I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC in early August to attend the BUILD Initiative’s 2013 QRIS National Meeting. It was an impactful meeting with researchers sharing the latest studies and promising practices and state leaders who spoke about what those studies meant in terms of actual practice in their states. Enlightening. Encouraging. Insightful. Every session offered powerful knowledge and advice that would serve to inform our future work. I returned to Spartanburg energized and motivated, and reassured that we were moving in the right direction to support our teachers and directors, our parents, but most importantly our children. Our goal must always be that we do what is best for young children so the environments in which they grow and develop allows them to become curious and engaged learners. So that every day is truly a new adventure that causes their brains grow building strong foundations. So they awake each morning excited to go to preschool, wondering what awesome idea Miss Ann (or any other teacher) has planned for them. Will they experience camping for the first time right in their very own classroom? Will they get to bring a flashlight and a backpack with them as they trek around the classroom discovering animal prints and hearing the sounds of animals and birds you can only hear in the forest? Will they make smores over a pretend fire?
Children become lifelong learners when they fall in love with learning. Teachers who know how to guide young children in learning know that it is critical for children to play with materials that encourage them to think, build, create, ask, and discover. They know it is critical to facilitate their learning by knowing each child individually, listening carefully to their questions and responding thoughtfully.
Perhaps the most important thing I heard at the meeting in DC came from an international expert on child development and social policy. She told a story about picking up her grandson, Sam, on the last day of his 5K school year. Curious, she asked his teacher do you think Sam is ready for first grade. The teacher responded, “Well, Sam can count and he knows how to spell his name and the sounds that letters make. But, above all Sam is happy with the world and happy with himself. He is cooperative, focused and inquisitive; he loves life and has a genuine love of learning. Yes, Ms. Smith, Sam is ready for school.”
As this new school year moves into full swing, I hope as parents, grandparents, teachers, and caregivers we do not lose focus of how important it is for our young children to love life and learning in the hopes that they will grow into lifelong learners. There is always something new to be learned every day – for all of us.
Barbara Manoski, Quality Counts Program Director