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Monday, September 24, 2012

Early Childhood education in Wyoming

I just returned from leading some training in Wyoming for Early Childhood teachers and providers. I was doing work on music, but also on professional attitudes with my "I'm A Teacher Not A Babysitter" program. Two things struck me deeply.

The first is that the Wyoming Legislature is generally unsympathetic to young children and their needs. As one example, the Legislature was considering changing licensing for care of young children in people's homes. Changing is the wrong word. Getting rid of is more accurate. Apparently, there would have been no requirement for any licensing for someone caring for up to five kids in their home. Back to the days of the neighborhood babysitter. It was good enough for the 1950s. The measure to remove licensing failed by one vote.

The Legislature has cut other funding as well, and just doesn't recognize the need for well trained and regulated early childhood care and education. This kind of short sighted thinking is increasingly prevalent all over the country, as competing priorities battle for funding. The effect on people who work in the field is depressing and demoralizing, and the long term effect on children is unknown, but clearly not positive.

The second thing is more hopeful. I've recently begun working with Faye Stanley ( who is a fantastic teaching artist in North Carolina. We're working on a couple of projects, but in my most recent training I incorporated a technique I learned from her about group creativity in early childhood. I had small groups in the session come up with adaptations and expansions on Susan Salidor's (   wonderful song Peace in My Fingers. The engagement and energy in the room was sparkling, as people worked with each other in a way that we might also hope that children would. The adaptations were great, including winking, dancing, and eating. Faye's work has helped me to see that for young children, very small pieces are opportunities for creativity, and being involved in the process regularly at an early age may lead to a lifetime of creative exploration. I saw the power of this work in Wyoming, in particular in how motivating it was for teachers to be genuinely engaged in the creative process, as opposed to being recipients of knowledge.

The central idea of this piece of work is that rather than simply sharing songs that work with kids and hoping that teachers use them and maybe expand on them, we actually explored the process of that expansion. It makes it far more likely that the lesson will stick and be integrated into practice.

What's missing is the opportunity for long term sharing and growth. When people come together once a year, it's hard to have an ongoing learning community. One question is whether or not online work can make a difference in this way. Can technology connect people in the Early Childhood field in a meaningful way? One of our projects seeks to explore that question.

In the meantime, let's wish our colleagues in Wyoming well as they grapple with the impact of regressive thinking and short-sighted laws. Or lack of laws. One outcome of the training was an emphasis on advocacy, on stepping up for children. Powerless children need powerful friends.


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