Lessons in Early Childhood Education
Collins Trott’s community college students are outside flapping their arms like birds, picking up the first pieces of tri-color pasta they see in the grass, and holding them between their fingers on one hand. They are so immersed that they don’t notice the double takes from students walking across campus. When they’ve found four, they circle up to discuss. Seeing that they mostly found red and yellow rotini, and the green ones are still hidden in the grass, these child development students discover it’s an activity for teaching preschoolers about camouflage.
Trott began her education career teaching first grade in a small town north of Atlanta. To maintain her own momentum as a student she enrolled in Walden’s MS in Education program while in her first year as a teacher. “Being completely focused on language and literacy and being able to apply what I learned with 6-year-olds was transformative,” she says.
One lesson that stands out more than 15 years later explored the power of cross-lateral movement. Songs and games that require young students to move both sides of their bodies or, for example, one hand across their midline to the other side of their body, stimulate both hemispheres of their brain and help them focus.
During her six years as an elementary school teacher, Trott also had the opportunity to provide technology training to adults. That and a move to Alabama inspired her to start teaching as an adjunct at Wallace Community College. There she teaches adult learners who work or aspire to work in pre-schools, Head Start, and similar settings. She’s since moved up to become a fulltime faculty member and department chair for the child development program.
“By sharing good teaching practices with current and future educators of young children, I have a broader reach than I did in an elementary classroom,” says Trott of her career shift.
One of the teaching practices she emphasizes for early childhood education involves getting students outdoors doing creative, applied lessons, like the one on camouflage.
“You can find tons of activities to do with second-graders and above, but you don’t see a lot of science lessons geared toward that younger age level,” says Trott. “These are foundational skills we can instill in children at the youngest of ages. It is so much more impactful than reading something from a textbook and taking a test on it.”
Her work sharing applied environmental education activities earned her the title 2022 Alabama Project Learning Tree Educator of the Year. Project Learning Tree, an initiative of the nonprofit Sustainable Forestry Initiative, is “committed to advancing environmental education, forest literacy, and green career pathways, using trees and forests as windows on the world.”
Trott emphasizes that while field trips into rural areas are powerful, there are many activities that can be done outside anywhere. Another fun one that she teaches at community college involves going outside to blow bubbles as a way of teaching about air, wind, and shapes.
“We have fun,” she says. “And there’s a lesson in there too.”
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