November 17, 2016

Play Matters (an L.A. Story!)

Our preschool team enjoying Los Angeles:
Caroline, Jessie, Hetta, Katy, Christie
Earlier this month, our entire preschool team had a unique opportunity to travel together to southern California to “grow their brains”, as they so often say to children.

Teachers Jessie Vanden Hogen and Christie Stanford were selected to present at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Los Angeles.  Through generous support from the school’s endowment fund, we were able to send all five team members to the conference – where the team not only supported Christie and Jessie, but also engaged in several days of dynamic learning with thousands of educators from around the country.

This year's conference featured sessions on issues that are of crucial importance to the early childhood field today. The NAEYC president's speech explored practices and strategies that build professional capacity to create a more just world for our programs, the staff who work within these programs, and the children and families they serve. Other sessions explored social-justice education, new strategies to encourage literacy in a digital age, strengthening the early childhood leadership pipeline, and more. 

Jessie and Christie at the NAEYC conference
Jessie and Christie’s session, which was very well attended by more than 200 people, focused on Mindfulness and Executive Function Skills Built through Storytelling. They taught their fellow educators how to help reduce stress, learn about oneself and others, and practice these skills through the art of storytelling and play.  Jessie and Christie are masters of this work.  Through their own deep experiences as long-time preschool teachers, and through sharing the research of other experts in the field, Christie and Jessie wowed their audience and attracted plenty of attention and follow-up.

For teacher Hetta Towler, the conference gave her abundant validation on why our preschool is such a great place to be. “I’m grateful for where we work,” she told me. At Friends’, our teachers believe strongly in the power of play, the importance of allowing kids to engage in physical play, and to practice executive function.

Our teachers believe wholeheartedly in creating play-based, child-centered learning environments.  They understand the beauty of childhood, and the importance of teaching children how to be mindful.  They intentionally teach connection. Our preschool does an amazing job of not only preparing children for Kindergarten and providing the most seamless transition to that next important step, but for all the years that follow. They teach both oral language and social competency.  And they do it through play. These are essential skills that many of us did not receive until later in our education.

Bev Bos with our preschool team in 2004: Jessie, Christie,
and current Director of Middle School Shelby Pawlina
One of the great advocates of play-based learning for preschoolers was Bev Bos. Bos, who passed away earlier this year, served for nearly fifty years as the director of Roseville Community Preschool in Roseville, California. She was a teacher, author and lifelong learner who spoke at more than 6,000 education conferences both in the U.S. and overseas. She believed that, given the proper environment, young children could choose their own learning activities.

Bev Bos taught educators and gave them the ability to trust our children, that they are capable. She is a revered figure for our preschool teachers.   She once said: “There are eleven conditions for human growth, and all of them fit into play. Children need to be outside. They can do so much there. They can feel a sense of belonging there. They can take risks.”

Following Jessie and Christie’s presentation, a young teacher approached them and asked how they got into storytelling.  “Bev Bos would have loved your storytelling”, she told them.

And I say, of course she would have.  Christie and Jessie are today’s experts. And I am glad that our dedicated team got to spend four days learning and playing together.

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