Trust for Learning is a “philanthropic partnership dedicated to expanding ideal early learning environments for underserved children.” They have worked over the past few years to articulate a set of principles for ideal learning. These set of principles have been gleaned from well-known early childhood approaches including Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Friends Center for Children, Tools of the Mind, Bank Street College of Education, and Waldorf.
Those Principles of Ideal Learning are:
Organizations that are part of the collaborative’s Ideal Learning Roundtable have a shared vision of what good teaching looks like, but they acknowledge there can be quite a bit of variability in how they implement that vision.
Our recent webinar brought together three organizations from the Ideal Learning Roundtable — AVANCE, Tools of the Mind, and HighScope — to talk about implementing these principles in their program. In this moment of uncertainty for teachers and families, the principle that resonated the most with these programs was the importance of play. As Alejandra Barraza, president of HighScope, acknowledged, “Play is the highest form of research.”
Read below to hear a bit about each program and a few other ideas they shared in the webinar.
“AVANCE is a nonprofit organization that represents a locally-driven, community-based, two-generation learning approach centered in equity,” says Sonia Dominguez, chief program officer. Based in San Antonio, Texas, AVANCE seeks to break intergenerational poverty among Latino and Hispanic families. Serving 7,000 families in both Texas and California each year with a focus on school readiness, social capital, and family well-being, it works to empower families to develop responsive parenting skills so that they can promote healthy brain architecture, reduce stress, and build resilience in their children.
AVANCE believes that play is essential and that all instruction should be personalized to acknowledge each child’s unique development. One distinctive program is that families are encouraged to make toys with household items, which can be used to support play and brain building. When the organization brings parents together for toy-making classes, family members not only learn skills (such as sewing), but also build social capital.
“They get to make friends and socialize with other people,” says Dominguez. “For a lot of our families, this may be the first time that they make friends [here]. They may be new to the U.S. and maybe don’t speak the language [English], and so these are opportunities to converse with other people that are like them.”
Tools of the Mind offers a combination of early childhood curriculum and professional development for teachers. It understands that relationships and interactions affect the architecture of children’s growing brains, particularly their emotional and social well-being and their cognitive and social-emotional language capacity.
Elena Bodrova, co-founder of Tools of the Mind, says that play is the leading activity for children in preschool and kindergarten when it comes to social-emotional learning: “If children don’t reach the stage of highly developed or mature play, then it deprives them of many benefits that play would give them otherwise.”
HighScope, based in San Antonio, Texas, creates research-based curriculum for teachers, along with offering the professional development teachers need to deliver that curriculum effectively. “I’ve had instances when teachers are just given a box with curriculum and that’s it. And really we need to make sure that we’re developing together,” says Barraza. The San Antonio Hub of Excellence—two charter schools where HighScope puts its curriculum into practice—is a point of pride for her.
AVANCE faced the challenge of finding ways to stay connected with the families in its program. For example, many of the families it serves live in areas without broadband access. AVANCE quickly realized that it needed to shift to using platforms that families could access. To stay connected, AVANCE staff regularly checks in with families by conducting virtual home visits and using WhatsApp, a free texting app that is often used among Latino families to communicate internationally.
Tools of the Mind has shifted the types of tools that it uses to connect families and teachers. Digital means, such as text messaging, is one way teachers interact with families to keep them engaged with their children’s learning. Teachers can also watch videos of families and children doing activities and schooling at home and then give families advice on ways to support their children’s learning and keep them engaged.
HighScope believes that families and schools have to work together: they are both responsible for raising and teaching children. HighScope has put an emphasis on the needs of families, who have become largely responsible for their children’s education. HighScope now creates videos for families that teach them how to create lessons using materials found at home. It also creates videos for teachers to show them how to use the necessary technologies needed to support virtual, socially distanced, and hybrid learning.
“Provide targeted feedback to your families and the child,” advises Dominguez.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Bodrova says. “It is not a sign of weakness. No one is perfect. Don’t be afraid to redo a lesson or make mistakes.”
“Be okay with doing co-teaching. It is beneficial to leverage the strengths of your colleagues. Share resources with each other,” encourages Barraza. “And lean on your administrators. Make sure they are staying informed. Come with concerns but also with suggestions.”
To hear the entire conversation, you can watch the webinar by clicking the link below.
When Covid-19 hit and schools shut down, many of us were certain that it would not impact the 2020-21 school year. But with the pandemic surging and some schools opening up - only to shut down again, it’s clear that Covid is still with us. The length of the pandemic has only heightened concern about Covid related learning loss - especially among underserved populations.
Young infants develop a unique relationship—known as attachment—with their caregivers. To develop secure bonds, infants need to know that at least one person really cares about them. Caregivers provide that comfort by helping infants regulate needs and emotions, such as hunger and sadness. With healthy attachments, infants develop a sense of safety and trust.
Infants need to be held, to have face-to-face interactions, to feel another human heartbeat. By meeting these needs, caregivers foster attachment. Plan how you will meet these essential needs—while keeping yourself and infants safe.
Children need to feel safe before they can explore their surroundings. While curiosity and exploration help awaken children’s talents, teachers help reinforce their learning through guidance and repetition. All children benefit from intentional interactions that inspire them through new experiences—and some children need additional or individualized support.
Given the natural need to be around others, children might have a hard time with social distancing. Organize materials in spaces where two friends can explore together. Make yourself available to facilitate their exploration while ensuring safety.
Toddlers reinforce their trust in caregivers while venturing into the world on their own. Along with stable relationships and independence, they need frequent reminders of behavioral expectations to keep themselves and their peers safe. With support and regulation, educators can help buffer the effects of stress or trauma and promote healthy child development.
Children learn best in a warm, safe environment. While positive interactions strengthen a classroom community, clear safety expectations promote healthiness. Remind children that these measures are in place because you care about them.