Ijumaa, why is play an equity issue?

Happy Real World Wednesday! This week we have the pleasure of introducing Ijumaa Jordan! Slide1

Ijumaa is an early education consultant, who focuses on reflective practice, culturally relevant teaching, and developing anti-bias curriculum for young children and adults. Being a part of Harvest Resources Associates, means much of her work with teachers and administrators happens by facilitating professional development in a “community of practice” model that promotes reflective teaching practices and leadership.

Ijumaa has more than twenty years of teaching in early education and directing and also serves as an Adjunct Instructor. She received her Basic Core Certificate in Early Childhood Education from UCLA Extension followed by a BA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College with a concentration in Early Childhood Education, Emergent Curriculum, and Anti-bias Education. She also received her MA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks with a concentration in Leadership in Education and Human Services with sub-specializations in College Teaching/Teaching Adults.

At the 2016 NAEYC Annual Conference, Ijumaa is hoping to lead a session titled, Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free: Ensuring children from all socio-economic and racial groups have access to free and complex play. Given her interests and expertise, we decided to ask her: “Ijumaa, why is play an equity issue?”

Here’s her incredibly thoughtful response:

Play is a right for all children and they deserve an early education experience that supports this right. As more research and opinion pieces are written about how play is disappearing in early education, the “elephant in the room” is that this worrisome trend is not impacting all young children equally. The reality is that early education is segregated by race and class in the same way K-12 is. We can no longer live in a fantasy that we can advocate for play-centered early care and education without dismantling the oppressive educational system that denies access play based on race and class.

As a consultant I get invited to visit programs across the country. What I began to notice is that access to play differed depending the racial and socio-economic status of children being served with a few exceptions. I observed different environments, the quality of play materials, and teachers’ interactions with children. I recently visited a program in an affluent community where four out of eighty children are Korean American, two children are Chinese American, one child is African American, one child is bi-racial (African American and Latina from Puerto Rico). The rest of the children are white. Children have lush outdoor environments to explore where they can roll down a hill, climb up the tree house and slide down, there is paint on easels that cover a wall. There is a wire construction that you can add more wire and beads to. There are two water tables one with plastic sea animals and the other with different kinds of cups. Inside the classrooms there are areas for dressing up to save the world from monsters, building a farm and a rocket ship with unit blocks, there are drums and a basket of scarves for interpretive dance. I hear children laughing, talking, whispering, and crying while being held because they fell down. I see a teacher with a small group of children discussing their plan to build a rolling river in the sand pit outside and drawing their plans. The teacher who is giving me the tour shows me the children’s developmental portfolios that are filled with work samples of drawing and writing, pictures with captions, anecdotal notes, comments from parents, and in the back a developmental checklist.

In contrast, I also recently visited a publicly-funded preschool program located in a working class neighborhood. The racial make up is 50 percent Latino/Latina from Mexico and El Salvador and 50 percent African American. 40 percent of the children speak Spanish as their first language. Spanish and English are spoken in the classroom but most of the written material is in English. Four classrooms encircle a large yard with most of the space taken up by a huge play structure. I find out later that the families helped fundraise for it. I was told that because they share the yard with other classrooms, outside playtime is twenty minutes. Most children run around the play structure and the children tell me that sometimes their teacher brings out balls. When they laugh loud or yell they are asked to lower their voices. Once inside they sit on the carpet on top of their own carpet piece. The teacher waits about five minutes for everyone to sit with their legs crossed and hands in their laps. She reads a book from the reading curriculum on the letter M then has children repeat preselected M words that she shows with cards. After group time the children go to their assigned seats at their group desk with their either the teacher or assistant teacher and trace the letter M. Then (finally) it’s indoor play time. The choices are puzzles, a set of Legos, a craft project of pasting a pre-cut monkey (for the letter M) on a paper bag to make a puppet, and the dramatic play that is set up as a kitchen with babies on a bed. The director showed me the assessment books, which had the child’s picture on the front and a print out of the assessment tool marked.

Reading these descriptions of two different programs you might think well it’s just because the teachers in the second program are less educated and don’t know the value and importance of play. In both programs the teachers have at least BA degrees and the assistant teachers are either in college or have associate degrees. The teachers in both programs know that play is valuable and learned about that in their formal and informal education opportunities. The problem is more systematic.

In an early education environment where more assessments and regulations are administered the unintentional consequence has been the lack of play and more teacher directed activities to “teach” children the skills that will make them “school ready” and “close the achievement gap”. Teachers are pressured to raise assessment scores so they “teach to the assessment”. These educational reforms applied to low-income children, children of color, and native children are restricting their access to self-initiated, complex play.

It’s time we discuss and analyze how systematic classism and racism privileges play for some children, while devaluing it for others. With the goal of moving play back to the center of childhood experiences for all.

I would love to have more conversations about this topic you can find me on Facebook on my professional page Ijumaa Jordan – ECE Consultant or on twitter @ijumaaj.

Thank you, Ijumaa!


Getting Involved in Social Change

Slide1Happy Real World Wednesday! This week we have the pleasure of featuring Susan Ochshorn!!!

Susan is the founder of the consulting firm ECE PolicyWorks and the author of Squandering America’s Future: Why ECE Policy Matters for Equality, Our Economy, and Our Children.  She has served in a number of advisory positions, including on the council of the Early Learning Initiative at the Education Commission of the States. A former journalist, Ochshorn has written for CNN Opinion, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, and other publications. She blogs at the Huffington Post and ECE Policy Matters, the go-to place for early childhood teachers, those who train them, and the decision makers who determine their professional course.

Given her background, we couldn’t wait to ask her: What are some ways that early childhood professionals can get involved in social change?

Here’s her inspirational response:

Hello! Thank you for hosting me. This is an awesome space. I’m talking not only about this interest forum, which has incredible potential. I’m thinking of all you early childhood professionals. You’re part of a renaissance of social activism.

Recent research by NAEYC has found that society’s perceptions are changing—more people have a positive image of those who work with young children and families. Hallelujah! But I don’t have to tell you that the workforce is struggling in real time. The vast majority of early childhood teachers are women, many of them under-educated and living on the margins. The pressures under current education reform policies, rooted in standards-based accountability, are unprecedented, and support, inadequate.

For early educators of color, the lift is heavier still. These teachers NAEYC discovered, were more likely than their white peers to perceive a range of obstacles in pursuing their careers. The litany is long, and familiar: finding a job with adequate pay and benefits; affording the cost and navigating the process of getting a college degree; and understanding the requirements for credentialing and certification. Add lack of training and mentoring, low compensation and herculean work schedules, and limited opportunities for climbing the ladder, and you’ve got a workforce on the short end of equity and social justice.

This profile mirrors that of families and children. Toxic stress and violence are proliferating, along with the growing number of homeless and hungry children. Parents live in a time when the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness butts up against a gap in income on part with that of El Salvador. Our child poverty levels—above 50 percent in Louisiana post-Katrina—put us to shame on the world’s social justice index.

The good news is that growing numbers of caregivers and educators across the nation are raising their voices in unison with other activists within and beyond the early childhood community. The issues of economic, racial, and social inequality, as well as educational inequity have gone main stream. Some of the seeds for collaboration are already taking root on this page (Child Care Fightfor15). Many more organizations, initiatives, and movements are sprouting like mushrooms all over the country, some with state affiliates. Here’s just a handful: EduColor, ColorofChange, Badass Teachers Association, Network for Public Education, Caring Economy Campaign, Economic Justice, United Opt Out, Outdoor Afro, Progressive Education Network.

But don’t for a minute underestimate the power of local advocacy and activism. You need to get into the policy and political weeds, working at the grassroots in your own particular ecosystems. Otherwise, those who know little about children, and are woefully inadequate to the task, end up making big decisions with dangerous repercussions.


Posted by ECE PolicyWorks on Friday, December 18, 2015

How does racism impact the development of infants and toddlers?

It’s Real World Wednesday! And this week we are featuring Daseta Gray!Daseta RWW

Daseta is a certified Infant Toddler Specialist who has been in the field of early childhood education for almost two decades. She migrated from Jamaica to the United States in 1981 and did several odd jobs while attending school for her GED. She now holds an A.A.S from Bronx Community College, a B.A in Psychology from Lehman College, a M.A from City College, and she is working on her PhD. Daseta shares information with parents and caregivers on her blog (SabreeHarlemParents.com), has her own consulting company, and provides staff development. With her daughter, Reeshemah Brightley, she started the First 2000 Days NY campaign in 2012 and also facilitates Baby & Wee™ sessions for parents and their infants/toddlers.

Daseta also co-facilitates Central and West Harlem’s New York Zero-to-Three Infancy Leadership Circle which is actively studying the ways racism affects young children and strategies to eliminate inequities. Given her expertise, we want to ask her: How does racism impact the development of infants and toddlers?

Here’s what she had to say:

Racism impacts the development of infants and toddlers in a number of ways. It actually begins in the doctor’s office through the unequal information that is given. A good example of this is a personal experience: my daughter took my grandson (2 years old) to the dentist at 23rd street [a more affluent, majority-white community] and he was given an age appropriate book. Another day he was given a book in my community, by the same organization, but it was inappropriate for his age.

When mothers are pregnant they are not given information about brain development and as a result when they have their baby they are not able to help them along the developmental lines.

The businesses in under-served communities do not sell books that are appropriate for infants/toddlers and the libraries do not have a section just for infants/toddlers with age appropriate books. You cannot find enough quality toys in our community. Many times we say those mothers are terrible at parenting, they do not care about their kids…but is anyone taking the time to teach them? (Pizarro, 2010). That is the real question.

How does that look? 

You can see this disparity showing up in a number of areas in this young child’s life that may take them on the journey to the cradle to prison pipeline. This disparity begins when the family is pregnant and they are not given information about brain development although the research clearly shows that the experiences that are given to children during the 0-3 years will determine how the architecture of their brain will be wired (Lally, 2013).

These disparities show up in the amount of referrals for speech, occupational therapy, attention deficit disorder, infant/toddler mental health in the underserved communities. This shows up in the high number of calls to ACS from certain zip codes. This shows up in the high rate of three year olds that are being suspended from pre-schools (Strasser, 2014). This shows up in the amount of three year olds that are placed on Ritalin (Dell’Antonia, 2014).

This shows up in the amount of children of color that are taken from families a by the Child Protection Agency and usually placed in a foster home with a family that is not trained in infant /toddler care. The system dismantles many families, but minority children are ten times more likely to be taken from their families (Roberts, 2002).

“It’s well-known that foster children lag behind in just about every indicator of health and well-being, said Fisher, who has acted as a principal investigator on several studies of foster children. But the neurological basis for the problems has only become known in the last decade.” Racism shows up in too many places and spaces it will take and major mid shift in the community to change this behavior (Shonkoff, J. & Fisher, P. A., n.d.)

This shows up in child childcare programs with staff who are not knowledgeable about infant/toddler development and in so doing does not give the infant/toddler the skills that he/she needs to be successful in kindergarten the research shows that 60% of these children lacks the social, emotional and cognitive school readiness skills when they get to kindergarten.

Is there anything you want to change?

There are many things that I would like to change and I will list a few:

  • I would like to see all pregnant families be given classes on brain development based on the current re-search on brain development
  • I would like businesses to understand that they need to invest in the infants/toddlers in underserved communities because these infants/toddlers grow up to become tomorrow’s customers
  • The faith based community should play a more active role in educating themselves and their members about the importance of those first three years
  • I would have an infant/toddler space in all housing projects and have appropriate toys and a library with a parent coach. During pregnancy classes on brain development will be offered in that space and attendance will be mandatory
  • I would like to see everyone who are touching the lives of infants and toddlers join the First 2000 Days campaign New York
  • The provider mothers and daycare teachers and Directors would be trained on brain development during the first three years
  • I would also improve the teacher preparation course in the colleges by adding an infant/toddler curriculum. According to Diem & Carpenter (2012), “the preparation of today’s school leaders must include a purposeful focus on building the critical dialogical skills necessary to facilitate anti-racist conversations, which includes carefully examining issues/concepts pertaining to color-blind ideology misconceptions of human differences, critical-self reflection and the interrogation of race-related silences in the classroom.”

You may be asking, “How will I benefit from investing in the first 3 years and why these first 200 days are important?” Think about it when a child gets to kindergarten and they are able to communicate their needs, they are able to self-regulate, they are able to co-operate, they feel competent, they have self-esteem, they have empathy, they have a positive approach to learning and they are able to do active listening they will be successful. These children will grow to become positive contributors to their communities. Tax dollars will be saved on many special needs programs because there will be a reduction in the need.

There will also be a reduction in anti-social behaviors, and crime will be reduced. Communities will be healthier. Investing in pregnant families and infants/toddlers is community development (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007).

Thanks, Daseta, for sharing your expertise with us!  A PDF of her reflections can be found here.


Dell’Antonia, K. J. (2014). The new inequality for toddlers: Less income; more Ritalin. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/16/the-new-inequality-for-toddlers-less-income-more-ritalin/?_r=0

Lally, J. R. (2013). For our babies. San Francisco, CA: West Ed.

Strasser, A. (2014). Black preschoolers face an epidemic of suspensions. Think Progress. Retrieved from http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/03/21/3417424/black- preschooler-suspension/

Roberts, D. (2002). Race and class in the child welfare system. PBS Frontline. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/fostercare/caseworker/roberts.html

Jones Harden, B. (n.d.). Young children in child welfare: Developmentally-sensitive and scientifically-informed practice [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://www.oregon.gov/dhs/children/beyondfc/pages/news/early-childhood-dev.aspx – !prettyPhoto[gallery2]/13/

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2007). The science of early child development: Closing the gap between what we know and what we do. Retrieved from http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/the-science-of-early-childhood-development-closing-the-gap-between-what-we-know-and-what-we-do/

Opportunities to Advance Racial Equity in the Head Start Performance Standards

From left to right: Megan Madison, Catherine Corr, Katherine Paschall, Deborah Daro, Leah Bartley, Alayna Schreier

From left to right: Megan Madison, Catherine Corr, Katherine Paschall, Deborah Daro, Leah Bartley, Alayna Schreier

This week the Forum’s co-facilitators Megan Madison (far left) and Dr. Catherine Corr (second to left) were busy attending the annual meeting of the Doris Duke Fellowships at Chapin Hall in Chicago. They are part of a small group of emerging scholars focusing on interventions and systems aimed to promote child well-being.

Given their collective expertise and experience with Head Start programs, the group engaged in a rich discussion about the newly proposed Head Start Performance Standards.

On our Facebook page, Katie (Katherine Paschall) shared her thoughts:

Clearly, it is difficult to create regulations and policies for such a diverse group of families, but it is my wish that Head Start programs can continue to be responsive to the needs of their local communities; the strengths of the proposed updates allow for greater flexibility and strength in addressing the needs of vulnerable families, as defined by local communities. The weaknesses are those that threaten the strength of local communities/grantees to deliver the most appropriate program to their community.

From my view, the proposed standards include several commendable and appropriate updates to current enrollment policies, implementation strategies and focuses; the updates guided by research evidence are the clear strengths. For instance, Head Start will open slots to pregnant women experiencing homelessness & foster children, and intentionally incorporate evidence-based strategies for promoting the development of these particularly vulnerable populations.

The largest and most publicized update is the movement from half-day to full-day care, which is a double-edged sword. I am concerned, as are many others, that this will reduce the number of children who can be served, and that this will be an impediment to currently operating programs. I agree with the National Head Start Association that this should be one option, offered with the full support of the Office of Head Start, rather than a mandate.

All in all, the way the standards are written include few mandates, with plenty of “wiggle room” for programs to adapt them to their populations. However, some of that wiggle room can be problematic, such as the de-emphasis on family engagement. I look forward to hearing from my colleagues and am so glad to have the opportunity to publicly comment on these standards!

The group then compiled their thoughts into a formal comment.  All in all, they identified multiple ways in which the revision of these performance standards provided an opportunity to advance equity in early childhood education.  To read the group’s formal comment, click here.

Meeting the Needs of Bilingual Children

Happy Real World Wednesday!! This week we have the tremendous pleasure of learning from Milagros Ramirez.

Millie Slide

Milagros is currently a PhD student at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. As a PhD student, she has written about education and child & family policy issues, including the importance of Head Start in supporting the long term success low income children. She has also worked for three years as Director of Program Evaluation and Development at a Head Start program where she supported evaluation and grant writing efforts.

Today we’ve asked Millie to help provide some insight around how early childhood programs can better meet the needs of dual language learners and their families. Millie, what does the research say about meeting the needs of bilingual children in early childhood settings?

Here’s Millie’s thoughtful response:

Children from immigrant families represent an incredibly diverse and growing segment of the U.S population. Many young children from these families (including children who are foreign born) speak a primary language other than English. While there are several terms used to identify their linguistic background, such as Dual Language Learners and English Language Learners (for clarification of these terms, click here), these only begin to tell their story. Several important distinctions can be made in order to understand their complexity, including:

  • Children learning two languages are vastly heterogeneous not just in background, but also in experiences, as well as language and literacy abilities.
  • Children learning two languages, particularly Dual Language Learners, build parallel language systems that can support communication in both their first and second language. Hence, many young children can learn two languages at the same time early on[1].

Early childhood programs are a key resource for these children and their families, providing valuable educational and supportive services. While there is extensive research on the benefits of early childhood programs, more research specifically focused on dual language learners is needed. There is a consensus however, on several dimensions that are important for supporting these diverse groups, including:

  • Promoting home language skills can be meaningful for development: In optimal educational settings, instruction in the home language contributes to growth in both English language skills and home language skills. Additionally, promoting the home language can have a positive impact on the social-emotional development of young children[2].
  • Involving families in their children’s learning is key: Research has demonstrated that young children can learn more than one language. Hence, language development need not be a zero-sum game. Working closely with families of dual language learners can and should include activities for supporting home language skills development[3].
  • Professional development strategies specifically designed to address the needs of dual language learners can foster effective instruction: Ideally, early childhood education staff should receive professional development that educates them on the needs of dual language learners and keeps them up-to-date on bilingual issues, and the rewards of bilingualism, so that language diversity is truly accepted in the classroom. This kind of training and awareness will help create a continuous dialogue between teachers and families.

And for more information, Millie recommends checking out the following websites:

The information above can be found in PDF form here: Millie One-Pager

[1] Williams C., (2015), Dual Language Learners: Summarizing the Research on Dual Language Learners, American Educator http://www.edcentral.org/dllresearch/

[2] Goldenberg C., Hicks J., Lit H., (2013) Dual Language Learners: Effective Instruction in Early Childhood, American Educator https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Goldenberg_Hicks_Lit.pdf

[3] Same as above.

Equity Leaders Action Network Opportunity

The BUILD Initiative is launching an Equity Leaders Action Network (ELAN) to support individual leaders, over three years, who have responsibility at the state or county level for early childhood systems. ELAN leaders will work together to identify, address and take action on issues of inequity based on race, ethnicity, language and culture in our early childhood state systems.

The goals of the program are to:

  • Support leaders in developing the will and skill to question personal assumptions, institutional and structural policies and practices, and work collaboratively to develop a blueprint to promote early childhood systems that are explicitly and measurably equitable and excellent for all children.
  • Build the capacity of members to critically examine, with a racial equity lens, institutional and structural policies and practices in the distribution of state and federal resources (funding and services).
  • Advance change to avoid disadvantaging racially and ethnically diverse children, families and members of the early childhood workforce.

Applications are due at 5 pm ET on July 30, 2015

To learn more, click here.