Blog

Written by Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at CCSA

Becoming a Gigi

Guess what? I finally became a grandmother! Over the past three years, I have had the honor of becoming a grandmother (or Gigi, as my oldest granddaughter Mila calls me) to three little girls. I used to wonder why my friends never seemed to have time for me anymore after they had grandchildren. I actually found myself feeling sorry for some of them because they were always consumed with babysitting when I wanted to go do fun things on weekends. Now, I understand. “Mila adventures” occur on my weekends now, and I love every minute of them. I find myself doing things such as going to the kiddie splash pad, brushing billy goats, riding carousels, planting flowers, visiting playgrounds, shopping for shoes and other weekend girly things. We have gone through so many things, such as potty training, sleep issues, screen time limits, visits to petting farms and zoos, being gentle with animals, learning to walk dogs, etc.

Not Now, Gigi, I’m Busy Writing My Dissertation!

As a former preschool teacher many years ago, I was fascinated with language development. As I worked with young children, I tended to focus on language skills, and obviously do the same with my grandchildren. My oldest daughter is trying to finish her Ph.D. and is on the last leg of completing her dissertation. She called me the other day and told me Mila’s teacher had just called saying that Mila had been standing over a whiteboard. The teacher asked Mila why she was standing up to write. Mila’s reply was, “I am working on my dissertation.” I have heard Mila say that she was working on her dissertation many times and didn’t even think about it being different because this dissertation is something we talk about frequently in our family.

As a result of being a Gigi, I have a renewed appreciation of what we do at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for parents, young children and early care and education professionals. I am keenly aware of child care deserts for infants and toddlers, the cost of child care and the navigation systems that parents use to unravel the mystery of child care for their young children. I have visited and observed child care programs as a Gigi and talked with teachers about their days and how things work in their programs. I am amazed at how much they are accomplishing. I see new things that Mila learns at her preschool every week and am in total awe of her development, but most of all those language skills.

Talking Power

Mila really doesn’t know what a dissertation is, but she does know that it involves writing. No one actually prompted Mila to say the word but obviously has heard it numerous times at home, and it just comes naturally.

As I watch my younger grandchildren learning language skills, I am reminded of what we need to do even with young infants. We respond to their crying at first because we want to understand what they are trying to tell us. This takes practice, but if you really pay attention, you will understand. When they begin babbling, we imitate their sounds and help them learn new ones.

Recently, I listened to my younger granddaughters as they were learning to make sounds and navigate through the house by crawling or walking around wobbling from side to side. One of them kept repeating the “B” and “M” sounds that she had just learned, and her mother would imitate her attempts. They had great games going back and forth, and truly there was a lot of glee and bonding! Finally, she started saying “momma” by the end of the week, and this week she has learned to follow directions and kiss her momma when prompted. 

Young children, as we all know, do repeat what they hear and imitate what they see. Conversations with parents aid in language development and nurtures learning. Talk at home is a powerful tool in the development of language and communication skills. Talking with babies and young children in natural tones and modeling the words that we want them to adopt is extremely important. Instead of teaching Mila the word “dissertation,” we used the word many times while we were around her. It is meaningful to her. Hopefully one day, she will write a real “dissertation” as she explores her own world! 

When around young children, it is important to relax and talk to them. Children are listening and understand much more than we sometimes give them credit for. Making them perform their new language skills can sometimes make them clam up, so be careful that you are not asking for performances.  

Remember that play and language development go hand-in-hand. A great deal of language is developed through pretend play. Give them lots of opportunities to talk, sing and read books. Reading books with rhyming words and sounds, or singing songs are great ways to develop language skills. 

Sometimes language skills emerge over a long period of time and sometimes they emerge overnight. All children are different and develop at their own pace. The conversations we have with children nurture their development and learning. Our talk at home and in preschool settings is a powerful tool in the development of young children. 

5 Power Tools to Help Develop Your Skills in Expanding Language

Here are a few ideas for helping young children develop language skills:

  1. Talk naturally in your authentic voice;
  2. Tell stories, sing, read books, ask questions;
  3. Sometimes just be silly with songs, books, and words;
  4. When they point at a ball, expand on it and make a sentence out of the word they used or object they pointed out; and
  5. Add colors, prepositions or numbers of objects in everyday language (i.e. “We are going to climb up 7 brown steps now”). Numbers, prepositions, colors and words used will all become a natural part of their vocabulary.

They are soaking it all in and learn so much from you. Your words are truly powerful! Model the language that you want them to use and you can create learning opportunities wherever you go or whatever you are doing with children. Enjoy them. They grow up too fast!

Thank you to Kristen Siarzynski and Kathryn DeLorenzo for the photographs of Kay’s grandchildren.

Written by Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

Dr. Walter Gilliam presenting Implicit Biases in Early Childhood Settings at the Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Institute 2019 Conference on March 11, 2019.

“Better Together” was the theme of this year’s Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Institute held in Greensboro, N.C. in March, and Mary Erwin recently shared details of the Institute. A highlight of this year’s conference was the keynote delivered by Dr. Walter Gilliam from the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale. This blog is to keep the keynote information on our minds and in our work.

Delivered in a “TED talk” manner, Dr. Gilliam shared his research on implicit bias with the audience and the implications research has on both policy and practice impacting the early childhood workforce and children in early learning settings.

What is Implicit Bias?

Webster’s dictionary defines it as “bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs”.

What is the Relationship Between Implicit Bias and Early Childhood Settings?

Dr. Gilliam shared data from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights that found black boys in particular were disproportionately suspended or expelled from preschool. To learn more about whether this may be related to the behavior of the child or the perceptions of the teaching workforce, Dr. Gilliam and his team at Yale conducted a study.  Specifically, Dr. Gilliam wanted to see whether implicit biases may play a role in identifying children with challenging behaviors.

Video Observation Study

Dr. Gilliam’s team recruited participants at a nationwide conference of early childhood educators. Early childhood teachers were asked to watch several video clips of preschool children engaged in typical table top activities. The children were racially balanced (one white boy and girl and one black boy and girl). Early childhood teachers were told the study was related to better understanding to how teachers detect challenging behaviors in the classroom. They were told sometimes this involves seeing behavior before it becomes a problem and were asked to press the enter key on a computer keyboard every time they saw a behavior that could become a potential challenge. They were told the video clips may or may not contain challenging behaviors and to press the keypad as often as needed. In addition to the keypad entries, an eye tracking device was used to log the time teachers spent watching the behavior of individual children. (For frame of reference with regard to the children, they were child actors and no challenging behaviors were present).

Heat map related to study participants’ child behavior observations. (Photo Credit: Yale Child Study Center)

Results

Dr. Gilliam and his team found teachers spent more time looking at boys and at black children than girls and white children. In particular, teachers spent more time watching the black boy in the videos. When teachers were asked explicitly which of the children required most of their attention, 42% indicated the black boy, 34% indicated the white boy, 13% indicated the white girl, and 10% indicated the black girl. The race of the teacher did not impact the findings.

Background Information Study

A second part of the study was related to finding out if teachers were provided information about the child’s background, whether that impacted their perception of the severity of the behavior and their ability to impact the child’s behavior. For this part of the study, early childhood teachers were given a brief description of a preschool student with his or her behavioral challenges. The description of child behaviors remained the same, but the name of the child associated with the description changed to reflect stereotypical black and white girl and boy names (Latoya, Emily, DeShawn and Jake).

To test if teachers changed their perceptions of the child’s behavior when given a brief family background summary, some teachers were also given more context related to the child’s home environment (e.g., the child lives with a single mother working multiple jobs and who struggles with depression but doesn’t have resources to receive help; the father is barely around, but when he is around, the parents fight loudly in front of the children, and sometimes violent disputes occur). The study randomized whether the early childhood teachers received background information or not.

Results

Dr. Gilliam and his team found that teachers appeared to expect challenging behaviors more from black children and specifically black boys. Without family background, white teachers seemed to hold black children to lower behavioral expectations. In contrast, black teachers held black children to very high standards.

The provision of family background information caused different perceptions based on teacher-child race. For example, when black teachers were provided with family background information on black children, teachers rated child behavior as less severe. When white teachers were provided with family background information on black children, behavior severity ratings increased – potentially indicating knowing family stressors may lead to feelings of hopelessness that behavior problems can improve.

The Role of Implicit Bias in Early Childhood Settings

Dr. Gilliam explained that understanding the role implicit bias may play in child care and early learning settings is the first step toward addressing racial disparities in discipline approaches. He explained that interventions are underway throughout the country designed to address biases directly or increase teachers’ empathy for children (which paves the way for more effective strategies related to children’s learning styles and behaviors).

Progress in North Carolina

North Carolina is beginning to review and implement strategies to address implicit bias, give early childhood teachers strategies to promote more effective ways to address challenging behavior and to support high-quality child care programs through better teacher-child interactions.

For example, the Infant Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP) provides technical assistance through the statewide CCR&R system to better support infant and toddler staff and to improve teacher and child interactions. Staff participating in the Healthy Social Behaviors project use the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) Pyramid Model to provide tiered support based on individual classroom needs.

We are exploring infant and toddler mental health consultant evidence-based approaches as well as the use of tools to improve teacher-child interactions through the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), which measures teacher interactions and is paired with specific improvement strategies identified through observational assessments. Overall, practice-based coaching models can impact teacher strategies to better meet the needs of children.

For more information on Dr. Gilliam’s research, check out this research brief and the work of the Yale Edward Zigler Center and Child Development and Social Policy.