Are You A Champion for Childhood?

The new school year at Harley Hopkins Family Center is always filled with so much excitement.  Teachers and staff are eager to get their classrooms prepped and ready for the whirlwinds of activity that the children and parents bring.  We are truly proud of the work we do.

This year we all had an extra spring in our step because the Hopkins School District had welcomed the Minnesota Teacher of the Year (a HUGE honor bestowed on one spectacular teacher after an intensive assessment process) to speak at the first meeting for the entire district.  The Teacher of the Year for 2012 is Katy Smith, a parent educator for the ECFE program from Winona, Minnesota.  She also happens to be a proud graduate of Hopkins.

The early childhood staff in the audience that day were thrilled to see our programs and the work we do with the youngest students in the district honored. We also had the opportunity to meet with her as a smaller group–just the teachers who work with families and young children. Katy Smith was a marvel to listen to, and she had many points to share about how important it is to be a “Champion for Childhood”.

We thought her ideas and inspiring messages were so important, the parents in our district should also have access to them.  I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing much of what was said, and I am not nearly as funny as she is, but here is a brief review of what ECFE Parent Educator Katy Smith–Minnesota Teacher of the Year–has to say about how to help foster and preserve childhood:

  • “Champion for Childhood” is a term coined by Katy Smith.  She wants to remind parents how important it is to allow children to stay in the joyful world of childhood for as long as they can.  There is a truly dreamy quality around young children–we don’t need to break into that and insist that they “grow up” as early as we do. The environment we surround our children with will shape their childhood.
  • Play is an important and necessary part of childhood.  We as parents can see an element of danger in every element of fun. However, children need to have the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something hard. Allow your child to take age appropriate risks.  If they accomplish a task that was hard they have a sense of success.  If they don’t accomplish it, they are building resiliency.
  • Play that is open-ended and unstructured builds so many positive social and cognitive skills that it is impossible to list them all. Avoid always having your child involved in structured play, or organized play, or play that involves a “script”. (For example, playing a video game or a game that only allows you to follow one path in order to be playing it “right”) Open-ended play involves providing your child with toys that don’t have a fixed purpose or show a certain character. Toys like wooden blocks, dress up clothes, balls and toy cars and even a pile of natural items collected from your front yard are all open-ended.  The child has to work to create an imagined and made-up game. This fosters creativity, problem solving, cooperation, inquiry skills,   imagination, spatial skills….like I said the list could go on and on.
  • Katy Smith likens using screens and media to teach skills and entertain vs. using books and conversation to the difference between using a microwave and a slow-cooker. We need our youngest children to have slow-cooker experiences to build a foundation of understanding of the world. As children age, they are welcome to use the microwave version of things–in fact it makes sense to do so–but in early childhood the best learning experiences happen in the arms of a caregiver, with loving attention paid to the child, conversation about what is being experienced and concrete items in the hands of the child so he can explore using all of his senses.
  • Katy Smith is a strong believer in helping children learn to regulate themselves physically, emotionally and socially.  Self-regulation–for example the skill of waiting for a reward, talking about emotions rather than physically erupting because of them, cooperating with a friend rather than always wanting his own way–should not truly be expected of children until they are somewhere between four and six years of age. However, even toddlers can be asked to experience turn taking, or waiting for a parent to finish a task before playing with the child, or using words to describe an emotion rather than hitting or biting. Parents will be helping  their children succeed in the preschool years and beyond if they have appropriate expectations for self-regulation beginning early in their child’s life.
  • Katy Smith, like every early childhood educator, is a strong advocate of reading to your child. This “slow cooker” experience fills a child with the feeling of being cared for, begins him on the road to a life long love of reading, and helps him to build his ability to hold attention for longer and longer periods of time. His vocabulary will expand, and his sense of story will delight you for years to come. Remember that a young child is most looking forward to that sense of closeness when you sit down with him and a book. If you don’t read the words correctly, if you decide to just turn pages and point at pictures, if you use the same five books over and over, it will still be just splendid for your child. He loves repetition, he loves the sound of your voice, and he loves getting to sit close to you–these are what is important. Feel empowered to read at whatever level you are comfortable with, and if you get a chance start to use funny voices for different characters–this really cracks kids up!  Looking for a great book to read? Katy Smith read one of her new favorite books to us (it was really fun!) and it was titled: I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen

It was such a wonderful experience to see a teacher from Minnesota’s ECFE program be awarded the teacher of the year award.  It was a great reminder of all the wonderful work that happens at Hopkins Family Center every day by each one of our own early childhood staff.

One Response

  1. […] technology and media—and the role we have as parents to help provide a framework around it all. Katy Smith is a passionate and often hilarious storyteller with a supportive and positive message for […]

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