Connect Before Correct

June 22, 2021

By Melanie Douglass:

Last week I had the pleasure of virtually joining early childhood educators from around the country at NAEYC’s Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) Symposium. As this was the first DAP Symposium I had attended, I was not sure what to expect. I was already familiar with the DAP Position Statement but the prospect of hearing from the authors as well as experts in the field of early childhood education was intriguing. Afterall, 2020 was a year like no other and much has changed since NAEYC’s last DAP Statement in 2009….or has it?


A common theme throughout many of the sessions in the virtual symposium was the idea of “continuity and change.” The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) continues to remind us that childhood is a special time that should be filled with play-based, joyful learning. In her closing thoughts from the morning session, early childhood specialist and author of the 1987 and 1997 position statements, Sue Bredenkamp advocates that it is not just enough to let children play. She states, “We make play effective when teachers know its benefits. Playful learning programs need to meet the academic expectations and help children make progress.” This deeply resonated with me and the work we do at Little Folks. We are a play-based program and joyful learning happens every day! Students learn engineering concepts when they play with blocks. They engage in motor planning when they climb trees. They build fine motor skills for future writing when they create artwork. They experiment with phonemic awareness with rhyming games. Students learn “academic concepts” in playful ways and teachers at Little Folks are intentional in the work we do with young children. 


Play and joyful learning have been consistent throughout all of NAEYC’s DAP Position Statements (1987, 1997, 2009, 2020). The big change that can be seen in the 2020 statement is its focus on equitable learning. Bredenkamp simply explains, “if it is not equitable, it is not developmentally appropriate.”  My favorite breakout session, “Playful Learning & DAP Promotes the Development of Math (and more),” emphasized that early math is most predictive of later academic success - even greater than early literacy. Chock-full of simple, effective, and fun math teaching strategies (that I hope to share with teachers at our August orientation), the session explained how the math opportunity gap begins at a young age and quality early childhood education is the best way to address this learning gap. The focus of equitable learning could be seen in nuggets from other sessions as well: examining inclusive practices through an equity lens, using assessments to discover children’s “growing edges,” and addressing challenging behavior with a strengths-based approach. 


I left the symposium bursting with information to share with my colleagues at Little Foiks; my mind swirling with ideas for our orientation week and beyond! After hearing from so many educated and informed speakers, the phrase that stuck with me the most was this: “connect before correct.” It is the relationships children have with the special grown-ups in their lives that are so very important to their development. When we strengthen connections with young children, they learn more deeply and grow more fully. Whether you are a parent or an educator, I ask you, how will you build connections with your children?


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