NAEYC Conference 2009

By Quan Ho, Teacher

In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt held the first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Women and Children. This meeting brought together children’s advocates from across the education spectrum who worked to improve the welfare of the nation’s children. And so, at the 2009 National Association for the Education of Young Children Conference, in Washington, D.C., a banner flew marking the historic occasion, and attendees were reminded of America’s long-held commitment to children’s welfare.

Held November 18-21, the annual conference of the major professional association for those in the field of early childhood education and development offered seminars, training classes and round-table discussions on topics ranging from classroom practices to the latest research in brain development. Seven teachers from Bing attended the conference and six presented their own work.

Bing teachers Peckie Peters and Kitti Pecka made a presentation on the significance of play. Research has shown that children are learning at their most rapid pace when they play, explore and discover their environment, using internal motivation to construct meaning from their world. They use math, science, deductive reasoning, and language skills while engaged in these play-based activities and their work in these contexts prepares them for broader life experiences. Peters and Pecka articulated a framework for colleagues to understand the significance of play during this period of a child’s life, when some schools are switching their focus toward academic achievement.

Teachers Nancy Howe and Parul Chandra spoke on ways to respond to time pressure. Families across the nation are feeling the pressure to provide every opportunity for their children at an early age. They sign up for multiple extra-curricular activities such as soccer, art and music classes. As a result, schedules get crammed with activities as parents try to give their children maximum leverage for success in life.

Howe and Chandra pointed out that sometimes the best schedule for children is an open one. This allows time for children to develop their own internal motivation and sense-of-self and to explore and discover the world. Learning is a life-long process that needs cultivating over time. When children develop a sense of self awareness they are able to manipulate and control materials at a pace that can be more appropriate for their own abilities, instead of adhering to an agenda or set of expectations dictated by adults.

Beverley Hartman and Karen Robinette discussed materials and supplies used in the classroom. Often overlooked, these items can be viewed as an “extra teacher” since they not only will appeal to a child’s interest but also foster an environment of collaboration in the exploration of different play and learning activities. Basic materials in the classroom—blocks, clay, paint, sand and water—can be interpreted in many ways, such as water forming a river in the sand area, or the unit blocks being built into the shape of the Golden Gate Bridge. Because there are no expectations for usage for these materials, children naturally explore many different functional and artistic interpretations. In this way, children interact with materials: shaping, playing and exploring, and formulating ideas of what the materials can be as well as concepts of how they relate to and impact their world.

Committed teachers are devoted to children’s development and are a pillar of support to families. They attend conferences to enlighten themselves, but also develop connections with peers who share the same vision. The conference was rewarding for the Bing teachers who attended, as they shared their experiences, met colleagues and were energized by the rich educational interactions.