NAEYC Conference 2007
By Seyon Verdtzabella, Teacher
More than 20,000 early childhood professionals from around the world gathered in Chicago last November for the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the world’s largest early childhood conference. Fifteen representatives from Bing Nursery School were among the attendees.
The conference supports educators’ commitment to improving the quality of the programs they provide through the sharing of knowledge of best approaches to early childhood education. Also, as NAEYC works to improve the profession of early childhood education, the conference illuminates the dedication to young children and families held by its members. Without a doubt, ongoing professional development of Bing Nursery School teachers and ad-ministrators edifies the care and instruction the school provides.
Seminars explored topics for educators of all levels, while various tracks of focus (i.e., curriculum, leadership, professional development, diversity and equity) allowed participants to cultivate deeper understandings of the topics related to the context of early childhood education. For example, teachers new to the profession or looking for strategies to improve their classroom interactions with students could join Carol Garhart Mooney, author of Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget and Vygotsky, who discussed how the way educators speak to children affects their learning and behavior. Other seminars encouraged early childhood professionals to think deeply about familiar topics. For example, Vivian G. Paley, author and retired teacher formerly of University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, and Lilian G. Katz, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, were among a panel of speakers that led one of the most popular and significant sessions at the conference. They restated “how play works” and focused on the role of child-initiated learning in early childhood programs. The impetus for play has borne long-standing support in research, yet as many policymakers and parents apply pressure for educators to emphasize the direct instruction of measurable skills and knowledge, play is disappearing from many early childhood programs. Gillian Dowley McNamee, of the Erikson Institute, punctuated this session with a reminder that adults best understand children’s learning by listening to children, not trampling their ideas with our own, and that adults can best encourage children’s learning by giving them the time and space to play. Fundamen-tally, it is in play that children practice thinking.
Brian Mowry, teacher and researcher from the Austin Independence School District, delivered timely information related to the pressure to assess young children’s skills and knowledge. In his session, “Assessing counting strategies: How preschoolers demonstrate understanding of number concepts,” Mowry illuminated his research and used videos to show vivid examples of the developmental patterns in young children’s understanding of counting. He pointed out that “being able to count accurately requires a child to regulate and perform a multitude of skills: rote counting, one-to-one correspondence and keeping track.” While educators must recognize and respect the underlying principles of counting in order to best describe what children understand about counting, they should not conclude that direct instruction is the best practice for how young children master these skills. Pamela Schiller, Wright Group/McGraw-Hill provided age-appropriate strategies for supporting young children’s acquisition of mathematical learning in her session “Under construction: Beginning math concepts.” She highlighted that young children must have time to explore materials and build a mathematical vocabulary, understand spatial relationships, begin classifying objects and recognizing patterns before they begin what can be assessed as counting. Play can facilitate all of these pre-counting skills, and best practice in an early childhood setting dictates that educators provide children the time and resources to explore, discover, hypothesize and test their thinking about objects, space and the relationships that exists between them.
Among the wide assortment of seminars were two offered by Bing teachers. Head teacher Nancy Howe and teachers Todd Erickson and Matthew Linden shared in the presentation of “Bringing literacy to life: Using music, visual arts, and drama to expand repeated storybook readings.” Using vivid photos of storybook materials and video samples of actual storybook readings, Howe, Erickson and Linden outlined how and why they repeatedly read the same storybook to children over the course of several days. They explained that children increase their knowledge and understanding of a storybook with each reading. As children demonstrate their learning through collaborative conversations with the teacher, they become more involved in how the storybook is presented in a large group setting. The stories in the storybook come to life in the minds of children as they take on roles to support dramatic interpretations of the storybook reading or participate using music or props.
Another session, “Beyond waterwheels and shovels: Presenting activities that invite children to learn,” was presented by Bing head teacher and research/multimedia coordinator, Chia-wa Yeh. Yeh used photos and video clips collected at Bing to illustrate that children learn best through hands-on experience with thoughtfully selected open-ended materials and the support of skillful teachers. She provided lots of examples of purposeful presentation of materials and resources to extend children’s activities, thereby promoting children’s development.
Foremost, the annual NAEYC conference rejuvenates educators, offering many opportunities to learn, collaborate, grow professionally and associate with educators from all around the world. Conference attendees from Bing included teachers Jenna Ascari, Minjae Bae, Michelle Forrest, Beverley Hartman, Quan Ho, Betsy Koning, Katie Miller, Peckie Peters, Kimberly Taylor, Nancy Verdtzabella and myself, as well as the presenters Todd Erickson, Nancy Howe, Matthew Linden and Chia-wa Yeh.