The Many Branches of Early Education Advocacy: Making Lasting Change

When it comes to early education advocacy there is no “final” branch. The lack of high-quality early childhood care and education stretches its reach far beyond the families and children that we have mentioned in the previous articles of this series. If we look at the larger picture, we can see how it impacts businesses, communities, and our greater country. This is to say that no single individual is immune from its impact, whether they have direct connections to children or not. When we think about the future of our town, our state, our country, and our world, early education should be at the forefront as a highly impacting agent of change. To really delve into how others are impacted by this issue, we must think about our Country and the values that we promote. As early educators, we have included a hope for the future of all of our students in our philosophy. Our hope was for the students in our care to become happy and joyful members of  our democratic society. This includes teaching individuals social and emotional skills and language when their brain is forming these connections prior to reaching the age of five. Early childhood education is the gateway to happy and well developed children who can fulfill this hope and contribute to our society.

Fulfilling this hope will provide significant benefits for the workforce development of the future. However, we also can see how a lack of access to early education directly impacts the businesses of today. Employers rely on their workers to be present and productive. If their employees have access to affordable, high-quality child care options, they CAN be present and productive. This diminishes turnover in the workplace. When a talented employee decides to leave their position due to lack of affordable high-quality child care, the employers are left with the costly task of recruiting and training a new worker. In this way, they lose money and productivity at their business. The good news is that businesses can turn this around by providing a family-centered workplace that supports the field of early education and care.

So how can this happen? The systemic problems that the field of early education are advocating to change can feel monumentally overwhelming. It does not have to be! The greatest, and most impactful change comes from small steps which can create a larger movement. Some of these small steps are already in place. Organizations such as Let’s Grow Kids are working to inform the public about the benefits of early care and education while simultaneously representing the voice of the people in the state house. Early educators, families, and community members are already sharing their stories in hopes that they can encourage change. Parents are participating alongside their children in public events to voice hope for a better future.

How can YOU impact change?

Share your story. Talk to  your family, your friends, your neighbors, your workplace, your representatives. By telling your story you are helping to initiate a movement to support the youngest citizens and the future of our country. Your story might be simple – the cost of early care and education was a burden for your family or that you are aware of the burden it is to others who are less fortunate. It also might be complex – perhaps you had to leave your job due to lack of high-quality care. Either way you can be a courageous advocate just by sharing your story!

Be informed. Knowing the importance of high-quality early care and education is imperative to shifting the thinking of others. It is important to know what high quality care looks like, how it is measured, and what impacts it has on a child’s growth and development. As a citizen who bears the right to vote you need to know WHY this is important and what your representatives are doing to make sure it is top priority.  

Repeat. This process will be long, but a brighter future is in sight! You may not make a policy level change with one conversation, but not having that conversation only ensures that the problems plaguing the system will persist. During our meeting with Senator and President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, he shared his concerns for a mounting childcare problem in this state and the perspective that we are continually placing “band-aids” on a broken system, which is costly and ineffective for the long-term health of our children. Sharing our story repeatedly is the only way to spread awareness that is desperately needed to bring about lasting change.

Sign the Petition at Let’s Grow Kids – Help us create a brighter future!

 

The Many Branches of Early Education Advocacy Series: Investing in Young Children is Investing in the Future of America

Just a few generations ago, the American Dream was an attainable goal that many young people readily sought out and achieved. Young couples would marry, purchase homes, and start families. Living was inexpensive. Men would provide for the family and women would take care of the children. This version of American life was not without its flaws. We now have more accepted and diverse lifestyle opportunities with open perspectives and varying versions of what used to be considered the nuclear family.  The women’s movements empowered women and allowed them to finally have the chance to find their place in the world outside of their homes. As more and more women entered the workforce following the war, a new need arose. The need for childcare. This need was not isolated to America alone. Childcare needs arose across Europe and in other developed nations who saw a dramatic shift in workforce expectations. In 1971 the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Childcare Act, a bill that would provide quality, affordable child care to families. Is this new information to you? It definitely was to us and just about everyone who we have spoken to after they watched the documentary titled The Raising of America . Anyone who has had a young child in the last several decades is well aware that childcare is not affordable and lacking high quality options. Despite a multitude of support, ultimately President Nixon vetoed the bill, leaving the child care crisis for future Americans.  

The global economy has changed the way families live. We are now seeing an increase in working parents because both parents need to work. This increase is necessary for the survival of their family.  According to The Raising of America twenty five percent of jobs pay their workers poverty level wages (The Raising of America). Coupled with average annual costs of about $10,000 for center based child care, it is no wonder that one in four children under the age of five are living in poverty (The Raising of America). The repercussions of our Nation’s lack of investment in young children are mounting. The Raising of America cites data showing that the U.S. has dropped to number twenty six out of twenty nine nations in the rankings for child well-being across multiple dimensions and has dropped 23 places in high school graduation rates since 1970. While these statistics provide shocking truths about how our children are growing up, they do not provide the micro data about child development and the incurred costs on our public education system. Schools have seen dramatic increases in students needing Special Education services. Teachers report significant increases in behavioral challenges in the classroom. Parents are increasingly accessing government services. It is safe to say we are failing our Nation’s youngest citizens. This is an opportune time to make a change for the better in our country and our state.

Vermont has not been immune to the child care crisis. Let’s Grow Kids (LGK) is a Vermont campaign to raise awareness of the need for access to high-quality early care and education as a foundation for the long term success of children.  LGK has compiled data showing that “almost half of Vermont infants and toddlers who are likely to need childcare don’t have access to regulated programs” (Let’s Grow Kids General Info Pamphlet).  This is alarming considering they also state that 70% of Vermont’s infants and toddlers have all of their parents in the workforce (Let’s Grow Kids Building the Brain Handout). For these children, access to  affordable, high-quality education by professional teachers is essential.

“We are born with most of our 86 billion brain cells (neurons), but those cells are only weakly connected. It’s our experiences during the very first years of life which literally wire together and shape the architecture of our developing brains, building a strong or weak foundation for future learning, earning, and mental and physical health, and affecting whether our stress management system responds appropriately or not to real or perceived threats. This is why safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments are among the most powerful and protective forces in a young child’s life.”

-The Raising of America

As early educators we have invested a significant amount of time into refining our personal philosophy on education to ensure that it reflects the highest quality of care. Research has shown us that high quality early education and care provides a foundation for children to foster and flourish into creative, independent, and competent individuals in our society. A baby’s brain makes 1 million new connections every second. These connections, or neuro-pathways, enrich brain function. Nurturing relationships with caregivers, stimulating learning opportunities, and nutrition are the most significant contributing factors to strengthening brain development. Providing these in the early years is essential, as the brain is 90% developed by age 5 (Let’s Grow Kids). In our educational philosophy we honor social and emotional development as the most important skill in the early education classroom or setting. Relationships are the very foundation of this. From the earliest of ages children rely on the comfort of a strong care giver relationship as a safe foundation to set off and explore the world from. These crucial relationships then expand and blossom. From the child’s relationship to their caregivers, to their peers, to their school, to their community, and to the world. With this foundation in place children are provided with the ability to discover and explore the relationships that interconnect every aspect of how the world works. Relationships, are not only our connection to each other, but to everything else in this beautiful world. A low stress environment with the opportunity to form healthy attachments to their caregivers is best to support positive social and emotional development. But our current data reveals we are not investing in early eduction to give families or early educators a chance to provide this type of environment for children. 

 

Back to the post-war era. The Reggio Emilia Approach has continually come up within our posts as it is dear to our hearts and it is essential that we discuss the relevance of the history of this teaching philosophy to the advocacy work in this series as well. In 1945 near Reggio Emilia, Italy, just after World War II, the people were left to rebuild the wreckage of their lives after the dramas of war. As they set about reconstructing their society, they knew it was essential to establish an early education system with schools that were “ free from oppression, injustice and inequality” (https://thereggioapproach.weebly.com/history-and-philosophy.html) They were determined to create a society that could provide services to all children and families that would rectify inequalities. Early childhood centers were established in the poorest areas of Reggio Emilia, Italy. The schools relied on support from the families and local communities to continue running. As the demand grew for women to enter the workforce in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a group of workers, farmers and the Union of Italian Women (https://www.reggioalliance.org/narea/) created additional preschools including infant and toddler centers as well. With the guiding principles from Loris Malaguzzi and community support, the people of Reggio Emilia designed specific environments for children that were developmentally appropriate. Many American teachers, including ourselves, emulate and use the Reggio Emilia approach in our high quality classrooms today. The Reggio Emilia schools would not have been possible had they lacked the support of their local community.

It is now our role to muster this same energy from our local communities here in Vermont to solve the early education crisis for our state and possibly for America. By collaborating with the many organizations mentioned throughout this series Vermont has the unique opportunity to aim to be the first state to provide high quality and affordable childcare and hopes to become a model for the rest of our nation. This large task does not come without its challenges. There is currently a Think Tank of people from diverse organizations working to try to present options to solve the issue of childcare in Vermont. The largest hurdle that early care and education faces is money. Education is expensive and early education is significantly underfunded. The Let’s Grow Kids pamphlet cites a recent study, saying, “…that every dollar invested to expand early care and learning programs in Vermont would yield $3.08 in return—for a total of $1.3 billion in net benefits to Vermont’s economy over the next 60 years.” It is time to make an investment in the future of our children, our state, and our nation. Go to www.letsgrowkids,org to sign the petition and ask our legislators to out their votes where they count!

The Pioneers in Early Education Pedagogical Philosophy for Social and Emotional Learning

Our philosophy is that a child’s social and emotional growth is of the utmost importance. We have created a classroom environment that presents the opportunity to find a love for oneself, for others, and for life. Our intention is to support their development into happy, peaceful, courageous, and kind individuals that can be positive contributors to a community. We believe that the children can be leaders in their own social and emotional development. We are advocates for the children by helping them understand and cope with their emotions.

 

Organizations:

Let’s Grow Kids

References:

The Raising of America: The Signature Hour Discussion Guide

Let’s Grow Kids Building the Brain Handout 2016

 

 

The Many Branches of Early Education Advocacy Series: Advocating for Early Educators through Professionalization of the Workforce

Who are early childhood educators? What do they exactly do? How did they get into the field? What are their qualifications? All of these questions are essential to truly understanding the workforce that supports our Nation’s youngest learners. Sadly, these questions often go unasked. People outside of the field have little or no understanding of the importance of early childhood education and tremendous work that early educators engage in. This is why we hear people referring to early childhood educators as “babysitters,” “teachers,” “daycare workers,” or “educators.” There is no unified title to support those working in the field. Early childhood educators are not even sure what to call themselves. There are a multitude of names for educators in addition to various types of early education settings. For the purpose of our series we will refer to ourselves as educators, as that is what we are.  We should also clarify that using the term “daycare” or “babysitter” does not indicate the form of respect that early educators desperately deserve. Early educators are just that – educators supporting the development of children from birth through the age of five.

This of course brings up another set of questions from the public: why should we care about the educational opportunities provided to children from birth through age five? Don’t they just play? Or the most dreaded of comments: they will learn when they go to “real” school. However we now know that the period of development from birth to age five is essential to providing positive outcomes for children. Ninety percent of the brain is developed within the first five years of life. Research has shown that what a child learns in the first five years of life will affect the trajectory of their lives. Early educators teach children by providing learning opportunities through play and nurturing environments that build essential connections in their brains. Play IS learning for children in the early years and should never be diminished.

Early learning environments vary greatly and there are an abundance of different types and categories of settings. Within each category there are many different philosophies and variations of these settings. Diversity of environments for early learning allows each family and child to choose what is best for them. No options are better or worse as long as they are providing high-quality care. We will start to define high-quality early education later in this series. 

One of the most important goals for the field of early childhood education is the professionalization of the workforce. We must begin to define the standards and qualifications for early educators in order to bring the respect that this field needs and deserves. Just as there is no unified title for early childhood educators, there are no nationally unified criteria for those working in the field. The state of Vermont recently rolled out a set of new childcare regulations that increase the educational requirements for those working in early childhood education. Coupled with the Act 166 funding, which requires childcare centers or home-based providers to have a licensed teacher for preschool education, Vermont is seeing in influx demand for highly qualified early educators. However, the education requirements are not reflected in the compensation, benefits, and reputation that plague the field. Early education businesses struggle to pay their employees a livable wage and many do not offer any benefits. Public education teachers have recently had their moment in the spotlight as they advocate for their own livable wages both locally and nationally. According to app.com, Vermont teachers make an average salary of $58,578 (https://www.app.com/story/news/investigations/data/analysis/2018/04/12/teacher-salary-2017/508703002/).  The Vermont Commission on Women and Let’s Grow Kids white paper report titled Women, Work, and Child Care lists the annual average salary for a childcare worker in Vermont as $25,080, below the livable wage. This salary disparity is one of the root causes for the frequent turn over and lack of high quality educators in the field, proving that simply increasing the educational requirements will not alone professionalize the field. Instead, it creates a “top down” approach, where regulations are forcing workers into costly professional development situations that are not publicly recognized nor compensated. This isn’t to say that there are no programs that support professional development in the early education field and help to carry the cost burden. However, this cannot be a one directional approach. Early educators, in collaboration with other supporters of the field, need to find their voice and speak for their own needs. The community needs to truly understand and value the contributions that early educators provide our society.  Professionalization of  the early education workforce will assure more children can receive a higher quality of care and learning during their most formative years of life. Working together to create an appropriate path for professionalizing the field will foster respect for the educators and, in turn, increases in income, hours, and benefits will follow. 

Currently, there are many organizations that are working to pave the way for professionalism of early education. Nationally, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC, is engaging in this task through their Power to the Profession initiative. Locally, Vermont Birth to Five is investing in the continued development of the profession. The state recognizes the need to offer continued professional support to advance the quality and quantity of early educators in the field. Other initiatives, such as The Empowerment Project (a professional development series hosted by Positive Spin, LLC and sponsored by Let’s Grow Kids) work to engage the workforce community in advocacy, collaboration, and brainstorming on a local level. Early educators who see the professionalization of the field on the horizon should be strongly encouraged to join movements at both the local and national levels. As graduates of The Empowerment Project, we highly recommend this series to kick start ideas and momentum toward effective advocacy. Aside from the skills and mindful approaches addressed in the series, participants gain knowledge of the colleagues and agencies that are working to support them. The series also provides a forum to share innovations and desired outcomes with those who can provide a direct impact. Recognizing the importance of each persons voice in this advocacy movement is essential to ensuring an achievable plan for the professionalization of the field. 

Join the conversation!

If you are an early educator or support the early education field in any way here are some resources to help you become involved:

Building Bright Futures

Vermont Birth to Five

National Association for the Education of Young Children or NAEYC (Power to the Profession)

Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children or VT AEYC

T.E.A.C.H. (Teacher Education and Compensation Helps) Early Childhood®

The Permanent Fund 

Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance

Vermont Child Care Providers Association

If you are a parent, grandparent, or community member who is interested in learning more about the early childhood profession and advocacy:

Let’s Grow Kids – Sign the Petition

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The Many Branches of Early Education Advocacy

The Complexity of Early Education Includes Everyone

It Takes A Village

We have recently found ourselves in the midst of several opportunities to hear from Early Education Advocates or to present our own advocacy ideas. These experiences have encouraged us to have conversations about our role and expectations in this field. Most recently, we had the opportunity to sit on a panel with other professionals in the field and hear from Early Educators who were doing the hard work of brainstorming ways to transform the field that they hold dear to their hearts. This opportunity took place as part of The Empowerment Project, a workshop series hosted by Lisa Guerrero and Ellen Drollette of Positive Spin, LLC. and sponsored by Let’s Grow Kids. This particular series required us to travel, leaving us with time to reflect on the way home. We had a very rich conversation about the problems that are plaguing early childhood education: politics, financial problems, system problems, personnel problems. The list can truly go on. This is when we decided to list ALL of the problems that we could think of in the field. One idea snowballed into another and we began to connect all of the dots. If a parent cannot find care for their young child, they cannot go to work. The employer loses an employee and now must expend additional resources to replace them. The government loses tax payer dollars. In some instances, families may require additional financial assistance. This increases the need for community resources. An increased need in one area of the community might lead to decreased funding in another area affecting others who are accessing that program. Now we have a family who is directly affected, as well as an employer, community agency, government, and community. This is only one scenario. We could easily share others that include missed opportunities to connect families to essential services which could lead to increased need once the child enters the public school system, familial stressors due to financial problems which could lead to increased mental health problems, and more. This is how early childhood care and education becomes EVERYONE’S problem.

While we know that advocating for high quality, affordable early childhood education is important for everyone to participate in, we also recognize that we all have different roles in this task. And it truly is a TASK. So monumental in fact that we often find ourselves wondering where to begin. And we know we are not alone. At our recent events we heard from other early educators who feel frustrated with the systems or overwhelmed by the amount of work to do. We totally understand! It is overwhelming and frustrating. It is HARD work. But even the smallest amount of effort can make a change. Sharing one idea with someone can have a snowball effect, one that will help to counteract the problems incurred by lack of high-quality care.  We have decided to compile some of the issues that early childhood education is facing and will be posting a multi-part series to follow. Our series is not an exhaustive list by any means. We have done some research in an effort to bring awareness to agencies working on these issues.While we know that we will continue to advocate in all aspects of the field, we encourage others to learn more about the issues and start small in advocating for the one that speaks to them. Perhaps you are an educator who is concerned about wages or a parent struggling to find care. There is a saying that goes “Many hands make light work.” This could never be truer than in the work of advocacy. We are in this together and together we will make a change!

 

Are we Lobbyists? Positive Deviance has a Place in Politics

Meetings with local politicians to talk Early Education

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By now you may have noticed that The Reggio Approach has been a grand inspiration for our pedagogy and philosophy on early education. Part of this is because The Reggio Approach is not exact or permanent. It is fluid, evolving, emerging, and reflective. These principals provide a flexible groundwork to build an ideal setting and community that allow children to thrive. A favorite poem written by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of The Reggio Approach, titled The 100 Languages is always present in our interactions. The poem, published in its entirety below, encourages us to look at the world through the eyes and experiences of our youngest citizens.    

The Hundred Languages Poem

Early education is more than just teaching kindergarten readiness skills. Early education is about being present and responsive to support the growth of the whole child.  Children truly do have a hundred ways of thinking and a hundred ways of communicating their ideas. This is evident if you have spent any time in a classroom where young children are thriving. And we have to add that ALL children deserve the opportunity to thrive. Unfortunately, in the United States, mounting research shows that we are not investing enough to ensure that this is possible (Check out our blog post here to see the trailer from The Raising of America, a documentary about the early education crisis that our country faces). Staying true to our Positively Deviant ways, we have been stepping out of our comfort zone and challenging ourselves to engage in new experiences that promote awareness of the needs that our most vulnerable citizens face.

On Wednesday we took our first big step outside of our comfort zone. As we walked up in the pouring rain, we laughed and asked “Are these the doors we go in?” Neither one of us ever expected that our passion for early childhood education would take us to the Vermont State House in Montpelier. But now is the time to use our voices to gain political support for investing in high quality and affordable early education for all children in Vermont. Our goal is to push for policies that will create a better system in which all children can flourish with high quality care from professional early educators. Vermont has potential to become the first state to establish a system that can be modeled for the rest of America.

As we entered the heavy doors and were immersed in the hustle and bustle of our local politicians running through the halls of a beautifully architectured building we both felt our nerves and excitement peak. Thankfully we did not have to go it alone – we had some wonderful help from the advocates at Let’s Grow Kids who gave us an unofficial tour and abbreviated lesson to help us prepare for our meetings. We had two meetings set up, one with Senator Claire Ayer (Addison County, VT) and another with Senator Tim Ashe (Chittenden County, VT – President Pro Tempore) We arrived with our fact sheets and talking points, prepared to deliver as much information as would could in a short amount of time. What surprised us the most about our meetings was how receptive and open both Senators were to discussing the issues of early education. Both senators were in agreement of the importance of investing in early childhood education.

Senator Ayer shared her own personal story of helping her children find high quality childcare for her grandchild. She understands the struggle that young families face both in finding care and then affording care. She was excited about the continued support and expansion of funding for CCFAP, Vermont’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program. However, Senator Ayer realizes that this is not enough. We have to look to other solutions to attract and retain professional teaching candidates. We need to look for alternative ways to fund child care, recognizing that it is not just the immediate family who is impacted, but also the businesses in local communities who employ parents. In order to create sustainable written policies that ask for specific funding, we need to ask the right questions and understand the demand for the various types of childcare. Senator Ayer has been recommending that we ask the question “Where are all of Vermont’s children while their parents are at work and are their parents happy with these arrangements?” The Education Committee is currently in the process of securing funds for a Demand Survey to answer just that. The demand survey will inform future policy built around knowing exactly what Vermont’s families need. By the end of our meeting we were feeling much more at ease. The conversation was candid and fluid. We never even pulled out our fact sheets.  

In our small world of advocacy, we had heard that Senator Ashe would be a little more difficult to talk to about the issues facing early education. We went into the meeting feeling over our heads after hearing that he can be intimidating to speak to. All of this quickly faded as we engaged in conversation. Senator Ashe realizes that many current educational expenses for social services in public schools could be mitigated if we could appropriately invest in early care. The Senator also realizes that while Vermont does have potential to create a system for early education, we will need a large overhaul to make it happen. In Vermont we are lucky to have an array of services already available. Although these are dismal in terms of the REAL need, we are ahead of other states in thinking about our youngest citizens and their outcomes. However, the systems that we have in place are old and barely surviving. As Senator Ashe described it, we are putting bandaids on all of these systems. This keeps them alive, but costs us more in the long run. Our solution – we need to begin the difficult conversations of advocating for increased funding for early education so that we can create lasting change.

So, what was Loris Malaguzzi saying when he said “they steal ninety-nine”? It’s not just the ideas that our children are directly taught. By not investing in affordable and high quality early childhood education we are indirectly communicating to our children that we do not value their future and thus stealing their potential to thrive as contributing members of our communities. Educating young children affects everyone in the community, regardless of whether you are a parent. These children are our future citizens of Vermont and of the United States of America.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

Fred Rogers

The Facts from Let’s Grow Kids:

2018 Stalled County Provider Sheet – Franklin

2018 Stalled County Provider Sheet – Addison

2018 Stalled County Provider Sheet – Chittenden

Ways to get involved:

If you are in Vermont, Let’s Grow Kids is a statewide campaign raising awareness of the early childhood care and education needs that families face    Find the Let’s Grow Kids website here!

Learn more about the importance of early education from Zero to Three

The National Association for the Education of Young Children is working on advocacy and professionalizing the field of early educators

Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance has information at our local state level

 

We wanted to thank Senator Ayer and Senator Ashe for taking the time to meet with us and for all the work that they do for the State of Vermont. 
Continue reading “Are we Lobbyists? Positive Deviance has a Place in Politics”

Creating Better Outcomes: Conversation Starters for Early Education Advocacy

The United States comes in at number 26 out of 29 nations in the ranking of child well being (The Raising of America: Do These Numbers Add Up? http://www.raisingofamerica.org/sites/default/files/Handout-DoTheseNumbersAddUp.pdf).

Twenty Six. You do not have to be an expert in the field to know that child well being has longitudinal implications that our nation will feel for years, decades, and generations to come. The good news is that we have the power to enact change. Advocacy for high quality early childhood education and care is having a moment in Vermont and our nation. The issues related to childhood care and wellbeing are not isolated to the families alone – they impact an entire community and it will take that community to create social and policy changes that propel our next generations toward better outcomes.

The United States has gathered extensive research to support that affordable and available high-quality early childhood education can mitigate future education costs including special education, juvenile corrections, and behavioral intervention. Other countries are using our data to make changes to their policies regarding early childhood education. The U.S attempted to do so over forty years ago but never succeeded. This is our chance to finally make a positive change for the future of America.

This week we will be participating in advocacy events across the state. One that we are particularly excited about is the film screening for The Raising of America, hosted by The Junior League of Champlain Valley (more info here ). By delineating the facts on the current needs of young children and families in America to the larger community will help to initiate a cultural shift in which we place more emphasis and importance on the impact of focusing our efforts to improve early childhood education in our country.

The Raising of America Trailer (11 min) from California Newsreel on Vimeo.

http://raisingofamerica.org/watchhttp://raisingofamerica.org/watch

We hope this inspires you to join us at the documentary screening or watch on your own. How do you want to join in on the advocacy movement? Join the conversation!

#MarchForOurLives IS Positive Deviance

This weekend students, parents, educators, and community members all over the country stood up for their rights to feel safe in school as part of the #MarchForOurLives movement. In all of the hashtags, videos, speeches, posters, the things that stands out the most is how incredibly inspiring this generation is.

As parents and educators we are all trying to prepare children to become happy, healthy, and engaged contributors to our democratic country. So what does #MarchForOurLives have to do with early education and care?  Parents – here is where you might be surprised. We practice lockdown drills in preschool and child care. That’s right. Your child’s teacher practices hiding in the classroom and keeping your toddler quiet and happy in case the unthinkable happens. Our most innocent citizens are practicing safety drills for events that most adults cannot wrap their minds around.

There are so many things that we can point to as contributing factors to these tragic events and the problems facing schools these days. Mental health, trauma exposure, our nation’s opioid epidemic, social media, and unlimited access to information. But blame solves nothing. Instead we must act. Many of the recent news stories point to gun control and immediate fixes such as increasing school security. These efforts only provide comfort in the short term that we are doing something to keep our children safe. This is much needed. But what about the long term? That’s when mental health or social and emotional development come into play. The ideal time to teach these skills? Early!

Early educators truly understand the importance of teaching social and emotional skills to young children. The future lies in the hands of our current infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Research shows that 90% of the brain is fully developed by age five. (Building the Brain, letsgrowkids.org). Early educators practice a multitude of different teaching philosophies that can all contribute positive influences on children. But one aspect that almost every early educator can agree on is that supporting children to develop their Emotional Intelligence is of one of the most important.

Emotional Intelligence is a phrase used to describe the skill set that includes the ability to identify one’s emotions as well as the emotions of others, manage those emotions appropriately (or self regulate), and use those skills to solve social problems and develop relationships. Research shows that children with high emotional intelligence are more successful in school, have better relationships, and lead happier lives.

– Social and Emotional Framework, Hill-Armell & Lambert

Our society, especially at this point in time, is in dire need to revamp our education system with a spotlight on early childhood education. Early educators know what children need to thrive, yet are not always in situations with the appropriate resources to do so.

#MarchForOurLives is a positive movement that came out of tragic circumstances. The students who came together to #MarchForOurLives are just the beginning of a much needed revolution and a reminder that revolutionary vision starts with our children.   Supporting our future generations to be innovative and courageous individuals, like the students in #MarchForOurLives, starts with high-quality early education. High-quality early education provides children with the appropriate tools to form healthy attachments and relationships and to develop positive social and emotional skills, supporting mental health that can alleviate the issues that lead to violence in schools.

The student-led #MarchForOurLives movement proved that children can engage members of their community to join together for a cause. A recent North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA) workshop highlighted Italian early educators’ focus on helping children to become protagonists. Protagonists were defined as the following: 

The sharing of meanings through gestures and language create a community of mind. The sharing of mind is not merely intellectual but involves an emotional dimension; the children experience a joining of feeling, in the sense of transformation felt by the group of members as a sense of wholeness with others, beauty and harmony, and mutual affinity. The individual does not disappear or recede, however…but rather seeks to count and to be heard, to make a difference, and to achieve influence and recognition in the group through dialogue and negotiation and a (at least partial) sharing of interests and goals–what Italians calling becoming a ‘protagonist’.”   

-Excerpt from Carolyn Edward’s Democratic Participation in a Community of Learners: Loris Malaguzzi’s Philosophy of Education as Relationship, (October, 1995)

The students that started #MarchForOurLives are prime examples of how to be  protagonists. We need to continue to encourage this type of thinking and behavior. Educators and parents can collaborate to create nurturing environments for children that supports their development of Emotional Intelligence.

My revolutionary vision begins with partnering parents and teachers to educate our society on the crucial benefit of providing high-quality early childhood education.  It takes a great deal of time, energy, and reflection to be an educator that allows children to become protagonists. It involves trusting each other, taking risks, and discovering new parts of ourselves.  We are at a time in our nation where it will be essential to provide our future generations with the freedom to come up with new ideas that can propel our society forward. Let’s think about preconceptions of ourselves and who we are as teachers and parents. What is our role? Model how to ask questions with confidence, and then be patient, exhibit trust, and enjoy the process of searching for answers together. We need to allow children to dive into complexity, even if it is a bit scary for us as educators and parents.  We are at a time where we might feel the most divided, therefore look for diverse perspectives to broaden your view. #MarchForOurLives illustrates that while we live in tumultuous times, when children feel empowered to use their voices they can take the lead to make the world a better place. Let’s start talking about how educators and families can come together to teach children social and emotional skills that could help to mitigate future violent acts. 

Comment below to join the conversation.
Ways to get involved and learn more….

Check out Let’s Grow Kids and their advocacy movement

Come to a viewing of The Raising of America hosted by The Junior League of Champlain Valley

Learn more about the importance of early education from Zero to Three

The National Association for the Education of Young Children is working on advocacy and professionalizing the field of early educators

Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance has information at our local state level

Informative podcasts for those that want to be an Early Childhood Leader

For more information on Social and Emotional Learning visit the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL)