I recently had the pleasure of attending the MnAEYC Conference at the St. Paul River Center. The highlight was the keynote address by the legendary Lillian Katz, a Professor Emerita of early childhood education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and editor of the first on-line peer-reviewed early-childhood journal, Early Childhood Research & Practice. She was already a small part of my University of Illinois educational experience; I was already living on her every word. This time, though, she really set me thinking. Her speech centered on building a “foundation for children.” Early childhood educators frequently note the importance of this, but what does it really mean? It sounds great to think that we are setting children up for a stable future. However; do we as early childhood professionals really understand what “building a foundation” means for our children? And, how do we build it?
Lillian’s husband, she noted, offered professional wisdom to provide guidance that she never forgot. According to Lillian, you must have the following considerations when building a foundation
- Be clear what you build upon.
- Be clear about how the structure will function and act.
- Be clear with everything that will impact the structure.
- If you do not do it right- the result will be dangerous and expensive to repair.
So what does that mean for early childhood professionals? To me, it means we have much work ahead of us! So, here are some thoughts:
1. Be clear with what you build upon.
This means we need to understand child development; those ages and stages, one of the core components of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). Understanding a child’s emotional/social, physical, intellectual and linguistic development allows educators to see children on the most basic level. Learning about what and when of growing up are the center of quality teacher education programs. When we operate as educators without knowledge and understanding of how each component of development affects the others, we underestimate a child’s potential. In order to see children for what they can become, we need to see where they come from.
2. Be clear about how the structure will function and act.
When I think of this consideration, another core component of DAP comes to mind; a child’s individuality. Individuality means children grow at their own pace and with their own spin. Children may develop more slowly, more quickly, veer off course or jump ahead. Some children will have obstacles to overcome and others will need an extra push along the way. Other children will seem to ride the rails without many bumps and make growing up seem effortless. Regardless, the manner in which a child progresses through life will always be up to the child first and we, educators, will just make sure they do not fall down.
3. Be clear with everything that will impact the structure.
Impacting the structure means that the environmental conditions and the effects on the stability of the structure. This is the last core component that is based on social and cultural dynamics. A child’s family, cultural factors, religion, economics, schooling and community all play a large part in how strong children become. It is hard to be clear here however, in that, we, as educators, do not have the ability to control these dynamics. Nevertheless, the affect they have on our children’s success in life is the most important to remember.
4. If you do not do it right- the result will be dangerous and expensive to repair.
If we do not build a strong foundation, the building could collapse. People may be injured and at the very least, the cost and time to rebuild it can be overwhelming. What about our children? How can we, as educators, ensure that the foundations are strong and secure for our children?