By: Dawn Irwin
As I sit here sipping my coffee on a beautiful Saturday morning, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of contentment and satisfaction. I haven't been this relaxed mentally and emotionally for longer than I can remember. The corners of my mouth can't help but turn towards the sky and I am trying to get comfortable with a lightness that feels foreign to me.
I've gotten so used to carrying around uncertainty and fear that my brain doesn't know what to do with the sudden extra bandwidth.
For the past 13 months, every single day was littered with complications, impossible hurdles, infuriating roadblocks, and unexpected heartbreaks. For the first time in over a year, that negative cloud has dissipated.
This past Wednesday, July 1st, was our first official day of school. I barely slept a wink the night before. But, not for the reasons I've lost so much sleep since last June. This time it was because of an excited, nervous giddiness that kept my mind humming along all night. If felt a lot like those sleepless Christmas Eve nights when I was a kid - laying awake in bed anxiously awaiting the time I could finally creep down the stairs and see what was waiting for me under the tree.
And, Wednesday turned out to be everything I hoped it would be. My amazing teachers arrived looking just as excited and nervous as I was. The kiddos came next, saying their goodbyes to their grownups. The school was filled with the wonderful, joyful chaos I've been missing for so long.
There was laughter, singing, reading, snuggling, negotiations, dancing, construction, mud cookies, a rock cake, painting, and even a few tears. New relationships were formed and familiar ones were rekindled.
At the end of the day, I was emotionally depleted and achingly exhausted, but I was whole. I had finally found the missing piece of the puzzle I had been searching for.
The outpouring of love we have received has also been an emotional roller coaster. It's incredible to physically feel the support of our community enveloping our little school. I know with every fiber of my being this dream would have never happened if it weren't for them. The countless shoulders I cried on, the many words of advice given, the financial support, the ones that saw a path forward when I couldn't, the endless dedication to the vision, the warriors that fought tooth and nail, the believers. I am eternally grateful for every single one of you. I would not be where I am today and the school would not have become what it is without you.
So, as I sit here reflecting back on the past thirteen months, basking in the lightness of this moment, I can't help but chuckle a little. As insane as it has been and almost impossible as it was to get to the place we are now, it's important to remember we have only just reached the starting line. We've taken just the first few steps of the marathon. The road will never end and I never want it to.
I'm ready. Let's do this.
By: Dawn Irwin
I don't really know how to begin this piece, so I'm just going to start writing, sitting in the uncomfortable knowledge of not knowing the best way to begin this conversation.
The past several days have been extremely emotional for me. And, I recognize that the emotions swirling inside of me do not even come close to the emotional baggage Black people in our country have been forced to carry for over four hundred years.
It has been extremely hard to watch video after video of protesters being brutalized by police officers around the country. I also recognize that what I've seen is nothing in comparison to the brutalization the Black community has been experiencing and witnessing for decades. The fact that I didn't do more to stop their nightmare before now weighs heavy on my heart.
I have felt a full range of emotions since the murder of George Floyd. Rage, frustration, confusion, desperation, deep sadness, helplessness, and most of all, shame. These have enveloped me on more than one occasion. But, by the end of last week, I also started to experience some other feelings. I felt inspiration, connectedness, pride, hope, and love. These latter emotions all stemmed from my five year old son.
It has been impossible to shield my children from the reality of the last few weeks. If I'm being completely honest, the fact that I was shielding them from the racist world we live in at all is a significant sign of my privilege and I regret not having done more to build their awareness. Although I can't change the past, I can recognize my mistakes and vow to do better.
My son heard his father and I having conversations about the protests, the brutality of the police, and the gross mistreatment of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in America. He also saw me watching videos explaining systemic racism, violence against Blacks, and researching resources for anti-racism. This, as you can imagine, has lead to many questions and conversations.
We have been as honest and transparent about current, as well as past, events as we possibly could be. Questions he asked that I didn't know how to answer, we tried to figure out together. When he asked why Black people are hurt by other people, I told him about White people being afraid of losing power over Black people so White people created ways to keep Black people from feeling safe and left them out of the communities they live in. I told him that White people still hurt Black people to fill them with fear and make them feel like nobody cares about them.
"But, I care about Black people! No one should be unkind to them. No one should hurt them!" he said to me with all the passion a five-year-old can muster.
"That's why it's so important for White people like you and me to use our voices and make sure we stop others from hurting Black people. We need to make sure Black people know that we care about them and will do what we can to help them."
A couple of days later, my son heard my husband and I talking about a protest taking place in our town. He immediately jumped up and demanded that we go to the protest. "If we go to the protest people will know that they can't be mean and hurt Black people. We will tell them to be kind. We need to show them (Black people) that we care about them."
Then he said,
"If I don't go, how will they know that I love them?"
The next afternoon, my husband helped my son make a sign. As we arrived at the protest, he was amazed by all of the people that were there. "Mama! Look! All of these people care about Black people too!"
For an hour and a half, he held his sign, waved at cars, and said hi to the folks that walked by. And, at the end, he knelt down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds with all of the adults in honor of George Floyd.
My five year old son understands the injustices of our country better than I ever have. He believes with every fiber of his being that its his responsibility to spread love and fight back against hate. I didn't need to, and shouldn't have, sheltered him from the cruelty of our oppressive society.
How can we expect our children to break the cycle of systemic racism if they don't even know it exists.
Kids are smart, capable, empathetic beings. We hardly ever give them the credit they deserve. It is our responsibility as adults to trust them with this knowledge and support them on their own social justice journeys. I waited longer than I should have with my son. I won't make the same mistake with my daughter.
I am on this path of discovery myself. I am trying to become the best ally I can and embrace an anti-racist way of living. I have no idea what I'm doing, except on one front: I am being open and honest about my own anti-racist journey with my children. We are learning and growing in our allyship together.
As long as white people keep doing our best to educate ourselves, act against oppression, and treat our children as capable allies, social justice will become the norm for our children and generations to come. That's the kind of world I want to live in, don't you?
The Conscious Kid - https://www.theconsciouskid.org/
Raising Race Conscious Children - http://www.raceconscious.org/
Center for Racial Justice - https://centerracialjustice.org/resources/resources-for-talking-about-race-racism-and-racialized-violence-with-kids/
PBS - https://www.pbs.org/parents/talking-about-racism
Other resources can be found here - https://bouncebackparenting.com/resources-for-talking-to-kids-about-race-and-racism/
By: Dawn Irwin
Two weeks ago, Governor Scott held a press conference in which he told in-home providers and child care programs that they have the choice to reopen starting June 1st. About five days later, the updated health guidelines were released. Since then, providers and programs from around the state have been working tirelessly to figure out how to reopen by the June date. Lots of folks are upset, petitions are being signed, protests are being held.
How did we get here?
Let's back up a little bit. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, our governor and state officials put an incredible policy in place called the Stabilization Program. This program provided financial support to in-home early childhood educators and child care programs and schools around the state to ensure their survival through the statewide closures. Without the remarkable leadership and support of our top government officials, the child care industry would have collapsed. Other states around the country are now looking to Vermont as a model on how to successfully navigate through a financially debilitating crisis. Now that we are all caught up, lets jump back to the current environment surrounding reopening.
The governor made his reopening announcement about four weeks before the June 1st date. Since then, guidance and other crucial information that the field needs to successfully and safely reopen has been trickling in. As I said, the health guidance was issued about five days after his initial announcement and another crucial piece of information was finally released on Friday. The Restart Stipends.
At the initial reopening press conference, it was announced that reopening June 1st was a choice providers and programs could make. However, it was also announced that the Stabilization Program would be ending May 31st. This made June 1st feel a lot less like a choice to many in the field. It was also announced that there would be grants available to programs to help with reopening costs. $6 million worth. We also found out that those funds would be used for not only childcare programs, but summer camps as well. Although it sounds like a big number, its actually pretty small. If every child care provider and program received an equal amount of funds from that total, we would all get $5,000. Sounds like a lot. But, let's think about what those funds need to be used for - more payroll to cover extra staff and/or hours to complete the new cleaning requirements, installation of new walls/barriers/etc. to meet group size restrictions, and the purchase of PPE equipment and the extra cleaning supplies needed on top of the normal amount we go through. That $5,000 won't get programs very far. And, that number is guaranteed to be smaller because of the summer camps and after school programs that will also be eligible for those funds. Providers have been given a week to apply for the stipend (they have until this Friday) if they want to be considered for any of the funds. And, magically, that <$5,000 is supposed to cover all of the extra financial burdens facing the field during this transitional period. This brings me to my biggest frustration with the reopening timeline - the accessibility and affordability of supplies.
Remember how toilet paper was MIA for awhile at the beginning of this whole crazy situation? Remember how scary it felt not knowing how long your stash would last or if you would be able to find it when you did run out? Do you remember how surreal it was walking through stores and all the shelves were just empty? How unbelievable it felt that basic items no one usually thinks about were being sold on ebay for hundreds of dollars over their usual retail price? Folks were hoarding supplies, others couldn't find any at all...it was a desperate time.
Here's the thing: this is still the reality for providers and programs.
Hundreds of early educators cannot find the essential cleaning supplies and PPE equipment they need to open their programs safely. Distributors won't sell them products because the child care industry is not designated as an "essential business". When they are lucky enough to find the products and equipment, they either can't afford to buy it in the amounts they now need or they are told it will be several weeks before their orders can be filled.
This is not conducive with a June 1st reopening.
When broken down like this, it is easy to understand why providers and programs are feeling anxious about reopening.
And, this doesn't even include the worries lots of folks, both families and providers, are feeling around how safe and developmentally appropriate some of the health guidelines are.
Hence, petitions and protests.
Here's the thing. We need to be more comfortable having "yes AND" conversations. Not everything has to be thrown into divisive boxes that pit us all against each other.
Let me give you some examples. Yes, the government did a phenomenal thing and showed the world that the field of early childhood education is valuable, important, and a crucial part of our economy AND we need continued substantial support to ensure our industry survives this transition. Yes, some children, families, and educators need to and are ready to get back into the consistent, caring, and nurturing child care environments we create AND some children, families, and educators think its too soon to go back. Yes, child care providers from every corner of Vermont are extremely appreciative and grateful for the support we were given during the closures AND we need to advocate for the safe reopening of our programs.
I know I just threw a rainstorm at you, but now its time to make way for the rainbow.
June 1st is approaching really fast. In fact, its two weeks from today. Instead of thinking about the impossibility of opening that soon, let's think about what we CAN do. We can focus on supplies and how we talk to one another. Here are my suggestions:
1. - Advocate to become a designated "essential business". Accessibility is one of our biggest challenges. If we want to ensure in-home providers and child care programs are able to open on time and safely, we need to make sure there are no unnecessary hold ups in the supply chain. Write to your legislators and urge them to add the child care industry to the "essential business" list. If the early childhood education field were added to that list, supply deliveries would go from weeks to days, meaning many programs would no longer think of reopening June 1st as an impossibility.
I'll even make it easy for you. Copy the passage in italics, click the link below to get matched with your legislators, then paste the passage into the message box, hit send and viola! You've just advocated for Vermont's early childhood educators!
I am a constituent from your district and I am writing to you to bring a concern of mine to your attention. I have recently found out that child care providers are having extreme difficulty finding the cleaning supplies and PPE equipment necessary for them to reopen their programs. I think it is a mistake to make them wait for these crucial materials. I urge you to add the child care industry as a designated essential business so that, like the health care industry, they can access the supplies and equipment needed to keep children and themselves safe and healthy at school. Thank you for your time and your support in this matter.
Seriously, don't finish reading this post until you've completed this simple task.
2. - Donate supplies. Advocating is necessary, but programs needed supplies and equipment yesterday. They can't afford the costs associated with extra supplies needed to follow the health guidelines. I have spoken directly with over a hundred providers and they are all asking for the same things - gloves, cloth masks, disinfecting spray, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer. If you are able, purchase one or two of these items on your next shopping trip and drop them off at a home provider or program near you. If you don't know any programs or providers, email me and I will make sure your donation makes its way to an educator that needs it.
3. - Make space for "yes AND" conversations. Nothing is ever black and white. Everything is always full of nuance and gray area, and that's not even taking a pandemic into account. There are lots of different emotions, perspectives, and experiences influencing the conversations surrounding our transition back into care. Every single one of them is valid. I'm going to say that again.
Every single one of them is valid.
Families need care AND families want to stay home longer. Providers want to get back to work AND providers are worried about the health and safety of themselves, their staff, and the children and families they serve. Isolation is detrimental to children AND physical distancing is developmentally inappropriate. The government kept our industry afloat during the shutdown AND we need even more support moving forward. It is possible to hold more than one truth at the same time. The better we get at having nuanced conversations, the better equipped we will be moving forward.
This isn't going to be easy. But, I don't know a single early educator that chose this profession because it was easy. So, let's do what we do best - think outside the box, advocate for the critical things we need, ooze empathy and compassion, and work together to create the tomorrow our children, families, and fellow educators deserve.
Now, seriously, go write to your legislators. No excuses.
We are pleased to announce a new feature of our blog - Community Voices. Every now and then we will be highlighting different voices and perspectives from the world of Early Childhood Education. We are even more excited to introduce our very first guest writer, Serene Ismail!
Serene Ismail is a Fulbright Scholar and mother of a beautiful girl. She is an educationalist who loves creating different art & craft ideas for kids.
I sat near the window,
Rain dripping down the pane,
Chirping of birds in the tree,
So fresh and green..
‘The earth has music for those who listen’
Every passing moment, you realize what life was and what it has become now. Everyone was in a hurry to get things done but God is in no hurry. His plans are never rushed, and today’s world is not less than a perfect example of it. We did not learn to trust His timing. We were impatient. We tried to force doors open. We tried to make things happen in our own strength. We just got too busy in the race of life that we ignored ourselves and our loved ones. But then came a global pandemic and life changed !
We confined ourselves within four walls of our homes, those walls which is our world now. The world where we have all the time to realize what we were missing in life. A year ago, I would have never guessed life would be the way it is now. ‘Stay at home’ orders changed the order of life for everyone. It is true that change is the only constant in life.
After some much needed time of self-reflection, I have realized how easy it is to let things go. I learned this from my four years old daughter, who enjoys every little moment, being carefree and happy. Spending time with her, using new different techniques to create and paint something new every day, spreading colors of happiness and positivity in my four walled world. Do not let grief surround you.
Look around and see how nature is at its best. Clean and fresh air, beautiful blue sky, lush green leaves, blooming flowers, chirping birds…is this all we were missing? God has given us time to enjoy the beauty of nature and admire how life can be simple yet beautiful with these colors around us. Things might not go always as we planned, but you still got to make the best out of life. Turn the negatives into positives, not letting anything steal away your joy. Let the nature breathe so we can breathe too. Let us forgive others so we can be forgiven too. Let us love our loved ones so we can be loved too. Just let things go…
For it is in giving that we receive. . . .
By: Dawn Irwin
Today is April 6th. Today is a Monday. Today was suppose to be the start of something new. The beginning of a new chapter. The day my dream became a reality. The day that all of the blood, sweat, and tears I've poured into this school paid off.
Instead, today is a day I am surrounded by grief.
You might be thinking to yourself that I am using the wrong word. That I'm not using it in the correct context. That it can't possibly be the emotion that I'm feeling at this moment. But...it is.
Two weeks before this crazy pandemic turned our world upside down, I was days away from finishing the application process to open a brand new school. I was only 20 days away from our Open House event and our very first day of school. I was hiring incredible educators, enrolling amazing families, and feeling so relieved knowing that everything we had been working towards since last June was finally FINALLY here.
Then the world came to a crashing halt.
People were getting sick, folks were dying, and everyone everywhere couldn't believe what was happening. Our governor made the right decision, closing school districts and early childhood education programs throughout the state and slowly over the next two weeks, shut down everything else declared non-essential. So, here I sit, marking what was suppose to be one of the most important days of my life reading articles about Covid-19 instead of welcoming families on our first day of school.
It's hard not to feel insane when dueling emotions fight for space in your brain. On one hand, I am extremely grateful to live in a state that is taking this pandemic seriously and putting the right steps in place to keep us safe. On the other hand, I feel like I've been sucker punched and made the butt of a cruel joke. I become overwhelmed with anger, frustration, and fear for the situation this pandemic has placed me in while simultaneously being crushed by guilt for feeling that way when I know there are so many others out there experiencing much worse realities than mine. Sometimes, I am able to take a deep breath and focus on the future post Covid-19. Sometimes, I'm paralyzed and feel like we will never escape this nightmare. Most days I don't want to feel the waves of sadness crash over me and I do what I can to keep myself busy.
Today is different.
Today I will mourn the loss of the opening that wasn't. I will feel the emptiness of a school that's full of silence. I will long for the camaraderie I have found in my co-teachers. I will cry for the families that are struggling to figure out a new normal in this time of crisis. I will be engulfed in sadness and sit with the pain of what isn't. My grief is real. My loss is real. No matter how many times I try to convince myself otherwise.
Today I grieve. Tomorrow I rise.
By: Dawn Irwin
These past several days have been something else. Things are changing so rapidly - locally, nationally, globally - I haven't been able to think about the future in terms of weeks, or even days. I literally think in hourly increments.
Like everyone else in the world, I am terrified. Terrified and feeling so alone.
Unable to think about anything except what I'm going to be doing in the next 60 minutes because if I start to think too far ahead, I get overwhelmed about the state of the world, my own life, the lives of those I love, and my brain short circuits. It's a state of mind I am not familiar with and I would really like to keep it that way.
After some much needed time of self-reflection, I think I've realized where a lot of my turmoil is coming from.
I am a helper that feels helpless.
I am not doing what I am suppose to be doing. I'm not engaging with my students and families the way I want and should be. I can't participate out in the world in the ways I'm use to. I can't fix the problem and I'm a fixer, so as you can imagine, this has created quite the mental and emotional struggle for me. And, I know I am not alone in these feelings.
All of us - educators, community leaders, parents, our kids - feel completely out of control of our lives and the world around us. We feel isolated and alone without any real sense of what lies ahead of us. And, when we think about that too hard and for too long, anxiety and fear kick in.
Luckily, I am an optimist. This means that these past several days have been a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows, but it also means that when I'm in the low I know I won't be there for too long.
I can't help but think about what good can come out of the bad.
Yesterday, when I felt myself inching back towards to top of the coaster, I started thinking about other places that have dealt with enormous tragedy and what good they were able to find in the bad. Almost immediately, Reggio Emilia, Italy, came to my mind.
In the mid 1940's, Italy was decimated from WWII. Everything had been destroyed, including their educational system. In a small area near Reggio Emilia, the community, particularly the women, decided they were going to create the early childhood educational system they felt their children and families deserved. Now, almost 75 years later, the Reggio Emilia Approach has been studied, emulated, and celebrated all around the globe (full disclosure: I am a card carrying member of the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance). The folks of Reggio Emilia took the darkness and devastation of a tragedy and turned it into one of the most beautiful examples of early childhood education in the world.
They turned helplessness into resiliency. Isolation into collaboration. Hopelessness into encouragement. Tragedy into triumph.
They made the impossible...possible.
Now, as I sit here writing these words, all I can think about is this - if they could do it, so can we. Let's use this unprecedented time to our advantage. Let's turn the fear, helplessness, and anxiety so many of us are feeling into hope and inspiration.
Let's become the agents of change we've always
wanted to be.
It's time to create the early childhood education system we have always dreamed of. It's time to build the future we know our children, families, teachers, and communities deserve. We're early educators. We do the impossible every day all on our own. Imagine what we can do together.
To learn more about the history of the Reggio Emilia Approach click the links below:
By: Dawn Irwin
I can't believe it. It's finally here. It's finally really HAPPENING.
After an incredibly long and difficult road full of way more bumps, potholes, wrong turns, and roadblocks than I thought was humanly possible, we are here.
Growing With Wonder has a home! A place to call its own. I can already hear the sound of little kiddos' feet scampering around the space. I feel their energy filling the classroom with curiosity, excitement, joy, and love. I see them putting on costumes, dancing in front of the mirrors, building amazing structures out of blocks, creating beautiful artwork to hang on the walls, and quietly reading books in our bean bag chairs. But, most of all, I am engulfed by the incredible potential oozing out of the idea Holly and I created. It's ready to seep into every nook and cranny of the building, every human interaction, every member of our community.
I cannot even begin to show the proper gratitude I feel for all of the folks that believed in us every step along the way. We are truly humbled by the love, support, guidance, donations, time, and energy so many of you shared with us over the past several months. We would not be where we are today if it weren't for you. You helped make our dreams come true and we will never ever forget it.
One of these days I will write a post about all of the trials and tribulations we have gone through since last June, but today is not that day. Today I am focusing on the future and what it holds for us.
It's time to put all of our passion, love, experience, and joy where it belongs. Into our very own school with our very own students, helping them, their families, ourselves, and our community grow into our best selves.
Here. We. Go.
The last few weeks have been such a blur. An exciting blur for sure! We are growing from two passionate educators to two business owners! Our passion for teaching is only growing as we develop and cultivate the school of our dreams. Everything we have worked for, dreamed about, and wished is all coming together. Stay tuned! We cannot wait to share with you.
By: Dawn Irwin
As I type this on my laptop keyboard, flying on a plane heading back to Vermont after attending the Save the Children Action Network Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., I can’t help but sit here and think about what has brought me to this moment. The past three days have been a whirlwind of workshops, discussion panels, meetings, dinners, and networking, and it still doesn’t feel real. Honestly, I never ever saw myself heading to our nation’s capital, sitting in congressional offices, and speaking on behalf our of country, and ultimately, the world’s most vulnerable population. But…here I am.
So. How did I get here?
Three years ago, I was talking to a teacher friend of mine about how hopeless I was feeling about the fate of our world. It seemed as though everything was getting worse by the day, sometimes the hour, and it was hard not be consumed by it. I was observing, as well as experiencing, the hardships young families in Vermont are facing due to the childcare crisis. I was stuck in a broken system that no one seemed to care about, let alone want to fix. On top of it all, I was a huge Bernie supporter. His defeat and the rise of Trump was a reality I was having an extremely hard time comprehending. The helplessness I was experiencing was getting out of control and I didn’t know what to do to make it better. I remember saying how much I wished there was something, ANYTHING, I could do to change the trajectory I felt like our world was heading in. That’s when my friend told me about an organization called Let’s Grow Kids. I had never heard of it before so she explained that it is a non-profit organization working towards the goal of creating real change for our field and the children and families affected by it. She said they were looking for volunteers to help get the word out and advocate on behalf of the kids and families in our state.
At the time, trying to make any kind of difference felt impossible for two reasons – I did not feel like I had anything worth value to contribute and even if I felt like I did, I assumed any efforts put in on my part would have been in vain. But, I decided to put what Bernie had preached throughout his campaign into practice – I had to become an active member of the community and be the change I wanted to see in the world. So, I hesitantly told my friend that I would attend the next Let’s Grow Kids Burlington Action Team Meeting with her and see what it was all about.
The excited nervousness that was racing through my body was both terrifying and exhilarating. I had never been to a meeting like this before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I couldn’t stop playing the What If Game in my head. You know the one…What if I don’t know anyone? What were we going to talk about? What would the people be like? What if I said something stupid? What if they didn’t like me? Or, worst of all, what if they told me to leave because they realized I actually didn’t belong there in the first place?
I walked in the door to the meeting room and all of my worst fears evaporated immediately. I was greeted with smiles and a warm, welcoming atmosphere that made me feel comfortable almost right away. From that night on, I was hooked. Three months later, I attended my first Let’s Grow Kids Advocacy Conference. Since then, I have never looked back.
I never imagined I would be politically active. I thought, why would anyone listen to what I had to say? What difference could I make? I had never met any legislators, let alone talked to one. What could one person really do to affect change?
Well, it turns out, that one person can do a lot.
The folks at Let’s Grow Kids believed in me and my ability to become an effective advocate for change. They took a person that had no experience, as well as zero confidence, and taught me that passion and a willingness to try new things goes a long way. They offered me opportunities to use the skills I already had to build new ones. Slowly, but surely, through tiny supported steps outside of my comfort zone, I began to believe in myself.
But, most importantly, they made me believe that real change was actually possible.
Since that first fateful action team meeting, I have collected petition signatures, tabled various events, participated in door to door canvassing, phone banking, been an active member of two action teams, initiated direct correspondence with legislators, talked with representatives face to face, event set up a meeting between a local legislator and some of his constituents. I’ve given a speech about advocacy, and also supported others in their evolution to becoming effective advocates. Then, just about a month and a half ago, I was given the opportunity to up my advocacy game.
Save the Children Action Network hosted an event in Burlington. Actor and activist, Jennifer Garner, and the CEO of Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), Mark Shriver, gave a talk about Save the Children and work they engage in to support families, children, and early education in America. They also talked about SCAN and what they are doing to create policy change at a national level. After the event, Holly and I were both invited to fill out applications for the chance to be one of five Vermont representatives to attend the 2019 Save the Children Action Network Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. At the summit, we would be learning about national policy change focused on issues revolving around early childhood and education, as well as the challenges facing children and families on a global level and what we can do as Americans to help protect the world’s most vulnerable population.
As I’m sure you can guess, Holly and I jumped at the chance. We both filled out our applications, were interviewed, and ultimately accepted as two of the Vermont representatives. We were so excited to be able to take the skills Let’s Grow Kids had taught us in a local setting and apply them on a national scale. What’s even more amazing is that we didn’t feel nervous at all! What we felt was motivated, energized, and confident. We boarded our plane to D.C. ready to meet this new challenge head on.
Thinking back over the last three days, I just can’t believe it really happened. We took the bull by the horns and made the absolute most out of the time we had there. We were up early every day and went to bed late every night. We filled our time with workshops, panel discussions, long talks about national policy, hearing remarkable personal stories told by amazing advocates from around the country and the world, interviewing folks about advocacy – including Mark Shriver (Whaaaat!?!) - for our new podcast (don’t worry, you will see more about this soon), making new friends, sharing our passion for teaching and early education everywhere we went. And, last, but certainly not least, we went to Capitol Hill and advocated for policy change with representatives from each Vermont’s legislators’ office. Honestly, so many things have happened in the last 72 hours, its hard to keep it all straight in my mind.
But, the thing I keep coming back to is this: None of this would have been possible, and I would not be the person I am today, without Let’s Grow Kids.
Because of Let’s Grow Kids, I’ve realized that I have a voice and a story worth listening to. I feel empowered, capable of creating real change. I have met so many talented, passionate, and motivated human beings, locally and now nationally, ready and willing to join forces to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors. And, I absolutely without a doubt WOULD NOT have had the courage to ask Mark Shriver, the CEO of Save the Children Action Network, for an interview if I hadn’t cultivated confidence in myself and my abilities through my experiences with Let’s Grow Kids.
But, the most important thing Let’s Grow Kids has done for me is given me the opportunity to teach my children the incredible role advocacy plays in our lives and the impact it makes on the world around them. My now four-year-old son has been right alongside me on this exhilarating ride. He’s been to countless meetings, collected signatures, shook hands and conversed with local legislators, and has been to the State House nine times. His enthusiastic participation at Let’s Grow Kids events is something I look forward to, almost as much as he does.
Four-year-old Lincoln observing the Vermont House of Representatives
The last time we went to the State House, we were watching the floor proceedings. Suddenly, Representative Marybeth Redmond, the representative from our district, stood up, acknowledged him by name, thanked him for the work as an advocate for Vermont kids, just like himself, and asked the Speaker of the House to recognize him. The Speaker recognized him and then every representative on the House floor stood up and clapped.
Every single member of the House of Representatives stood up and clapped for my son.
He stood up and looked at all of those important grownups standing and clapping for him with confidence, pride, and accomplishment oozing out of his little four-year-old body. His face in that moment is something I will never ever forget.
My son knows without a doubt that his voice, and his future vote, really do matter.
Since becoming an advocate, Vermont has started taking the challenges surrounding early childhood very seriously. In the last election cycle, both gubernatorial candidates made childcare one of their top policy issues. And, this legislative session the Vermont House has now passed two bills that specifically address issues facing Vermont children, families, and early educators.
On March 27th, H.531, the “Child Care & Early Learning” Bill passed unanimously (!!!!!) and on April 5th, H.107, the “Paid Family & Medical Leave” Bill was passed. These are two huge wins for Vermont, especially when only four short years ago most Vermonters, let alone legislators, had no idea how bad our childcare crisis truly was.
Even with these two steps forward, we still have an extremely long journey ahead of us.
So, I’m putting out a call for action. Let’s follow in my son’s footsteps. Let’s be brave and put ourselves out there. Talk to community members, reach out to legislators and policy makers on both a local and national level. Take those tiny steps out of our comfort zones, let our voices be heard on behalf of all of Vermont’s, and our nation’s, children. And, let’s not forget to celebrate. Celebrate what we’ve accomplished and the extraordinary future we are building together.
Please. Join Holly, myself, my son, and thousands of others. Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves and create the change you want see in the world.
Because you can. Because you must.
My ten-month-old daughter, Virginia, Vermont's littlest advocate, hanging out on the House floor.
By: Dawn Irwin
It’s been exactly one month and five days since I have returned to school from a six-month maternity leave. I feel so lucky that I was given that opportunity. I’m very aware of the fact that most caregivers in our society do not get that long at home with a new child. Some can only afford a couple of weeks, which honestly, is another topic I could go on and on about. I digress.
Having the space to get to know my new baby and giving our family the time we needed to adjust to this new normal is something I will be eternally grateful for. However, I have to say, it feels so good to be back.
While savoring quiet snuggles with my baby at home, I also longed for the beautiful, orchestrated chaos of a room full of twenty children and four teachers. I missed my students and co-teachers more than words could ever properly describe, but I’ll do my best to try.
I missed the sound of blocks crashing together. The look of pride and accomplishment on a child’s face when she feels finished with her painting. The laughter and camaraderie felt with families. The soft and supportive words of a fellow teacher helping a child say goodbye to his dad at drop off. I missed the excitement felt between teacher and student when they’ve uncovered a new discovery. The spontaneous hug from a friend while playing outside. The organic, teachable moments found in a multi-age classroom. The natural flow of a day full of uninterrupted play. The intricate dance created working in a classroom side by side with three teachers I respect and love.
But, most of all, I missed the magic of emergent curriculum.
Observing my students in the classroom, creating provocations based on those observations, and building a curriculum thread from the results of those provocations is one of my favorite aspects of teaching. It permits me to follow a child’s interests, trust in her sense of wonder, and present items, ideas, and events that will challenge or gently push her pursuit of knowledge to a deeper level.
For me, reflective curriculum planning creates a perfect marriage with emergent curriculum. Thinking back on conversations, moments in play, and books I’ve recently engaged in with my students, or witnessed them doing without a teacher’s involvement, allows me to ensure that the provocations I am setting out in the morning directly correlate with something that has peaked their general curiosity. Reflecting back on the success, or interest, in the provocation helps me figure out what path the children are trying to lead us down. If a provocation isn’t a success, I can analyze the reasons why and make adjustments from there. Lucky for me, a month into my time back at school I am knee deep in a thread that just keeps growing.
One of the other great things about emergent curriculum is it supports following and exploring the interests of everyone in the classroom, including the teachers. It encourages educators to share their interests with their students to help expose them to new experiences and ideas.
I love music. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. The emotional connection that is created when I pour myself into a piece of music is the closest I’ve ever come to an out of body experience. I lose my sense of self in the very best way possible. I’ve always wanted to share my love of music with my students. I did my best, but felt that my inability to play an instrument really put a damper on it. Last year, my amazing boss creatively turned one of our professional development sessions into a ukulele lesson. After about an hour, I was hooked. I spent a lot of my time on maternity leave learning new songs and practicing them in front of the perfect audience – my four-year-old son. By the time I came back, I felt confident enough to sing and play for my students.
The provocations started out with instruments we already had in the classroom. The children would come over to investigate, perhaps play an instrument or two, or ask to sing songs. When my then seven-month-old baby was in the group, the older students loved showing her how to tap the wooden sticks together, ring the jingle bells, rub the sand paper covered clappers together, and clapped joyfully when she was successful – a wonderfully organic example of the magic of multiage education. Don’t worry, we will chat about this incredibleness later. As interest grew in the instruments, I brought my ukulele into the classroom. Again, it started with a general fascination and evolved into a desire to play. We grew from a small group experimenting with our instruments and singing classics like “The Wheels on the Bus” on the rug of our main classroom to a big group of students building stages and backstage curtains, putting together costumes, playing various instruments (including my ukulele), and performing original songs. When our more elaborate productions began happening, I had my most successful reflective curriculum planning session to date.
At the end of our school year, we host an event called Luncheon on the Green. Teachers, students, and their families spend the last day of school eating a picnic lunch together on our playground to celebrate the year and time we’ve spent together. Last year, our students decided they wanted to sing “Puff the Magic Dragon”. They painted a big mural and sang the song together on our stage for their loved ones. There wasn’t a dry eye for a mile around.
While watching one of the videos I took of the students’ performances in our Quiet Room last week, I thought about Luncheon on the Green and had an epiphany. Holly has been working on sewing projects with friends since the beginning of the year. They’ve designed and sewed tons of original clothing items and have been putting together various fashion shows for Davis Studio patrons. Dominique has been exploring and expanding our students’ ideas around paint. They’ve created beautiful, thought-provoking paintings and also took on the challenge of refinishing two chairs for the classroom. Elsa has been building elaborate structures with friends out of plastic rods and connectors. Through her encouragement, they’ve pushed themselves to follow their imaginations, building anything from an underwater shark infested animal hospital to a loop-da-loop castle with a tunnel room inside. I realized that just by following the interests of our small school community we had provided our students the perfect opportunity to present a culmination of their learning throughout the year. I excitedly brought up my idea at our most recent staff meeting. We could merge curriculum threads all four teachers have been following with our students into a spectacular curriculum showcase! As I looked around the table, I saw every single teacher’s eyes shining with delight. The room was buzzing with possibilities. You could feel the electric charge our energy and passion was creating.
And that, my friends, is emergent curriculum at its finest.
Holly Beckert and Dawn Irwin are moms, early childhood educators, and advocates. Please enjoy reading all about our adventures inside and outside of our classroom!