Through the Eyes of Young Children
By Lois Wachtel, Walden MS in Early Childhood Studies alumna and founder of Creative Beginning Steps
Editor’s note: Lois Wachtel will be offering a workshop, sponsored by The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership, at the 2014 NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo, Nov. 5–9 in Dallas. She shares her story with Spotlight on Walden and explains how her work is impacting the field of early childhood education.
Some things are just meant to be, or so I have come to believe. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher, but my first jobs were not in education. A few years later, as luck would have it, a position as an early childhood director came my way, and I realized my dream was actually coming true after all.
What I could not have imagined then is the tremendous impact that young children would have on my life. After 16 years as an early childhood director and a preK teacher, I left the classroom to form my own company, Creative Beginning Steps. My goal was to present quality, interactive, and fun early childhood workshops with exciting, developmentally appropriate ideas that early childhood teachers, assistant teachers, directors, and parents could share with their students and children. In this way, I would be able to reach more young children than when I was in my own classroom.
As an educator in these workshops, I began to understand that I had a responsibility to my participants to remain up to date on the changes occurring within the field of early childhood. I wanted my workshops to reflect ideas that were current and relevant to my participants. So I enrolled at Walden University to obtain my MS in Early Childhood Studies, a decision that changed my life forever.
As a result of my education at Walden, I encourage my adult students to use my ideas but, most importantly, to put their own creative twist on them. After all, they know their students best. I recognized the need to make our early childhood classrooms more welcoming for children while we celebrate their diversity. I gained a new appreciation of the intensity of parenting in our world and subsequently developed parenting workshops, many of which are offered at no cost to the school or the parent. While presenting these workshops and keynote addresses throughout the United States and Canada, including at the last five NAEYC conferences, I feel a new responsibility—to be the voice of many young children.
In every workshop, participants are encouraged to look at life through the eyes of the children in their classrooms and in their care. Together, we watch colors rise on paper towels, paint with squishy balls, play junk bag math, write individual class books, and sing with the Wishy Washy Woman. Through these fun interactions, we are learning math, literacy, and science, while building small and large motor skills. Perhaps I am teaching participants what I always knew: while children learn best through play, adults can, too!
Here are a few other things learned through my students that early childhood educators can use in their classrooms:
EVERY early childhood educator can (and must!) speak up for the children. We have the power to make a difference. We must take the time to explain to parents what is happening in their child’s classroom. There is not a rule book for becoming a parent; we need to be the voice of their children. I found that the more I listen and share with parents, the more involved they become.
Early childhood educators have a responsibility to learn about their students’ families. Families hold the key to our understanding of the gift that they give us each day, their children. Learning about a child’s home culture gives teachers an opportunity to bring this knowledge into the classroom.
Don’t use the word “don’t.” Instead, teach young children what they can do. Encourage them to take the initiative. Inspire them to be creative; it is all right to spill some paint or get hands messy. Let them build a tower and leave it up during circle time. Bring art outside. Look outside of the box. Support imagination. Have fun!
I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, and I love working with little ones. But, in my heart, I know that working with adults is where I was meant to be.