Early Childhood Education Resources

Welcome! Parents, caregivers and early childhood educators have a wealth of resources available to them online, but it can be overwhelming to sort through and find what is well researched and actually helpful.

As part of a class for my Associates Degree at Northern Virginia Community College, I was tasked with creating a parent information website. As I gathered together all of the materials, I realized that these resources would be helpful not just for my class, but also for the families in my school and those I work with on wider museum and education projects!

My hope is that this page can be a “one stop shop” to help you find information and answers to some of your questions. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or leave comments and I will try to add resources that you are looking for.

Curious about me? You can read more about my background here and get links to other things I’ve published! I teach at FB Meekins Cooperative Preschool,which is play-based and serves children from 2 years old through Pre-K. It is in a suburb of Washington, D.C. which means we have a wonderful community of learners and families with lots of different backgrounds.

I am also a museum educator and committed to helping museums and young learners connect in meaningful ways. I blog about museums, early childhood education and related topics on my main Cabinet of Curiosities page.


Developmental Ages/Stages

Children develop at their own pace and in their own way, but it can be helpful to know what pediatricians and other experts look for at different ages. This will give you a sense of where your child is headed and when to bring up concerns to your doctor or other caregivers

  • 2 years old
  • 3 years old
  • 4 years old
  • 5 years old
  • VA Building Blocks/Learning Standards
    • This site is specific to Virginia and has information on early childhood education including curriculum review and links to the learning standards (VA Foundation Blocks for Early Learners). I
  • Kindergarten Readiness
    • Also Virginia specific, this explains what the state looks for in kindergarten ready children, families, schools and communities
    • Transitions to Kindergarten
      • Looking ahead to the transition to Kindergarten? The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has some tips and tricks for the transition

Fairfax County Resources

Although these resources are specific to Fairfax County, there are similar organizations available in every area of the United States.

  • Child Find
    • Organization that helps connect children with disabilities with special education services. They provide evaluation and access to resources for families.
  • Parent Resource Center
    • A huge library of books, videos, workshops and more that anyone in Fairfax County can access. Wide range of books on children, school, special education etc.
  • Department of Family Services
    • Oversees programs related to the well-being of children and families. Lots of resources and community connections.
  • Fairfax County Public Schools
    • County website for the school system. Can link you to neighborhood schools, special education services, early childhood resources and more

Early Childhood Education Resources

Bookmark these sites as a place to go for resources, articles and tips on a variety of early childhood education topics

  • Positive Parenting Tips
    • Presented by the Center for Disease Control
  • NAEYC
    • Professional Development
    • For Families
      • A blog specifically written for families and caregivers of young children. Covers everything from cognitive development to supporting social-emotional growth
  • Zero to Three
    • A professional organization that focuses on children 0-3 and their families. Lots of resources including some specifically for military families
  • Teaching Tolerance
    • Although much of their material is for older children, they do address young children and are an important voice in teaching equality and tolerance
  • Dr. Rene Hackney
    • Popular speaker in the Northern Virginia area. Has insights on everything from toilet training to disruptive behavior.
  • PBS Parenting Resources
    • From the trusted source of children’s TV shows. PBS provides articles, videos, family resources and more on a wide range of topics.
  • Project Zero
    • Based out of Harvard, Project Zero conducts research in the arts as well as investigating the nature of intelligence, understanding, thinking, creativity, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking, and ethics.
  • Fred Rogers Company
    • “Look for the helpers” Mr. Rogers always told us, and the Fred Rogers Company lives up to that by providing helpful videos, articles and guidance for caregivers on everyday topics like getting a haircut as well as grief and other traumas

Special Needs

If you have or are working with children with special needs, you deserve resources that help you support them to the best of your ability. This is just a a very basic list of some of the topics that you might come across.

Social-Emotional

Developing social and emotional skills is a key component of early childhood. This lets children make and keep friends, set goals, engage in groups. Social-emotional development looks different at different ages. Since I primarily work with 3-5 year olds there are some re-occuring “themes” that we are constantly working on and I’ve included links for those below.

Friendship

Grief

Transition

Literacy

In this case, “literacy” includes reading and writing. In preschool, my focus is on getting children excited about reading and explore how writing can help them share their ideas. To do this, it is critical that you have a diverse set of books available, make time for reading aloud and that you follow their lead for reading and writing

Math

Like literacy, math does not look like worksheets and memorization in early childhood. Instead, you are helping them understand where math fits into their world and get comfortable with the vocabulary and concepts. Although the last article says it is about infants/toddlers it is a good read on how math can be woven into the day

Science

Children are natural scientists, ready to explore and observe and share their findings. It is our job to encourage that, embrace the mess that comes with it and help them get a good foundation for later science inquiry

Community

One of the things I love about the school I work at is how often we take the children on field trips. At least once a month we are out in the community visiting farms, florists, fire stations and museums. Although field trips can be daunting to plan, they are so worth it. Not only do the children see how their community works and where they fit in, but the community can also learn more about your children and school! It really does bring learning to life.

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The Care and Keeping of Museum Professionals

The museum field is full of amazing, thoughtful, creative people. I’ve been working to bring their insights into a book. I jokingly call it “part self-help book, part group-memoir” because there are topics that can meet you where you are along with ones that may push you out of your comfort zone.

I can’t even put into words how proud I am of the authors and what we’ve put together. It involved a year of work, rejection from two different publications (and then the decision to self publish) and the editing and formatting talents of numerous individuals.

I hope you enjoy “The Care and Keeping of Museum Professionals” it is available in paperback and eBook through Amazon. If you are interested in making a large purchase or want copies for a non-profit or academic use please get in touch with me.

Thank you Jesse, Alli, Alison, Rayna, Michael, Jen, Carol, Libby, Michelle, Margaret, Marieke, Dina, Janeen, Ryan, Emily, Mark, Claudia, Seema, Shaelyn, and Dawn for your amazing work

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Learning Through Play: A Flow Chart

Sometimes I’m asked how “just playing” can POSSIBLY lead to learning. Especially “real” things like reading or math. Well, allow me to show you.

As a class we read “I Want to Be In A Scary Story” by Sean Taylor. The last page ends with the monster asking to “be in another story.”

Of course we had to oblige the little monster so the class dictated the story to me and I did my best to illustrate up to their specifications.

I hung up the story where it was discovered by kids in the other class. They asked the kids in my class what it was about and what it said.

They gleefully recounted the story they wrote then ran to get the book that had inspired it and all of them gathered around to look at it.

Then, they wanted to make their OWN letters. So we started off with the magnet Handwriting Without Tears materials I have

But that wasn’t nearly enough, so we got out all the lines and curves. Letters and words were created all over the classroom and the parent volunteer got drawn in to read story after story.

And that, my friends, is how one story, plus time to play, led to a literacy exploration.

 

 

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“The Revolution Will Not Be Won Without Childcare”

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Hot Brown Honey said it best, for things to really move forward…we need childcare. We need it affordable and accessible so people can go to work, and we need it at conferences and professional development opportunities so that one more barrier to anyone participating is lowered.

This is something I’ve been encouraging and nudging persistently on with the organizations I’m involved in. It may not be easy to pull of, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

This year, the Conference Director for the American Alliance of Museums was on board and put in enormous effort to get on-site childcare offered for Annual Meeting. It isn’t free, after all the caregivers deserve a living wage as much as museum folks do, but it is less per hour then a typical babysitter and right on site!

Check it out! Use this link to get to the registration page> Childcare at AAM

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Independent Museum Professionals Network

flat lay photo of hands typing on a typewriter

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Are you a member of the American Alliance of Museums? Are you working as a consultant…freelancer…independent professional…contractor…holding-down-multiple-jobs-at-different-institutions? Well, we finally have a “home” just for you!

The Independent Museum Professionals Network is brand new and  officially part of the Professional Network  at AAM. We are just getting started, which means we are looking for all of YOU to join us, join the leadership team, make your needs heard so we can create the kind of professional support system you need.

Any member of AAM can join, just follow the link above and add it on to your profile (no extra charge!). If you are planning to be at the AAM Annual Meeting in May, we are hosting a couple of events and can’t wait to meet you!

We are also building out our Steering Committee and filling roles on the Executive Committee. Interested or want to learn more? Get in touch! You do NOT have to be attending Annual Meeting to be part of the leadership.

Make sure your emails from AAM are skipping your spam folder so you can get updates and also keep an eye on #IMPNetwork on Twitter!

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The Purple Bucket

I’m working on some research on how trauma effects children. It is easy to get caught up in the “big” traumas. Abuse, neglect, separation from family. In our adult eyes those are the ones that matter, while things like a new sibling, moving to a new house or using the potty barely rate.

And it is true, we have a much better understanding of how brains develop and the long term impact that trauma can have on little minds. So, on a scale of “things that can have long negative consequences” something like moving or saying goodbye to diapers is on the low end.

However, it is important to remember that children don’t see trauma the same way that adults do. They have a different view, one that is much more personal and centered around themselves and they have less experience to compare it to. Things that we would brush off can be devastating to them. It isn’t our job to tell them to “get over it” but instead to give them the tools to cope.

Real life example, the purple bucket. It had been in our sand toys for a year or so. Finally, the plastic brittle, it cracked in many places. I tossed it in the recycling bin without a second thought.

When my 6 year old saw it, he melted down. He cried, he grabbed it out of the bin and wouldn’t let it go. He assured me it was one of his favorite things, that it was still good and that we could find something to do with it. No explanations on my part or reminders of the other buckets we have made a difference.

I don’t know what it was, but something about seeing that bucket in the recycling bin triggered anxiety and worry in him. Reasoning did nothing, if I had told him to “get over it” that would have done less then nothing. It may have seemed out of the blue and silly to me, but it was very very real to him.

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Promoting Gun Safety: Sharing Knowledge of Child Development to Support Informed Decisions

Published in “Young Children” a journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children

As I stir vegetables in a hot pan, I see my 2-year-old daughter about to pull on the handle of the cabinet under the sink. “No, no,” I say firmly, “that cabinet is dangerous! We don’t play with it.” She pouts and gives the handle a firm tug. The child lock catches, preventing her from opening it. Again I tell her to leave the cabinet alone. She lets go and wanders into another room.

Like many parents with small children, I lock my cleaning supplies in a cabinet. Although I am careful to explain to my daughter why we don’t play in there, I know that she is young and inquisitive and doesn’t understand the hazards posed by the chemicals. I also know that despite my best intentions, I can’t have my eyes on her 24/7, and I need to take steps to protect her when my back is turned

It is our responsibility, as parents, educators, and caregivers, to teach children to recognize and avoid dangers, and to create safe environments for them. That’s why it makes sense to lock up toxic cleaning supplies, to put medication out of children’s reach, to be aware of allergens in other people’s homes that might trigger a severe reaction. If you’ve nodded along with these examples, then I ask you very respectfully to think about another potential risk for children: access to guns in your home or in the places they visit. Because gun ownership is widespread in the United States (Parker et al. 2017), this is an important topic for everyone to consider…..continue reading here

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They Aren’t Doing it Right

Exhibit designers and museum educators work very hard to create experiences. Everything that goes into an exhibit or a program is thought through to support the core theme and help learning take place. So, it is understandable that they get frustrated when the spaces aren’t being used the way they envisioned.

“They aren’t using it the right way”

“All they do is……”

“They never……..”

I listen sympathetically but then I ask three questions.

  1. Is someone going to get hurt?
  2. Are the exhibits at risk?
  3. Is the experience of other visitors being impacted?

If the answer to these is no then, I’m very sorry, we just have to deal with it. The behavior may be annoying, it may not use the space in our carefully planned out way….but it isn’t wrong.

Learning through play, or experiential learning, means that we give up control of how visitors use the space. Sure, if we sat them down and talked at them we’d have better control of the message….but it also wouldn’t spark the imagination.

So, if people aren’t using the space “right” try to meet them where they are. What can you change to help them get your message? Can you use what they are doing to help them learn? Or, can you see what they are doing as a new opportunity for exploration.

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Can You Make Them Get Off Their Phones?

I had a chance to work with a stellar group of docents the other week. They are at a hands-on, play based, children’s museum and were brushing up on their skills for working with young children and their grown-ups

Hands down, one of the biggest questions they had was how they could “make” the parents participate and play with the children. I had tried to figure out how to break this to them gently, but I had to be blunt.

You can’t

Now, this is a different conversation then getting adults to supervise their children in a space (we covered that as well-let me know if you want details). This is about adults playing/participating/interacting with the exhibits and the young people that they brought with them.

I think one of the myths of becoming a parent or caretaker is that you automatically know how to play. It’s not true. Some people are amazing at playing with children, they can get down on the floor and get their hands dirty or their imaginations going without a second thought.

Other people though, are watchers. They may be the type that always observed, they may feel uncomfortable in this role, they may have a lot going on in the rest of their lives and they just don’t have the bandwidth to do this right now….and that is ok

If you were hosting a program and you had a child who just wanted to watch, you wouldn’t toss them into the center of the group and say “No! You must participate the way I say!” It is the same with adults, they need what that child needs. They need opportunities, to have interactions modeled for them and to have a chance to process it in their own way.

So, keep encouraging, keep modeling, keep giving them ways to tie it in to things they do at home with their children. Even if they aren’t doing it the “right” way (ie the way you think they should) it doesn’t mean they aren’t getting anything out of it.

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Museum Visitors are Incredibly Brave

As museum professionals I think we forget sometimes to step back and look at things from a visitor’s point of view. Our visitors are incredibly brave. They come up to a a strange building, with rules that they don’t know, and are expected to go in and explore (maybe on their own) and learn. That is a lot to ask!

For me, it really hit home when I dug into Elissa Frankle Olinsky’s “Hierarchy of Museum Visitor Needs” Based off of an educational philosophy commonly called Maslow’s Hierarchy, it really puts into perspective what visitors go through.

Just to get in the door, visitors are assessing if they are safe and welcome. Assuming they feel like they are able to walk in, then they need to make sure all of their basic needs can be met in this space. Can they find a bathroom, a place to eat, understand the rules and how they are supposed to behave.

Once they’ve jumped those hurdles they need to feel like they understand the purpose of the space. What they will learn and how they will learn it.

Only then, after overcoming three difficult levels can they start to take in, process and apply the things in your museum and really come away with those core components that they you have put so much effort into creating for them.

So, have you given your museum visitors enough credit? Are you recognizing everything it takes to just get into your space and be able to learn there?

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