The last few years were especially rough on Illinois institutions. The budget impasse in Springfield only served to set more than one campus on a downward financial spiral, public as well as private, four- as well as two-year. While most managed to check the slide, none did so without making significant cuts or postponing plans for growth initiatives. With each passing month, certain losses are becoming all the more obvious: tenure-track and long-term contract faculty lines. Based on anecdotal reports shared during recent statewide early childhood teacher educator meetings, it appears that our field has been particularly hard hit by layoffs, retirements, and contract nonrenewals. What once were programs or departments staffed by at least two or three full-time faculty are now ‘solo shows’ with a ‘costarring cast’ of adjunct faculty. Unofficial reports by faculty still in their positions indicate that some are concerned about keeping their ECE programs open, given campus pressures for improved revenue performance. How, exactly, our postsecondary ECE teacher preparation profession ‘got here’ is unclear, as is ‘where’ this observed phenomenon will take us. We must endeavor to understand our situation, if we’re to find a way to counter what appear to be external as well as internal forces resulting in the same outcome: The disappearance of the ECE teacher educator from colleges and universities around our state.

When environmental scientists detect an unexpected decline in a species’ population, they join forces to study its prelude to extinction before it’s too late to reverse. Among the many factors they investigate is the actual extent of the species’ loss. They also examine polluting, or harmful invasions of the species’ habitat. They look broadly at other aspects of the species’ context—predatory-prey relations; physical loss of habitat; invasion by bacteria or viruses; and change in the ambient climate. By examining these factors separately and then together, scientists aim to determine whether and how they cascade to forecast doom. They use these separate studies in toto to guide them in constructing connected ways to head off further loss and prevent ultimate extinction.

Inspired by the work of these environmental scientists, my long-time colleague, professor emerita Dr. Antonia Potenza of Roosevelt University, and I have planned a prelude-to-extinction type study of Illinois’ postsecondary ECE landscape. We will start collecting survey data from programs in early 2019. We also will conduct focus groups and interviews with teacher educators, current and retired. We hope to do the same with campus administrators and other relevant personnel identified by the study participants. Our goal is to complete the bulk of the work in time for the opening of the new academic year in August.

Among our many questions are those related to mapping the current condition of programs at two- and four-year campuses, AAS and AA as well as bachelor’s and graduate-level degrees. In addition to basic demographic information (e.g., number of full-time and part-time faculty), we seek to apprehend the nature of the work being done by ECE faculty (e.g., course load, service, research and scholarship, partnerships), and how that has changed over the last five years in particular. Through focused conversations in small groups and one-on-one across the state, we also aim to limn the pressures affecting current ECE program faculty decision-making (e.g., course enrollment minimums, employer demands, funding limitations). Since this is a study—a matter of asking questions in order to more deeply understand what’s happening, what’s at stake—we won’t be asking participants for solutions. Our main goal is simple: Learn what our ECE colleagues are experiencing, and to what degree. Ideally, through our work we’ll be able to ascertain which factors most influence or otherwise affect Illinois teacher educators’ ability to keep their programs vibrant and working at true, as well as necessary, capacity.

We realize that for some reading this post, our premise may not seem relevant or accurate. We’ve learned from a small sampling that not all campuses are experiencing significant enrollment drops or increases in non-completers. These data are as relevant and critical for mapping the entire landscape as are those describing the breadth and depth of campus program mergers and reformulations, for example. As we’ve learned from the environmental scientists’ studies, it’s all relevant in unearthing the dynamism at play.

We sincerely hope you’ll be willing to participate in the activities of our study, and will respond to our various solicitations to become involved. Please know that we will collect data anonymously when requested, and maintain strict confidentiality protocols throughout. We recognize that for some, certain data may not shareable. We respect individuals’ needs, yet trust that everyone will appreciate the core purpose of our work: Guiding our collective Illinois ECE profession in keeping our system of education and training in place, as well as attuned to workforce realities.

Please let us know your preliminary thoughts, and if you’d be interested in helping us reach out to teacher educator colleagues in all counties and regions. Feel free to contact me directly via or (773) 325-7591. We hope to see you at upcoming ECE meetings and events, where we’ll be glad to informally share further plans and logistics. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Marie Donovan, ED.D.,  chairs the Early Childhood Education Program at DePaul University in Chicago. Her teaching focuses on early literacy and the literature used to foster children’s language development. She advocates for postsecondary education faculty with the Board of Higher Education and legislators around the state. Her research focuses on career pathways and vocational education, as well as teachers’ professional development. 


Questions Answered About Virtual Reality and Early Childhood Teacher Preparation (Guest blogger: Dr. Anni Reinking)

If you attended the Higher Ed. Forum in Bloomington, IL in 2018, you are able to see the early childhood virtual learning environment in action or if you read the VLE blog in 2017, you learned more about the VLE experience. However, you might still have many questions. In this blog, four of those questions will be answered.

  1. What is Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? If you have not heard of VLE before, here is a brief overview. A VLE experience provides:
  • a safe and low-stress environment for learning and refining best practices
  • practice with no harm/risk to others
  • an actively construct knowledge and apply in context
  • immediate Feedback; Debrief process where critical feedback can be incorporated in future practice
  • suspend (pause) session, regroup/discuss better options, restart session and practice new techniques (pause classroom)
  • avenue for self-reflection

Essentially, VLEs blend artificial intelligence with human intelligence. Overall, the VLE is an indispensable training tool. Studies show that simulations are more effective than other instructional methods, because they simultaneously engage participants’ emotional and cognitive processes.

  1. How do you pay for it?

Currently, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville “owns” a license which provides full access to most scenarios (parent, administrator, classrooms, office visit, etc.). SIUE purchased the license and all needed technology and materials using administrative support and grants. If teacher preparation departments have a desire to use the VLE at SIUE (it is transportable), SIUE charges $125/session. If you choose to purchase a license it is $25,000/year, along with technology costs.

How do universities pay for per hour charge? Some programs charge a student fee, others have applied to grants, and others have secured administrative support based on the transformational application of the experience.

  1. What have you found with the research completed in the early childhood VLE?

Overall the last year, Dr. Reinking has collaborated with the University of Central Florida and Illinois Action for Children to implement the early childhood classroom scenario. These are the preliminary results:

The Spring 2018 cohort overall remarked positively to their experiences using the virtual simulator (TeachLivE). Many participants’ comments focused on two areas: ability to work with others and their peers and wishing they had more time to practice in the simulator.

Three main themes emerged when participants were asked to comment about what they liked about the professional development: 1) Interacting with an avatar/using virtual learning environments, 2) practicing techniques in the simulator before they taught in the classroom, and 3) ability to ask questions and receive feedback. These three themes suggest the participants felt safe with the avatars, they were able to make mistakes and learn from them, and could transfer skills into their real classrooms.

Participants were asked if there was anything they would change about the professional development, and most said the experience was great and did not need to be changed. Other comments were very constructive, including requests of interacting more in the simulator and explanations of what the avatars can and can’t do.

Overall, participants’ comments and Likert scores suggest positive experiences with the professional development using virtual simulators. Virtual simulators:

  1. Provide a safe environment for participants to practice, learn, make mistakes, and try again before interacting with students in their classrooms.
  2. Provide a unique experience for co-teachers to practice lessons together to find which co-teaching model works best for their instruction, as well as best for the lesson they will deliver.
  3. Participants expressed the desire for more time in the simulator to hone their skills to effectively teach their classrooms.

Here is a video of one participant in the VLE at Illinois Action for Children:

In this video you see the benefit of pausing the classroom, providing, feedback, and the interactions the avatar students are able to do.

  1. How do you incorporate it into teacher preparation programs?

Currently SIUE incorporates the VLE into several courses including, but not limited to:

  • Parent teacher conferences: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in parent teacher conferences, specifically focused on difficult conversations.
  • IEP Meetings: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in IEP meetings. This is in collaboration with the special education program.
  • Co-Teaching: pre-service teachers engage in co-planning and co-teaching in the VLE.
  • Classroom Management: pre-service and in-service teachers practice developmentally appropriate behavior management practices.
  • Classroom Instruction: pre-service and in-service teachers practice various classroom instruction strategies.
  • Feedback: pre-service and in-service teachers practice providing impactful feedback (link to edTPA).

The students interact in the VLE during class time or, if time allows, during other parts of their day.

Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her research focuses on teacher preparation, virtual training, and multicultural education.

WE NEED YOU IN THE CONVERSATION! (Guest blogger: Catherine Main)

The recent report, Teach Illinois—Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms: Policy Solutions to Alleviate Teacher Shortages in Illinois (September 2018), from the Illinois State Board of Education highlighted key teacher shortage areas and offered a range of recommendations to address those shortages. On behalf of our membership we drafted a response to the report. Our response is below.

But, this is just the start of the conversation. We need to continually be engaged and participate in our professional organizations (ILAECTE) as well as local and state level committees that recommend practices and policies impacting our program and students. Please RSVP to our Meeting on November 2, 2018 at Elmhurst College.

The Illinois Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educator (ILAECTE) is professional organization representing faculty and administrators in early childhood teacher educations program across Illinois institutions of higher education. It is an affiliate organization of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

As an organization focused on issues impacting the recruitment, preparation and assessment of teacher candidates in early childhood education programs we appreciate the opportunity to respond to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) report, Teach Illinois—Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms: Policy Solutions to Alleviate Teacher Shortages in Illinois (September 2018).

Our comments are based on our collective experiences in both teacher preparation and broader policy making within early childhood education. We have organized our responses around four key areas that we believe impact the identification of the problems and potential solutions for teacher shortages across early childhood education programs in Illinois.

Create a more accurate data portrait of both Illinois children in early childhood programs and the Illinois early childhood workforce.

While we recognize that the data referring to Illinois students is now frequently represented as P-12, we do not have an accurate definition of what the “P” actually represents. Illinois children are served across a range of programs, including programs administered by ISBE such as Preschool For All (PFA) and Prevention Initiative (PI). These programs are offered in both school-based settings and community based settings. When calculating the demand for early childhood teachers in Illinois, which programs are included and what settings are included?

We were surprised to see that early childhood was not highlighted as major shortage area in Illinois. Other published data shows a significant shortage in the number of teachers with Professional Educator Licenses (PEL) with endorsements in early childhood education and subsequent endorsements in bilingual/ESL and early childhood special education. These shortages are represented in the very high turnover rates across early childhood programs.[1] Additionally, during the same period of preschool expansion from half day programs to more classrooms and full day programs, in our most underserved communities, the number of teachers entitled to a PEL with an endorsement in early childhood education dropped from 1,365 in 2012 to just 599 in 2017.[2]

We recommended a broader and more inclusive analysis of data regarding early childhood programs to produce a more accurate portrait of the actual supply and demand of highly qualified teachers.

Remove the testing requirement of academic proficiency and replace with a more comprehensive assessment of academic proficiency.  

While it may not have been the intention of the state legislature and the subsequent ISBE rules regarding academic proficiency, the required passing score thresholds on the tests of academic proficiency (e.g. ITAP, ACT, SAT) have done more to limit access and opportunity, particularly for minorities, than any other program requirement. The data is conclusive: not only have less than one-third of all test takers passed the test on the first attempt, fewer and fewer potential teacher candidates are even taking the test. For example, between 2015 and 2017, the percentage of African American test-takers dropped from 11 percent to just 3 percent.[3] Moreover there is scant evidence regarding a correlation, much less a causal connection, between tests of academic proficiency and teacher quality.

What we do know is that socio-cultural matches between teachers and children[4] and teacher years of experience[5] impact student outcomes. Instead of focusing on tests of academic proficiency, the focus should be on recruiting and supporting more diverse teacher candidates, particularly from the incumbent early childhood workforce as well as teacher assistants and paraprofessionals. We also recommend immediately replacing a single test score as an indicator with a range of factors that represent a teacher candidate’s academic proficiency such grade point averages and degree completion, including AA and AAS degrees.

Create more accessible, viable and equitable pathways to teaching.

As mentioned above, diversity and experience are important to teacher effectiveness. We recommend a full review of ISBE licensure program rules to identify and remove barriers that impede opportunities for working adults, such as licensed child care providers, teacher assistants, and paraprofessionals to enroll and successfully complete teacher licensure programs. These barriers include rules regarding where teacher candidates can student teach, whether or not they can be compensated for student teaching and specific qualifications related to cooperating teachers, on site mentors, and administrator responsible for teacher evaluation. In addition, we recommend a well-defined option that includes a sequence of coursework and practicum experiences for elementary education teachers and teacher candidates to add a subsequent endorsement in early childhood education to a PEL with an endorsement in elementary education. We strongly advise against a short-sighted solution of reconfiguring grade bans to include K in the elementary licensure. Including K exclusively in the early childhood licensure represents a decision by multiple stakeholders and ISBE to put the learning and developmental needs of young children ahead of administrative ease of building staffing. We are eager to work with ISBE and other stakeholders to continue our efforts in competency based solutions and improved transfer and articulation initiative pathways that focus on supporting our incredibly diverse incumbent early childhood workforce as well as viable options for elementary education teachers to add an early childhood endorsement.

Create a new paradigm for teacher and program evaluation.

We believe that evaluation systems that focus on student outcomes, particularly as measured by standardized tests are problematic at every level—but especially in early childhood education. Development and learning for young children is both uneven and sporadic. Additionally, we know that children come to school with a variety of strengths and experiences that do not create a level playing field when evaluating their progress. For example, not all children have access to high quality food, housing, community and family resources, school resources etc. Appropriate assessment of what young children know and can do must should be done through observation and in authentic contents only. As a result, we lack the measurable evidence that can we attributed to either the teacher or the licensure program a teacher completed. Teacher and program evaluation should instead be focused on improvement and support. We recommend removing all references to student outcomes from both early childhood teacher and early childhood preparation program data collection, monitoring and evaluations.


Rebecca Pruitt-President

Catherine Main- Past President

Kathleen Sheridan- Past President and Secretary

[1] Main, C., Yarbrough, K.W. & Patten, B. (2018). Voices from the front lines of early learning: 2017 Illinois early childhood workforce survey report. Chicago, IL: UIC College of Education. Retrieved from

[2] Author’s calculations using data from ISBE Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois—2014 Annual Report. Retrieved from and ISBE Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois—2017 Annual Report. Retrieved from

[3] Latino Policy Forum calculations from ISBE data. Retrieved from

[4] Egalite, A. & Kisada, B. (2017) The Effects of Teacher Match on Students’ Academic Perceptions and Attitudes. Retrieved from

[5] Kini, T., & Podolsky, A. Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research (Palo Alto: Learning Policy Institute, 2016). Retrieved from: does-teaching-experience-increase-teacher-effectiveness-review-research.

Catherine Main is a senior lecturer and program coordinator in the College of Education and a visiting scholar on the Early Investments Initiative with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the University of Illinois- Chicago.


Unanticipated Responsibilities of a First-Time Preschool Teacher (Guest blogger: David Banzer)

I started teaching as a preschool teacher assistant. I had taken a couple human development course while completing my undergraduate degree in psychology, but had no real experience teaching in a preschool classroom. While working as a teacher assistant at Erie Neighborhood House’s early childhood program, a Head Start and Preschool for All program, I applied at an Alternative Certification program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This model of alternative certification gave me early childhood knowledge through coursework while allowing me to apply this knowledge directly to the classroom immediately. I was also working with an outstanding preschool teacher who provided me with an excellent model of appropriate teaching practices and genuine care for young children. When I finished the UIC program with teacher licensure, the lead teacher in my classroom left our center, I became the lead teacher in the classroom. I felt prepared to be successful in my teaching, but also had an understanding my teaching journey was just beginning. While I felt able in my abilities to teach, I knew that there was a great deal that I would need to learn as I had experiences as a teacher.

In my current role as an education coordinator supporting curriculum of an early childhood center at Erie House, and as a doctoral student at UIC teaching coursework in early childhood, I realize how rich my apprenticeship into preschool teaching was integral to my transition to becoming a teacher. I also understand that other teachers have not had experiences similar to mine.

While I was eased into becoming a lead teacher, early childhood teachers may find themselves in a teaching position directly out of a teacher preparation program with a great deal of responsibility that they had not anticipated. These responsibilities or unanticipated expectations could include the following:

  • Teaching team and team dynamics
  • Having supervision responsibilities for teaching assistants
  • Becoming a part of the school/center culture
  • Self-identifying areas for professional development
  • Developing systems of reflective practice

Teaching in an early childhood environment is a team effort. Preschool classrooms having teaching teams of 2-3 teaching staff, with a teacher leading, providing direction to teacher assistants, and in some cases being direct supervisors to their teacher assistants. This dynamic of teamwork requires effort for all teaching staff. There is a balance for a new teacher starting in a classroom where other teaching staff have worked for a long period of time. How does a teacher become the leader of this classroom when she relies on assistants to relay pertinent information about how the classroom runs, curriculum and assessment systems in place, and paperwork that needs to be completed daily? Within this team dynamic, a teacher may have supervision responsibilities for her teacher assistants that may affect how this team works cohesively. This is a situation that some teachers may find themselves in, and one they may need to consider and prepare themselves for.

Each school or early childhood center is unique. While pre-service teachers have experiences in student teaching, these school environments might not match the school where they begin teaching at. For example, a pre-service teacher may have a student teaching experience where teachers at the school might have had formal structures for sharing information and teaching practices, such as mentor relationships for peer learning groups. It is important to note that not all schools or centers will have these types of formal structures in place. To what extent do teachers take initiative to share ideas with other teachers, or ask for help? What type of feedback for instruction exists? Does the school primarily serve a specific population? These factors will affect the overall school culture that a teacher will find herself in. Additionally, there in a variety of early childhood settings, including Head Start centers, public schools, private daycare centers, parochial schools, &c. that teachers may be teaching at. These different types of settings will have unique experiences in administrative structures and teacher supports.

Finally, a key aspect of becoming a teacher is understanding that teaching is a lifelong process of development, growth, and reflection on teaching practices and the overall experience of being a teacher. To what extent are first year teachers aware of this? Understanding this humbling approach may play an important factor in how successful or stressful a teacher’s first year of teaching may be. While we hope that pre-service teachers leave programs with pedagogical and content knowledge in early childhood, the application of this knowledge takes time and requires knowing when to apply what knowledge. Entering a preschool classroom and expecting to implement project-based learning approaches during a teacher’s first week will likely not go well. Focusing on teacher-child relationships and getting to know the children in her classroom is likely a better approach rather than implementing more complex pedagogical practices. To what extent can a teacher reflect on her instruction and treat a bad day in the classroom as an opportunity for reflection and growth? How does she reflect in a way that serves to identify areas of instruction that she may want to improve? To what extent do teachers know when to seek out the help of others or look for professional resources and professional development opportunities?

The start of the school year can be a very stressful time for a new teacher in early childhood education. Learning aspects of a school’s culture, forming a cohesive teaching team, and reflecting on instructional experiences may not be what a first-time teacher anticipates when taking a new teaching position. Preparing early childhood educators to be successful includes not only teaching early childhood pedagogical and content knowledge, but also the realities of what being a teacher actually is. Understanding the factors outside of the actual teaching of young children, could prepare pre-service teachers on the beginning of their teaching journey.


David Banzer is a doctoral student in educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a focus on early math learning and instruction. He is currently the Education Coordinator of the early childhood program at Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago. He was previously a preschool teacher.

In Preschool GEOMETRY is NOT a Bad Word!! (Guest blogger: Sherial McKinney, M.S. Ed.)

Many times I hear people say that they didn’t like and/or didn’t understand Geometry in high school. Many say they do not see the importance of Geometry. However, we use Geometry all the time. Geometry is involved when we:

  • Use a map or GPS,
  • Put groceries away in a cupboard,
  • Rearrange a room,
  • Complete a puzzle,
  • Give directions or follow directions,
  • Pack a suitcase,
  • Park a car, and
  • Put on make-up

Geometry is one of the five content areas in mathematics. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) identifies these content standards for Pre-K through 12th grade.

  • Number and Operations
  • Measurement
  • Geometry
  • Algebra
  • Data Analysis and Probability

Young children already have and utilize some geometric concepts when they enter Pre-K that can be extended and built upon. In Prekindergarten, children are NOT doing proofs and formulas as many of us remember doing in our school careers. Young children are involved in experiences and activities that help them understand shapes, spatial relationships and the properties of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional objects.

NCTM points out in their Focus in Pre-K: Teaching with Curriculum Focal Points, “Geometry and measurement are two of the U.S. student’s weakest topics in mathematics. Even in the preschool years, children in the U.S. know less about shape than children in other countries.” As educators of young children, we need to recognize the importance of children’s knowledge and understanding of geometric concepts beyond circle, square, and triangle. This does NOT mean using flash cards or worksheets! It does mean giving children hands-on opportunities. As teachers of young children we need to be very intentional about planning opportunities, incorporating appropriate materials, and introducing and using math language and vocabulary for all of our students. Sally Moomaw states, “The more experiences children have with geometry in meaningful contexts, the more they can construct and solidify foundational concepts.”

The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute states Shapes and Spatial Thinking are Big Ideas in their book, Big Ideas of Early Mathematics: What Teachers of Young Children Need to Know. This is a guide to assist teachers in being more intentional and knowledgeable with their activities, questioning, and language regarding Geometry.


Defining and Classifying Shapes

 Sometimes, people think that young children only need to know the names of the basic shapes – circle, square, triangle, and rectangle.   The goal/outcome is deeper and more extensive. The goal is to help young children learn attributes of each basic shape. The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute uses the activity, “Feel for Shapes” to assist Pre-K students in recognizing shapes by using their sense of touch instead of their sense of sight. The Early Math Collaborative points out:

Children need to go beyond the use of superficial shape labels to recognizing and specifying the defining attributes of shapes. As children sort and classify shapes with knowledgeable others, they become aware of rules about shapes, such as that a triangle has three sides and three angles. -“Feel for Shapes,“ Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative website –

2-Dimensional and 3-Dimensional Shapes

As teachers of young children, sometimes we focus a great deal on 2-D shapes. How often do we provide experiences and supportive math language with 3-D shapes? It is important to use the correct terms. We need to remember that a baseball is not a circle, it is a sphere.

As children are playing in the block area, we can point out how the flat faces of a solid cylinder are 2-D shapes which would be circles while pointing out that the entire solid 3-D block is called a cylinder. What other interest areas in the classroom can we focus on 2-D and 3-D shapes?

3-D Shapes – Ball is a sphere. The faces on each end of the cylinder are circles

Combining Shapes and Decomposing Shapes

 Children need time to explore shapes and discover that two triangles could make a square or six triangles can make a hexagon. Pattern blocks and unit blocks provide numerous opportunities for composing and decomposing shapes.

Children can also deconstruct a cereal box and see the different shapes and sizes of each side of the box. With assistance children can begin putting the box back together with tape.

As Creative Curriculum for Preschoolers from Teaching Strategies states in their Mathematics Volume that young children need “to recognize shapes, build with them, illustrate them in their own way, describe shape attributes, compare shapes, and sort them by their characteristics.” While doing this children are also working on other skills along with Geometry such as: fine motor as they draw, algebraic skills as they sort the shapes, measurement as they compare shapes, and language skills as they describe shapes during their play and in their conversations.

Spatial Thinking

 Describing Space

 Along with recognizing shapes, young children also need to be exposed to and utilize spatial thinking. The children are developing their understanding of where objects are in relationship to other objects, people, and/or places. Many of us think of using descriptive words only as a language skill instead of geometric concepts. When teachers or parents give a direction or statement such as “Joey is standing in front of his brother,” they are giving a precise description of where Joey is in relationship to his brother.

When children play a game by following directions such as put the plastic egg behind their back, they demonstrate their knowledge or emerging knowledge of behind. With this knowledge a teacher will determine the next steps in their lesson planning for scaffolding children’s geometric concepts.

Visualizing Space

Children benefit from experiences that can help them visualize spatial relationships. Doing puzzles helps children develop this skill. Eventually children can begin to see mentally where pieces of the puzzle go without doing a trial and error approach.

Teachers also use geometric terms such as turn, flip, and slide as they assist or observe children working on puzzles.  This spatial visualization helps children distinguish if a library book will fit in their bookbag/backpack.

As an educator or parent, research has shown that our attitude toward math will influence young children’s attitudes toward math. Even if we do not like Geometry, we do not want to state that to children. We need to become an actor and act as though we do. If we can’t answer a child’s question, let them know you will find out the answer or encourage the child to assist you in finding the answer. Geometry is all around our young children, and it is something that will be used throughout their lives.


Big Ideas of Early Mathematics: What Teachers of Young Children Need to Know by The Early Math Collaborative-Erikson Institute

Focus in Pre-K: Teaching with Curriculum Focal Points from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

 Principles and Standards for School Mathematics from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Teaching Mathematics in Early Childhood by Sally Moomaw

The Creative Curriculum® for Preschool – Teaching Strategies

Sherial McKinney, M.S. Ed., is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I and III located at Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL. She has taught in a public school district and worked in the field of early childhood education for over 40 years. She is very interested in mathematics education for young children.


Message from ILAECTE President

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Welcome to another new academic year! As I move into my second year of serving this great organization, I continue to be amazed by the dedication and passion I see among early childhood teacher educators in Illinois. I am particularly inspired by ILAECTE members who work tirelessly on behalf of both current students and potential future students even in the midst of their very demanding academic lives. As we enter the 2018-2019 academic year, ILAECTE continues to be a recognized leader and respected voice in the ongoing conversation about how to best serve the needs of young children and families in our state.

As I write this, I have just been informed that Senate Bill 1829 was just signed into law! Congratulations to all that worked to see this bill through to the end. As we look to the new year and survey the current EC landscape in Illinois, the ILAECTE leadership team has established the following items as priorities for our organization:

  • Continued cultivation of a community of practice, in which members inspire and encourage one another by sharing from their own experiences in program development, curriculum, school partnerships, community partnerships, research, student mentoring, consulting, etc.
  • Continued commitment to addressing our critical early childhood work force needs through new and innovative collaborations among Illinois early childhood teacher educators.
  • Development of creative ideas to promote ECED/ECSE programs within our own institutions (including leadership), student populations, local communities, etc.
  • Continued engagement in all state-level initiatives impacting EC teacher preparation through active participation in and leadership of state-level committees, task forces and work groups.
  • Continued work toward nurturing and strengthening the relationship between four-year and two-year programs / ACCESS.
  • Continued engagement with state leadership in the implementation of a Competency Based Education model for early childhood teacher preparation in Illinois.

Many sincere thanks to our colleagues that serve as members of state-level work groups and committees in addition to their active participation in ILAECTE, maximizing our collaborative advocacy efforts. As always, I encourage you to consider joining forces with at least one of these groups to add your voice to these critical conversations. We will once again highlight these opportunities at our annual fall meeting on November 2nd.

National attention on the work that we do as early childhood teacher educators continues to increase, and there is much to be hopeful about as we look to the future of ECTE. I hope that you will engage with ILAECTE even more deeply this year as we work together to advocate for the most valuable and vulnerable members of our communities. I look forward to our work together!


Rebecca J. Pruitt, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Lewis University and director of Early Childhood Special Education. She currently serves as President of ILAECTE. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum Studies, an MS in Family Relations/Child Development, and a BA in Early Childhood. She can be reached at

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

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. worth.html

Clements, D. (2013, September). Math in the early years. ECS Research Brief: The Progress of EducationalReform, 14(5). Retrieved from 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.


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.










Web links in text:

Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs: Serving children from birth through age 8

Spiritual Experiences in Early Childhood Education

Sharing my Journey and Opening Spaces: Spirituality in the Classroom

YouTube Video “How can we nurture children’s spirituality? – Strategies for the Classroom.

Early Childhood Educators’ Perceptions of Nurturing Spirituality in Secular Settings