Understanding Early Childhood Education As A Young Person With No Children
By Afsha Kasam
With the midterm elections coming up, it's difficult to explain the importance of early childhood education to someone who does not have kids. The key word there is "difficult."
But, not impossible.
When I was a child, I went to a Christian early childhood education center. As a Muslim girl, it was rather strange for me to be there. But, I don't think that I would have had it any other way. In fact, I wish that I was brought to this early childhood education center earlier.
I remember the first day vividly. My mother dropped me off and after she left, I would not stop crying. Eventually, I got tired and fell asleep on the floor. The next day, my mom told me I didn't have to go again if I didn't want to. But, I told her that I really liked the people there and wanted to attend this early childhood education center.
After that day, almost every day went by without a hiccup. I felt included with my Christian friends. The social component is what really made me thrive. I was no longer the shy girl who did not understand English. Without this early education, I probably would not have learned English so quickly.
Me at my early childhood center
But, as I stated previously, I wish I had early childhood education earlier.
My cousin's little girl had the opportunity to attend a school that focused on early development. I remember being shocked that such a little girl could swim.
My cousin's daughter's story could have easily been many other people's stories, but it isn't. The system is broken. Early childhood education should not cost a fortune.
My message for you today is to remind young people, as well as others, that they were once children. Remind them that there will always be children in the world. If we had the opportunity to go back in time, wouldn't we want to invest in ourselves early on? So let's do that for the next generation of children. Vote for early childhood education.
I will be leaving ECLC to pursue an internship at Girls Incorporated on Long Island. I am working towards my Master's Degree in Social Work and my placement will relate directly to what I want to do, which is to be a school social worker.
My time and experience with ECLC has allowed me to grow an incredible amount and allowed me to understand the importance of children's development, specifically how Adverse Childhood Experiences impact individuals as they grow. I was able to take a number of trainings on ACEs while at ECLC, including listening to Dr. Nadine Burke Harris speak at the annual ACEs Symposium in the Capital Region. I have used my knowledge regarding ACEs and child development in my studies and will continue to use it going forward as I work with elementary and middle school girls in facilitated groups.
I appreciate everything ECLC has done for me! It was a wonderful place to work and I enjoyed getting to meet everyone I was connected to through this position.
Reflections on Mindfulness
By Jeannie Thomma
The month of November finds many of us consciously turning our attention and energy to being thankful. With this spirit in mind, I'd like to share a new practice we've been cultivating here at ECLC that fills me with a deep sense of gratitude. For the past several months, at the start of our staff meetings, we've been gathering to sit together in meditation. Every other week, before we dive into the business at hand, we dedicate five minutes to quietly focusing on our breathing. Each time we do this, we experience meditation differently. As we reflect on our experiences, we see a vast array of realities: one colleague speaks of a racing mind, another is amazed at how quickly the time seemed to pass, another couldn't stop fidgeting, two people report dozing off.
During this time that we spend together in meditation, we've agreed to observe just one very helpful rule: we'll engage in this practice without judging ourselves. Success is in the practice itself. So, when any of us silently catch ourselves caught up in thought during a meditation, rather than jumping to the conclusion that "this isn't working!", we practice simply returning our attention back to watching our breath. Ironically, we can know for sure that "this IS working!" when we catch our focus being interrupted by a thought...and mindfully shift our attention back to the breath. This is the essence of a meditation practice, and it's how we build our mindfulness muscles. Thoughts will return during meditation, they always do-this is the nature of the mind. Each time we redirect our thoughts back to our breathing, we are strengthening our practice. This happens one meditation, one experience, one breath at a time.
As we sit together every other week around our large conference room table, we are nurturing positive qualities of mind in ourselves, like compassion, patience, forgiveness and empathy. Every one of us starts from exactly where we are-there is no other way. Some days we may feel calm, or anxious, distracted, or joyful. Regardless of our mood, we sit. The next meeting, we sit some more. Showing up for ourselves and one another just as we are. The more time we spend connecting with our own breathing, the more we are able to enjoy our own company and that of one another outside of meditation time. As we nurture healthy mental habits in ourselves, like mindfulness, we grow more patient and our capacity to enjoy life expands. This is at the heart of our intentions-to grow as individuals who engage in compassionate connection with one another, in all that we do.
Regardless of what's transpiring externally, when a mindfulness practice is firmly rooted in our lives, we are able to experience more happiness, and our resilience grows. Rather than being caught in a loop of anxiety over past events or worrying about future what-ifs, we become more awake to the present moment, to this moment. We spend time in meditation so that we can experience our lives with more awareness, and more kindness. With that in mind, we can ask ourselves these two questions:
Meditation practice can remind us of our capacity to live from this space of awareness, and in so doing, teaches us to open our hearts to one another and live with authentic compassion. With this simple awareness, our experience of life can shift...and we can, in each moment and with every breath, choose to be thankful for all the details of our beautiful, messy lives.
"Mindfulness meditation doesn't change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart's capacity to accept life as it is." ~Sylvia Boorstein
One of my favorite ways to help children build such a connection with others is through Humane Education. Pets are an important part of our family and our extended family. A home is not a home without a dog or cat for our family, and a love of nature and the outdoors naturally follows this. As children spend time with, and learn about, animals and the environment, this helps them to build that deeper connection with other beings and the living world around them just as Dr. Lally describes. This in turn helps them not only treat others with compassion but also to build respect for and be kind towards themselves. This is a path to resiliency.
So as we begin the month of February, traditionally and commercially celebrated as Valentines and love, let's also keep in mind this quote by Fred Rogers, "Every human being needs to be loved and needs to be able to love in return. That is what allows us to be human."
Check out the following for a few humane education resources:
Booklist by age-group, early childhood through adult
Back to School as a Mom
By Ryan Belak
Back to School is one of my favorite times of the year for a variety of reasons. The excitement my kids feel at the beginning of a new school year is contagious, the familiarity of a routine schedule, and the comfort I feel as a parent knowing my kids are in quality early education programs.
I am the proud mom of two young boys: Brayden, eight and a half (the half is VERY important I'm told), and Jackson, two and a half. Brayden attends an elementary school near our home, and Jackson attends a center-based program three full days a week.
I relish the back to school time because I can have that peace of mind that they are learning, growing, and developing strong connections with their child care providers. The fact that I am able to go to work and not worry about the quality of my child's education is so vitally important.
Now that Brady is at an age where he is into EVERYTHING (see above), I need to make sure that every environment he may roam in, is safe...especially the kitchen. Kitchens are full of potential safety hazards, which is why I made sure to install child safety locks on all the cabinets and installed outlet covers throughout the entire house.
Believe me when I tell you, if I forgot anything, Brady reminded me of it! Thinking about a child's safety can be overwhelming, to say the least, but my child's safety is a priority every day, not just for Baby Safety Month.
Third Time's the Charm
By Brooke Ricci
September marks Baby Safety Month. As a mother of three children, safety has always been something that has never been overlooked. Having two older daughters Olivia (15) and Mia (11), a lot has changed since the arrival of my son Brady (1).
After I learned that I was expecting, AGAIN, I began to make a mental list of everything that I needed. This list ensured that I had the safest items possible for my child. I wanted the nursery to be a secure environment for my child to grow and learn. I needed this area to be his safe zone and made sure the crib met the safety standards and that the mattress fit snugly. It's also important that nothing is inside the crib, especially bumpers and stuffed animals. This was all updated information since my daughters were born. Luckily, I work in the early childhood education field, where I came to learn all of this. But for those new moms out there, a lot of this information is now on the web!
Safety is not just for the nursery. I also had to consider safety for everyday items and developmental toys. What was going to be the safest car seat, stroller, etc? I made sure to check the most up to date recall list, to ensure that those items weren't listed. I also did a lot of research online to determine what the safest items would be.
By Abbe Hahn Hook
I was flattered when my colleagues asked me to write this month's blog about teaching children compassion. While I am certainly not an authority on this topic, I do feel I have approached my work for the past 25 years, as to both children and animals, with compassion and kindness. With adults, I admit this is more challenging for me as it is for many of us, but as role models for the little eyes and hearts who are always observing, we certainly need to show adults the same courtesy. I also strive, as a parent, to raise my own daughters to be compassionate family members, classmates and young citizens.
In 2018, J. Ronald Lally, from WestEd, The Program for Infant/Toddler Care, addressed a previous speech of his titled "A Compassionate Sense of Wonder." He describes this as not only providing children with self-confidence and intellectual curiosity but also with a deep connection to human beings and other living things. I love the image of all children that comes to mind for me when I hear those words. It definitely relates to current research and emphasis on early childhood practices focusing on social/emotional development for young children and on building resiliency skills to help them overcome trauma.
Farewell and New Beginnings
By Renee Richman
The end of December marked the end of my time at Early Care & Learning Council as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I worked as the Program Associate in the Programs and Services team since March 2017. I have learned so much throughout my time at ECLC, I won't be able to fit it into one blog post.
A highlight of my time here was working with the Infant Toddler Coordinator, Jeannie Thomma on the Infant Toddler Newsletter. I was able to create a new segment: interviews with authors who had written books related to infants and toddlers. Through this project, I have spoken to several knowledgeable and interesting authors that have provided insight into the infant and toddler world.
Another great project I was able to help create is the Learning Café run by the Director of Special Projects, Fannie Glover. It started out as a book club, but morphed into a forum for us to share diversity, inclusion and equity information with our network and those outside of the network as well. We have had people come speak about mental health, discuss controversial news events, and have watched TED Talks to prompt discussion afterwards. It is a very unique forum that I hope to be able to tune into in the future as I continue my journey.
By Fannie Glover
I was recently asked to write ECLC's December blog and thought about how cool it would be to write about people of color in early education. Then something happened to me at work and in my personal life, both had to do with communication. You see, I am an introvert who sometimes looks like an extrovert.
By the way, there are three times as many extroverts in the world as there are introverts. Again, I am a minority in another space.
As an introvert, we think about EVERYTHING before we voice it. Most of the time, I am telling myself to get it right (that's the script going on in my head). Introverts will sit in meetings and take everything in (conversations and body language), but often have little to offer to the conversation. Not because we don't have an opinion, but because the extroverts have moved onto the next topic before introverts are done forming our thoughts.
We are often perceived as anti-social, unfriendly, loners, inattentive, passive-aggressive, lack the ability to be team players, slow, or whatever the popular term for the day happens to be.
However in reality, we draw energy from within. We need to recharge (alone) and have mental conversations all day. We are not lonely. We like being alone, most of the time.
When extroverts share all their accomplishments and activities, they appear to be productive. However, introverts who have done the same will appear to be less productive because we do not speak about our activities.
I love it when people are surprised to learn that I am an introvert. Oh, I can perform like an extrovert. But from now on, watch me disappear after a large gathering to find a space to recharge before I fall flat on my face because extroverts have drained all my energy.
Think of us as batteries: extroverts' battery lives extend when they're around a lot of people (which doesn't mean that they do not occasionally enjoy alone time) while introverts' batteries are depleted when in a crowd for an extended period of time.
Introverts must find ways to speak up, plan for meetings by anticipating questions and mentally prepare themselves for the meeting.
Extroverts can work with us by seeking to understand us. If we are not sharing or talking, it doesn't mean we aren't listening or have an opinion. However, you may have to ask us what we are thinking or if we have any input.
To all the introverts reading this blog, you can thank me now.
Disclaimer: There are exceptions to all rules. Based on the spectrum, you may be an introvert who performs like a extrovert or vice versa. Or you may be an ambivert.
A link to additional information can be found here.