ECCLPS/NJC Early Childhood Conference draws 53

Keynote speaker highlights importance of play in learning.

By CALLIE JONES | | Sterling Journal-Advocate
PUBLISHED: January 30, 2024 at 9:55 a.m. | UPDATED: January 30, 2024 at 11:45 a.m.

March 7, 2024
Catherine Aasen Floyd, director of ideal learning initiatives for Trust for Learning, talks about the organization's principles of ideal learning environments during her keynote presentation on "The Importance of Play in an Ideal Learning Environment" at the Early Childhood Conference Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Callie Jones/Journal-Advocate)

The importance of play in learning was the focus of this year’s Early Childhood Conference hosted by the Early Childhood Council of Logan, Phillips, Sedgwick counties and Northeastern Junior College. Held all day Saturday at the college, the conference drew 53 registrants, including preschool/center directors and family childcare home providers.

This year’s keynote speaker was Catherine Aasen Floyd, PhD, director of ideal learning initiatives for Trust for Learning, who spoke about “The Importance of Play in an Ideal Learning Environment.” She started by pointing out the important role that early educators play in helping children be successful later on in school and not need interventions.

“There’s a lot that we do, there’s a lot that you do every day that you probably will never know that will prevent somebody from needing those kinds of services later. Not a lot of people understand, so I’m here to tell you thank you, I appreciate what you do every day, you might not hear that every time but what you do is vitally important,” Floyd told the conference attendees.

Next, she went over Trust for Learning’s principles of ideal learning environments, which among other things include:

• Play is an essential element of young children’s learning;

• Instruction is personalized to acknowledge each child’s unique development; 

• The teacher is a guide, nurturing presence, and co-constructor of knowledge;

• Young children and adults learn through relationships;

• The environment is intentionally designed to facilitate children’s independence, exploration and interaction; and

• Time of childhood is valued.

In discussion about the last principle, there was a conversation about the importance of letting children be children and not always placing expectations on them.

“We never let them be. We always are thinking about what they can do, what they will be, what they can learn, what they didn’t learn, what they should’ve learned,” Foster said. “It’s really about, it’s okay for you to just be you right here right now, with me interacting with you, and we’re not always going to think about that next step, even though we’re always teaching to that next step. We’re going to value the child for who they are.”

She also talked about play-based learning, pointing out that it is different than letting children run amok. It involves teachers/daycare providers interacting with the child and giving suggestions. For example, when the child is playing with blocks, the teacher says, “You need your base to be strong so that you can make your tower taller” or asks the child what they can do to make one tower the same size as another tower.

Foster pointed out that anytime there is an adult and a child you can create an ideal learning environment; you don’t have to be a teacher. For example, if you’re a parent, when you go to the grocery store ask your child how many apples you need for everyone in the family and have them count them out.

“Anytime you’re with a child you really can be creating this ideal learning environment,” she said.

Conference-goers also reviewed the different forms of playing that children engage in including solitary, parallel, social, cooperative, onlooker, fantasy, physical and constructive.

In talking about the importance of play and how young children learn, Foster equated it to a Velcro wall game.

“We’re putting them in Velcro suits and we’re throwing them at the wall but they’re not sticking because all we’ve done is maybe they know how to say (the letter sound) aa, aa, aa but that doesn’t do me much good on a Velcro suit,” she said, explaining that you must go beyond teaching the letter sound. For example, if the Letter of the Week is L, make it meaningful by tying it to Valentine’s Day and talking about things you can do with L such as writing cards to people you love and asking the child how to write the L in the word love. “That gave them a Velcro sticker; that gave them something to grab onto because they understand L has meaning.”

The conference also offered a variety of sessions throughout the day on topics including, yoga, music, math and more. Speakers included Meagan Graefe, ECCLPS’ Stephanie Swenson, Chris Swenson, Bailee Jones and Caitlyn Russell, Nicole Donatto, Chef Calvin Lee, Erika Cincotta and Shelli Krager.

When not attending sessions, conferencegoers were able to visit the 18 vendors that were set up on-site and enjoy a complimentary breakfast and lunch. Plus, throughout the day there were 50 door prizes given away.



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