Every year in November, I travel to a large city to spend four days with 20,000 other early childhood educators. It is an experience I find hard to describe in words. The energy is intense and sometimes a bit overwhelming. For the most part, though, it is four days of exhilaration, educational insight, networking, and invigorating conversations. This year was no exception.
For many years, I have been learning and implementing The Project Approach in my classroom. It is a philosophical framework for teaching that involves facilitating investigations around real world topics, defined by the children’s interests and wonderment about a topic. At NAEYC this year, I was honored to be part of a Project Sharing session with Sylvia Chard, my mentor in project work. I shared The Butterfly Project that my class did last year. (You can read about it in a post I wrote on this blog in May, 2012). While it was a great honor to be asked to participate, it was equally exciting to share my passion for project work with those who came to the session. There were very experienced project-based teachers and novices who really wanted to know how they could do project work in their classrooms. It was encouraging to hear so many teachers who understood that young children learn through authentic investigations of life, rather than from worksheets and cookie cutter crafts. In our current educational climate, it is refreshing and reassuring to know that there are still early childhood teachers who understand HOW children learn. I hope to have more opportunities to share projects in the future.
One of my favorite parts of the conference is the networking that goes on. It is one of the few times a year I have to talk to other professionals who do what I do. I talked with directors of university programs, directors who also teach, and other administrators who use the Project Approach in their schools. I also talked to lots of preschool and kindergarten teachers. This year I felt like many of the people I talked to were concerned about the same things: a loss of freedom in teaching, and more importantly, a loss of childhood. To me, this means there is work to be done. Early childhood educators are the ones who have to stand up for what we know is right for young children. We have to spend time educating parents, legislators, and school districts about the importance of early childhood education. Brain research points directly to the need for hands-on, developmentally appropriate learning experiences for children than are rooted in play. Why are we ignoring the research and continuing to push down the curriculum? How do we counteract the culture of education in America today? These are the discussions that need to happen and can happen at a national conference like NAEYC. I am so glad to have the environment in which to learn and grow. One more day here and then it is back home to persevere with a refocused lens on trying to change the world, one child at a time.