybe there needs to be more emphasis on not only making the materials but making them such that they are aesthetically pleasing. The use of the materials may not change because of the beauty of them but their ability to engage young children might. After all, we are more likely to buy a book with a pleasing, interesting cover than one that has only the title and author’s name.

Will we ever reach the point where the Reggio Emilia schools are in regards to aesthetics? Probably not. Their sense of aesthetics is so ingrained into their culture that it would take centuries for us to be there. However, it is interesting that our sense seems to be changing. I wonder where it will take us.

Any thoughts or comments? Share them with us!

Debbie Lee recently retired as an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Illinois University. She has worked in the field of early childhood for more than 44 years, doing everything from running a licensed day care home to teaching on the college level.

Multicultural Education in Early Childhood: What? Why? How? (Guest blogger: Anni Reinking)


What is multicultural education? If you ask various people, you may get similar but different answers. Some may say it is studying cultures of various countries. Some people may say it is bringing in the holidays and traditions of students home life to the classroom. While others may say that it is the inclusion of diverse students and families into schools. While all of these touch on the definition of multicultural education, none of these definitions speaks to the complexity of the term or curriculum. Multicultural education is a term used to describe educational practices that include race, class, and gender, along with disability, sexual orientation, language, and religion (Sleeter & Grant, 1994). Multicultural education is a curricular mindset that incorporates the assets or strengths of students through integration into every aspect of the classroom (Swidler, 1986).

A well-known multicultural researcher, Paul Gorski (2010), developed a working definition of multicultural education, which states that there are three strands to multicultural education. Each of the strands focuses on the commonly shared multicultural goal of social change. First is the educators’ transformation of self, usually through the process of reflection. Second is the goal of student-centered classrooms that support the learning of all students. Third is changing society through social change, which can be met through the incorporation of service learning projects in early childhood classrooms.


But, why? Why is multicultural education something to pay attention to? Why should educators be focused on implementing multicultural curriculum? There are multiple studies and statistics that support the reasoning behind the “why.” Overall, student demographics in schools are becoming more diverse, and therefore so are families (Gollnick, & Chin, 2009). Families in today’s society are very different from families in previous generations (Berger & Riojas-Cortez, 2012).

  • By the year 2020 students of color will comprise fifty percent of the school population, while teachers will likely remain predominantly White and female (Gollnick & Chin, 2009).
  • The Census Bureau (2008) has also projected an increase in the minority population in the United States stating, “by 2023 minorities will comprise more than half of all children.”
  • By the year 2043 there will be a Majority Minority, which means that white individuals will be the minority group in the United States (Maxwell, 2014).


How do we implement multicultural education into early childhood classrooms? There are multiple ways, however below are some suggested steps and resources. (This is not an exhaustive list).

First, professionals in the early childhood field need to go through the process of reflection to understand personal explicit and implicit biases. An educator is unable to effectively teach with a multicultural lens until he or she is able to understand how personal perspectives influence classroom interactions. Continual self-examination needs to occur as situations change and evolve in society and the school environment (Gorski, 2010). Part of this process is also professional development for teachers focused on reflection, as well as strategies/activities to use in order to implement multicultural curriculum. After this is completed, here are some ideas for teachers to incorporate multicultural curriculum into early childhood classrooms.

Bring in the Books!

Books are a great way to bring children into the conversation and for children to”see” themselves in the classroom. Below are some suggestions and resources:

  • If you are looking for books on a specific topic, a great website is: http://kidslikeus.org/
    • On this website you can search for any topic from interest level, to genre, to content area. They also have put together “recommended book sets” for various ages.
  • When choosing books for a lesson or classroom library, make sure to check for the following:
    • Are all the children in your classroom represented by the books displayed and read in your classroom?
    • Is the author and/or illustrator from the same racial or cultural group discussed in the book?
    • Does the book display a strengths based mindset for the topic being addressed? Does it accurately display traditions and values?
    • Is it historically correct? Does it use correct language to describe the topic being discussed?
    • Does the book display diversity of experiences within a given group of people? Does it provide different representations of people from a specific group?
  • These questions help guide teachers through the process of learning and reflection when choosing books for lessons. Furthermore, teachers want to make sure that the chosen books are at the appropriate reading/comprehension level for the students.

Social Change through Service Learning

Service learning is a strategy that combines meaningful community service with learning experiences. Additionally, service learning incorporates 21st century skills including problem-solving, critical-thinking, collaboration, and decision-making, all of which are important for students to learn.

Service learning is also a great way to incorporate multicultural topics through hands on learning experiences. When planning to implement service learning remember the following:

  • Teachers need to do a little research to understand the community and know what is available for service learning projects.
  • Let children brainstorm and decide on a project to build a sense of ownership and civic engagement.
  • Service Learning Ideas:
    • Is your school in a food desert? Have children research healthy foods. Plant a garden and/or set up a free “food library” for the community.
    • Does your community have a homeless population? Have children research social service agencies that help homeless people and donate hand-made tie blankets.
    • Encourage reading through “leave and take” lending libraries around the community.
    • Help raise money for a cause the children are interested in. Ex: local charities, St. Jude, Clean the World, Share our Strength, and many more organizations that teachers and children can research together.

Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. She has written and presented on the topic of multicultural education for several years after teaching in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kenya. She continues to write and research early childhood classroom environments focused on multicultural education, as well as teacher training and STEM in early childhood classrooms.


Berger, E. H. & Riojas-Cortez, M. (2012). Parents as Partners in Education: Families andSchools Working Together (8th Ed). Pearson: Boston.

Gollnick, D. & Chin. (2009). Multicultural education in a pluralistic society. Boston: PearsonMerrill.

Gorski, P.C. (2010). Multicultural reform: Stages of multicultural curriculumtransformation. Retrieved from http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/curriculum/steps.html

Maxwell, L.A. (2014). US school enrollment hits majority-minority milestone. The Education Digest, 80(4), 27-33.

Sleeter, C., E., & Grant, C. A. (1994). Making choices for multicultural education (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Pretenice-Hall.

Swidler, A. (1986). Culture in action: Symbols and strategies. American Sociological Reviews, 51(2), 273-286.

United States Census Bureau. (2008). An older and more diverse nation by midcentury. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb08-123.html

Advocacy Matters! (Guest blogger: Joyce Weiner)

Most of us have been advocates at some point in our lives. We may not have called it that but many of us have spoken up on behalf of a specific cause or issue that we believed in or we have acted on behalf of others that we felt needed protection or support. Early childhood advocates work to inform and influence the opinions and actions of policymakers who make decisions that impact the lives of young children and their families.

State and local elected officials compose laws, work with state agencies to draft rules that define state policies, and authorize funding for education, health and public safety programs that impact children. They want to know how specific decisions and funding choices will impact their districts and constituents. Early childhood teachers, program leaders and families in their districts are the experts who can educate them about local needs and concerns both in Springfield and in Washington, DC. Teachers are impactful messengers and recognized for their role in developing our future labor force and civic, business and educational leaders.

As Michael G. Fullan highlights in Why Teachers Must Become Change Agents (1993) teachers and those who work to prepare our future teachers are, by definition, social change agents. People who feel compelled to make a societal contribution in their careers are often drawn to teaching. Teachers frequently see themselves as career-long learners and, in turn, inspire their students to be continuous learners.

To me, the role of a teacher preparation faculty member is an overwhelming yet remarkable undertaking. In addition to the expected tasks that faculty are responsible for conveying pedagogy, supervising field experiences, promoting culturally and linguistically responsive instructional practices, responding to institutional and accreditation requirements, there is a unique opportunity to empower our future teachers to be change agents. Providing the next generation of teachers with opportunities for understanding and experiencing the connections between advocacy, political decision-making, and the impact those decisions have on local resources, program eligibility for families and educational funding can encourage life-long social involvement both in and out of the classroom.

One strategy for giving your students the opportunity to directly experience being an advocate is to participate in an organized early childhood advocacy day in Springfield. This year, the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Early Childhood Advocacy Day will be on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Every year, advocates from around the state meet in Springfield to speak up for children and urge legislators to support high-quality early childhood programs and services. In this uncertain budget climate, advocacy efforts are more important than ever as children and families experience harm due to the budget impasse.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, early childhood champions will return to the capitol to press lawmakers to continue funding programs for Illinois’ youngest learners and their families. On Advocacy Day, your students will have the opportunity to:

  • Advocate for early childhood programs and funding at the state capitol
  • Speak directly with their legislators about the importance of ensuring that all children have access to the high-quality early experiences they need to thrive
  • Learn about current legislative and budget issues involving Preschool for All, home visiting, child care and Early Intervention.

This year, the Ounce will also offer an advocacy webinar in late April. Webinar details will be posted on the Advocacy Day page once a date is selected. A save the date flyer can be downloaded from the Advocacy Day page, and registration will open on that same page in mid-March.

In addition to participating in Advocacy Day, the ideas below offer more opportunities for incorporating early childhood policy into teacher preparation curricula:

  1. Have students identify their state/federal legislators and research whether those officials serve on educational committees and what legislation is being introduced. Committee assignments are on legislator websites or for state officials go to ilga.gov.
  2. Identify and track a piece of legislation throughout the legislative session.
  3. Research a legislator’s voting record in an area of interest.
  4. Sign up for the Ounce Action Alerts at theOunce.org .
  5. Have students prepare a draft letter to the editor or opinion-piece outlining the importance of early learning programs.
  6. Rehearse planning for a legislative visit to a program where students are working. What information would they emphasize for visitors? Which aspects of the quality learning environment should be pointed out and explained to policymakers?
  7. Have students plan for an early learning coalition that can influence decision-makers. What is the goal of the coalition? Who can contribute important perspectives and should be invited to participate? What organizations are currently working on these issues?
  8. Encourage students to attend a legislative Town Hall meeting.

Thank you for all you do to help build this next generation of change agents!

Joyce Weiner is a Policy Manager working on both the Illinois and National Policy Consultation Teams at the Ounce of Prevention Fund. She has worked in educational, medical, and legal settings as a program developer, training director, and advocate on issues impacting the lives of young children and their families. Her work at the Ounce includes planning and partnering to implement educational and professional development systems that result in diverse, well-prepared teachers and administrators for the birth to eight workforce. Joyce holds a Master

Standards, Benchmarks, and Competencies…Oh My! (Guest Bloggers Nancy Latham and Johnna Darragh Ernst)

If you have been participating in any state ECE meetings over the last two years you have no doubt seen us on our road show talking about the work that has gone into and the process involved in developing the new Gateways ECE Competencies. We are seriously considering setting our presentation to rap and adding choreography. We really can visualize a “Hamiltonesque” potential to it! For those of you that know us well…you can picture this, if you don’t…please don’t be afraid!

The Gateways ECE Benchmarks have, for more than 15 years, uniquely positioned Illinois to be a national leader in the preparation of early childhood professionals. As we looked ahead to the next 15 years and beyond, early childhood leaders in the state came together to move toward a competency based system that could sustain and enhance that high quality preparation as well as connect ECE professional evaluation and professional development to the same competency expectations. We are so fortunate in this state to have so many dedicated ECE leaders who were willing to give their expertise, time, and influence to this process.

The Gateways ECE Competencies…drum roll please!

The 347 benchmarks that make up ECE Credentials Levels 2-5 were analyzed over an 18-month period by teams of ECE experts. This analysis included examining each benchmark and matching it to the professional level where it became vital in terms of knowledge and performance, sorting them by content areas and lastly, looking at them in terms of knowledge level, application level, and leadership level expectations. At each stage of this analysis, groups of ECE professionals vetted and provided feedback to inform the process. The result was a re-packaging of the original 347 Benchmarks into 56 competencies. All of the original Benchmarks are aligned with the 56 competencies and can be used to provide deeper understanding of each competency.

Where are we now?

This work has resulted in 56 measurable competencies that can be used to both assist programs as they design programs to prepare ECE professional as well as assessing how programs are meeting these competencies. The competency structure has also been designed to enhance and promote course articulation between two-year and four-year programs and create a system that removed some hindrances to articulation. Currently, tools and supports have been created (available through the Gateways website) to help institutions and professionals in using the competencies and aligning to them. These tools include:

  • Institutional Crosswalks. Institutional crosswalks have been developed for each entitled institution providing them an analysis of their alignment grid to the original Benchmarks to the new ECE competencies. These crosswalks provide a springboard for institutions as they work to align to the new ECE competencies.
  • Entitlement Application and Reporting Documents and Supports. Documents to assist institutions in application and reporting processes will soon be made available through Gateways. In addition, webcasts guiding institutions through better understanding the competencies and providing support in aligning and using the competencies are available on the Gateways website.
  • Assessment Toolbox. Lastly, a toolbox of sample assessments along with master rubrics has been developed for your use and adaptation as you align and utilize the competencies in deeper ways in your individual programs as well as between your articulation partnerships. Our hope is that this toolbox will continue to be added to.

What’s Next?

Next steps in the competency movement in ECE in Illinois is reflected in current work underway, duplicating the process described above and applying it to the Infant Toddler Benchmarks, the Illinois Director Credential Benchmarks, the Family Child Care Benchmarks, the School and Youth Age Benchmarks, the Technical Assistance Benchmarks and the Family Specialist Credential Benchmarks. Again, countless ECE professionals and leaders are contributing to and driving this work, and it is intended that contributions and examples from ECE professionals across the state will continue to build the toolboxes, resources and supports.

So, hopefully you will feel so inclined to contribute your examples and tools to this process as well as your feedback and expertise…and if you are so inclined, set it to music, choreograph it and join us in the touring company!!!!!

Dr. Nancy Latham joined the faculty at Illinois State University in August of 2004 in the School of Teaching & Learning and is currently a full professor in the Early Childhood Program. Dr. Latham has served in many leadership positions within the institution including Associate Director of Research, Associate Department Director and Assessment and Accreditation Coordinator. Her external leadership has included serving as President of IAECTE as well as serving as lead consultant on state-wide early childhood employment pathway efforts. Her research interests focus on teacher employment pathways and trends, teacher persistence in the field, and the impacts of teacher preparation models and practices on teacher retention and attrition.

Johnna Darragh Ernst, Ph.D., is a Professor of Early Childhood Education at Heartland Community College. She is the author of several articles and two books focused on inclusion, engagement, and collaboration. Johnna is involved in workforce development public policy work in Illinois, and serves on several state and national committees. Her work focuses extensively on workforce development, inclusion, family engagement, cultural competence, and competency development

Thoughts on the Purpose of Tinkering in Early Childhood Teacher Education (Guest blogger: Leslie Layman)

Truman College has added a Tinkering Lab to our Child Development Program teaching spaces. I have had the pleasure of acting as the coordinator for our Child Development Program’s labs, meaning I spend a lot of time mulling over small decisions such as, “What colors of paint do we need,” but I also spend a lot of time thinking about the philosophical and pedagogical purposes of the labs. Our Tinkering Lab was modeled heavily on the Chicago Children’s Museum Tinkering Lab and the Maker Lab at Lane Tech College Prep High School. Our lab will begin a “soft opening” this Spring semester for students and faculty in our Creative Activities for Young Children & Math and Science for Young Children.

What Does Tinkering Mean to Me?

I like the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary definition: “Tinker: to repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner: to repair, adjust, or experiment with.”

Tinkering is taking something apart to see how it works, trying to fix or make something better even if you are not really sure how. It covers everything from breaking open a toy to see its moving parts, to inventing a new type of toy and building a prototype, to just staring at something a bit wondering what to do next. To me, the concept of tinkering relates directly to what I believe to be the most important part of early childhood, play. It is the intersection of work and play in which young children live.

Why is the Child Development Program So Interested in Tinkering for Early Childhood Educators?

Early learners not only explore and learn through play, but they also ask real and important questions about how the world works-inquiry. Many of our ECE Students come to us with limited experiences in doing, making, and taking risks in the professional world. We hope to use the Tinkering Lab as part of our parallel process in teaching EC educators using the same philosophies and strategies that we want them to use with young children.
Exploration and Play

“There is safe and unsafe, there is works and does no

Spirituality: Can we find room for it in the classroom? (Guest blogger: Jennifer Mata-McMahon)

I have been working in the field of children’s spirituality since I began my doctoral work back in 2005. Way before I ever read the first article in this field of work I had always been interested in spirituality at a personal level but had not really considered it in my professional work. I believed it to be part of my personal identity, yet not have much of a space in my work with teachers or children.

I had worked as a preschool and kindergarten teacher for some years before pursuing my MA and EdM, and after attaining those degrees I went back to higher education to teach in the Early Childhood undergraduate program in a private university in Caracas, Venezuela, where I am from originally. Yet, neither in my work as a teacher or as a university instructor, did I think that spirituality would fit. It was not until I began my doctoral studies that I serendipitously took a course in the Human Development department, on children’s spirituality, that I knew it was even possible to research and publish in this field and still be taken seriously professionally in academia.

Since then, I have been enamored with the topic. Over the years, I have read every book and published article I have been able to find, and have published a few of my own as well. Along my path, I have come across a few teachers, scholars and fellow researchers interested in the topic. Working as an early childhood teacher educator, I have also encountered students (pre-service teachers) who are also intrigued and fascinated by this phenomenon. It is always good to find fellow travelers on this road.

One commonality I have found in those interested in this topic, particularly teachers, in-service and pre-services ones, is that they consider it important, they think it is part of their responsibility in caring for and educating young children, yet they do not quite know how to do it. The most common question I have encountered is “of course this children’s spirituality is important, but how do I support it?”

Firstly, there is the issue of the separation of church and state, which I promptly help teachers debunk. Because the First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” we immediate steer away from religion or religious talk in public settings such as public schools. Yet, that statement is followed with “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” which opens the door to explore spirituality in all its facets, including religious beliefs and practices.

By explaining that separation of church and state prohibits public school teachers (and all others working in the public sector) to proselytize and advocate for one particular religious belief over all others, yet it also forbids any action by government schools to inhibit it, helps us understand where the opportunities lie. When searching for ways in which to support spirituality and spiritual growth and nourishment, it is crucial that we understand schools to be a place in which we should not inhibit the spiritual component of our students, our children, to be expressed. Once this is explained and comprehended, we can then start exploring ways in which teachers can support children holistically, including their spiritual selves in the classroom.


In my book Spiritual Experiences in Early Childhood Education, I explain what these experiences look like for kindergarteners. By observing kindergarteners closely in their school environment I was able to develop profiles for each of the four 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), where the ways in which these children expressed their spiritual selves.

In a more recent research project I have been working on with my colleagues Michael Haslip and Deborah Schein, we have set out to uncover what in-service early childhood teachers are doing to promote and nourish spirituality in their classrooms, for the children they work with. So far, we have encountered teachers that for the most part deemed spirituality very important for them at a personal level and also for them as teachers working with young children. From our preliminary analysis of their survey responses, we have found that in-service teachers support children spirituality by engaging the children in outdoors activities, interacting with nature, gardening or taking care of a class pet; by allowing children to express delight and joy and enjoying children’s spontaneous discoveries; and by engaging in story-telling, imaginative, creative and make-believe activities and play.

In public schools across Chicagoland, a program entitled the Calm Classroom has also been implemented in the recent years. In this program, children are taught to meditate and use meditation techniques each day for a short period of time. The anecdotal results have been that students are developing self-awareness, are capable of more prolonged focus on tasks, and share they feel a sense of inner calm, which helps them to be better friends and kinder to others. If you have not heard of this program and would like to explore it further, you can go to the Calm Classroom website.

If you would like to continue to reflect on how you are supporting children’s spiritual selves in the classroom, or perhaps learn more on how to do this to better inform teachers you work with, please complete the survey we have designed. You will be helping us collect more data for our study, but more importantly, you will be prompted to reflect upon what you do on a regular basis to support children from a spiritual sense and if you discover that you are not doing so, perhaps learn how you could begin.


Dr. Jennifer Mata-McMahon, Ed.D. – Assistant Professor at DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Received an Ed.D. in early childhood education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 2010, and has worked in the field since 1995. She is the coauthor of Ambiente en Accion (Environment in Action) (2006), author of Spiritual Experiences in Early Childhood Education (2015), and coeditor of Spirituality: An Interdisciplinary View (2016), as well as the author and coauthor of several book chapters and journal articles.



Hands-On Is Not Just for Preschoolers

We stress in our courses that young children learn best when they have the opportunity to do hands-on activities that allow them to interact with the world around them and construct their own knowledge. Why should that just be the domain of preschool children?

The traditional method of teaching on the college level has been lecture followed by assessment. Many of us have gotten beyond that but it is still the fall-back mode for many. The problem with this traditional pedagogy is that it assumes students can learn almost by osmosis – just sitting in the room listening to the professor’s words and the information will somehow just sink in. It also focuses strongly on the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – knowledge and understanding. Active learning requires students to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. And is that not what we want our students to be able to do? Just being able to rattle off facts will not help them become quality early childhood educators. Active learning requires learners to be in charge of their learning, a very important life skill beyond the college classroom.

One university who has taken the concept of active learning to heart is the University of Minnesota. They have an entire building that was constructed just to promote such. It is so popular with the students (and the faculty who have stepped outside their comfort zone to become familiar with it) that it is hard to “book” a classroom for courses. UM has taken the concept of active learning to the nth power but utilizing technology to make such learning easier. However, it is not necessary to have the money for all the technology they have to use active learning in your courses (and in Illinois right now we all know there is not any money for such things). Using Post-It note chart paper hung around the room can be a low-tech way of introducing active learning into your courses.

If, however, you want to be tempted to see what can be done when technology is utilized, you can attend the Active Learning format that has been held every-other-year in Minneapolis. It is not particularly expensive. I paid my own way and felt it was well worth it. You can find out more information about this at https://cceevents.umn.edu/international-forum-on-active-learning-classrooms.

In an earlier blog I spoke about a Send-A-Problem activity that I used in my classes. This is low tech but also active learning. In that blog I mentioned the book Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, 2nd ed. (2014) by Barkley, Major, and Cross. I would like to promote it here once more. Most of the ideas in this book are low tech but very much require students to be actively involved in their learning.

What active learning techniques have you use? Share them in the comments section.

Debbie Lee recently retired as an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Illinois University. She has worked in the field of early childhood for more than 44 years, doing everything from running a licensed day care home to teaching on the college level.

Supporting Children and Families in Turbulent Times (Guest blogger: Kate Connor)

As we welcome in 2017, I wanted to share a few words to honor you! I have been working in higher education in Illinois for the last ten years. While I have always loved my fellow early ed colleagues, I have found our team to be uniquely amazing. Your perseverance, care, and passion is second to none. While we enter a climate where funding and support for our field appears shaky, I am only encouraged because I know we will stay focused and energized on our work. And as a huge bonus, we have individuals cheering on and supporting us at the local, state, and national levels!

I wanted to share a document we have been working on at Truman. Post- election, we unfortunately had numerous students experience verbal and/or physical attacks during their commutes to and from school. One particularly painful interaction happened in front of one of our student’s four-year old child. While the school hosted forums and conversations to assist students, we found we were being asked by students, colleagues, and professionals in the field if we had a framework that could help them navigate supporting children and families. Below is our work-in-progress creation that I wanted to share. I hope you find it helpful in some way. It is a collaborative document created my myself, Leslie Layman, and Angela Cotromanes:

  1. Self Care:
  • Children recognize and respond to our emotional state

Children look to adults to understand how to interpret and process the world around them. Children are aware of when you are emotionally overwhelmed and can mirror negative emotions that the adults around them are feeling. This could look like changes in sleep or eating patterns, acting out, or internalizing behaviors such as withdrawing from peers. Demonstrate healthy coping strategies such as rest, communicating, and self regulation when you are experiencing negative emotions so that children can see that negative emotions are normal and how to process them appropriately.

  • Know your triggers and your limits

Know the things and people in your environment that trigger you to become overly upset. If you are overwhelmed, limit your time in situations in which you know you may be triggered. If you cannot avoid your triggers, find a way to take breaks such as taking a walk or calling a friend.

  • Seek out positive relationships

Children need relationships to support emotional well being, and so do adults. Make sure to contact people that care about you, spend extra time with supportive friends and family, and ask for help when you need it.

2. Safety:

  • Addressing and acknowledging your own and children’s fears

Ignoring or minimizing things that are frightening does not support children’s coping. Identify and label fear, times that you or your child are afraid, and what things are frightening. Emotions can be described as “Looks like, feels like, I can” activities, such as, “When I am afraid my eyes look big, my body feels frozen, and I can ask an adult for help.” Identifying and labeling your own fear and modeling appropriate coping supports children to have an appropriate response when they are afraid.

  • Coping from the Child’s Perspective:

How Adults Can Help:

  • Limit children’s exposure to media and adult screen time

Children pick up information from media even when it seems that they are not paying attention. Children experience a lot of “passive exposure” to media that is not always child appropriate through the screens that are around them in stores, on public transportation, etc. Ensure that the media you can control is appropriate for the child’s age and individual needs. Negative media interactions can be difficult to disengage from. Limit your own media use during stressful situations to increase your coping and time with your child.

  • Increase sleep and promote nutrition

Just like adults, children feel better when they are well rested and eating well. In times of stress increase naps or nighttime sleep hours and ensure that children have access to healthy food. Mealtimes can be important times to come together as a family and share feelings.

  • Model appropriate coping and self regulation

Children take cues from adults about coping. Reacting to stress by overeating, drinking, smoking, or lashing out at others sends a message to children about how to cope. Instead show them that activities such as exercise, art, helping others, or spending time with loved ones can reduce stress.

  • Answering the questions children are asking

Sometimes adults project their ideas or worries onto children when children’s questions are much more simple and direct. Know that it is okay to tell children that you do not know the answer to something. If children ask a difficult question, remember that you only need to answer the question that they are asking and answer it at their level of understanding, you do not need to explain the concept the way you would to an adult.

  • Engaging in play their way

Children need time to process information in their own way, and unstructured play is the best way for them to do this. Give them plenty of time to free play, and if you join in attempt to join what they are doing and play at their level instead of guiding the play.

  • Allow alternatives to verbal communication

Children express themselves through actions, play, art, book choices, sleep and eating changes, and variety of other non verbal ways. Make sure that you give multiple means for communication and that you are “listening” to their non-verbal ways of telling you what they need.

  • Support rituals and routines

Rituals and routines support children to keep their body and their emotions regulated. Keeping things such as bed and meal time as consistent as possible supports children in times of stress and reassures them that the world is predictable and safe. Continue rituals such as goodbyes, bedtime stories, and bath time the way you did before the stressor occurred.

  • Let children take back power:

Children do not have a lot of choice or power throughout the day and stressful situations can reduce the power that they do have. Actively introduce activities that give power back to children. This might be increasing choice, allowing them to feed pets, and giving them control over routines such as getting dressed.

  1. Resilience:

  1. Empathy:
  • Family activities that communication and support your family’s values

In times of stress it can be meaningful for families to review their underlying values and what is important to them. Spend time with your children discussing your values. These might be spiritual values, guidance about the treatment of others, or beliefs about the nature of the world.

  • Incorporating empathy into classrooms
  1. Responding to Harassment and Specific Fears:
  • Teach your child to identify safe adults in times of need.
  • If you and/or your child’s immediate safety are threatened, and you can safely leave the area, leave.
  • Teach your child to contact you in a variety of ways in a variety of situations. Teach them how to contact another adult if they cannot reach you.
  • Deesecalation & Intervention for bystanders of harassment & violence
  • Resources for Witness or Targets of Hate Crimes




Saying More with Less

We have all had students who, when asked to present on a topic to class, use a PowerPoint and read right off the slides (OK, as instructors sometimes we have been know to do the same). We are often left wondering if the student presenting the material truly understands what is being presented AND if anyone else in the class is listening. We assign class presentations not only to give students experience in public speaking but to have them share the information they have learned with others.

What can we do to make sure that students understand the material well enough that they do not need to read off the PowerPoint slides? What can we do to keep the pace of presentation entertaining enough that the other students are listening to what is being shared? In a word: PechaKucha. No, it is NOT the name of a Pokeman character; it is a way of presenting information.

pechakuchaIn 2003 two architects in Tokyo felt that other fellow architects talked too much in their presentations so they developed the PechaKucha format. The format is basically, 20 slides, each showing for 20 seconds. The total presentation takes no more than 400 seconds