By Andrea Hart, Teacher
Last November I traveled with nine other Bing Teachers to Anaheim, California, for the seventy-fifth annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Thousands of early-childhood educators, care givers, and advocates met to improve early-childhood professional development and thus improve program practices with young children throughout the nation.
For my three days at the conference, I chose sessions focusing on a variety of topics, such as music, play practices, and literature. One of the most memorable sessions was given by world-renowned scientist, environmentalist, and humanitarian Jane Goodall. She introduced her new program “Roots and Shoots,” which helps children develop care and concern for animals, the community, and the environment. Through sensitivity to the environment, early-childhood educators can help children to become aware of the world around them, to learn more about particular topics of interest, and even to improve on the conditions of the world around them however they see fit.
Another session, given by Eric Hoffman, a Master Teacher at the Cabrillo Community College Children’s Center in Aptos, California, provided much insight into superhero play and the fulfillment it has for young children. Between two and six years of age, children are figuring out their own independence, or power, within peer groups, with adults, and within the world as a whole. Gaining power, leadership, or independence in life is a constant struggle, but a child who plays the role of a fantasy superhero can instantly become “all-powerful.” By supporting such play, teachers and parents can support the child’s power and teach a bit of responsibility at the same time. For instance, the “powers” of flying, super-strength, and even laser-blasting wrists (or, lately, spider-web-blasting wrists) can all be channeled from simply “fighting bad guys” into the admirable work of helping people and rescuing those in trouble. An added plus to this redirected hero play is that it can be easily compared to the work of real people in the community. When this similarity is pointed out to children, they often change the focus of their hero games and assume the responsible and powerful roles of fire fighters, police officers, paramedics, and doctors. With a positive humanitarian focus to their play, whatever powerful role children choose to portray will aid them in understanding how to be a helpful part of a community.
A storytelling session given by Rebecca Isbell, professor at East Tennessee State University and director of Tennessee’s Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning, introduced the benefits of storytelling without a book. Children are bombarded with images but have relatively few opportunities to create their own. Telling a story without any given images provides children a chance to do just this. The creative imagining is further strengthened when a story is told repeatedly so that children can embellish and add to their original images. The more storytelling they hear, the better children become at conjuring their own images. Because they can make more eye contact with a storyteller than with a story reader, children also tend to feel more connected with the story. They remember it better and are more likely to retell it themselves, even tailoring it to their own liking while adding their own original images. Through repeated storytelling, children can become imaginative storytellers themselves.
As valuable as the NAEYC sessions were, the breaks between them were possibly more enlightening. I met teachers from all over the country, discussing with them different approaches to early-childhood education as well as the content of the sessions. I returned to Bing rejuvenated and determined to put all I had learned into practice. Since the conference, I have become a resource for children’s interests in the natural world, more understanding and respectful of children’s hero play, and an enthusiastic storyteller. In addition to all this, I am now a nursery-school teacher who feels connected to the enormous mass of caring early-childhood educators across the nation.