Pedagogies of Wonder

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On February 22, 2014, Miriam Calderon was recognized by SEEC for her thoughtful work in the field of early childhood. She has held influential positions such as Senior Advisor on Early Learning to the Obama administration, Director of Early Childhood Education for DCPS and Associate Director of Education Policy at the National Council of La Raza. She currently supports the work of School Readiness Consulting.

We would like to share Miriam’s presentation comments from SEEC’s Excellence in Early Learning gala: Miriam Receiving Award

“Thank you Kim, and the leadership at SEEC for this recognition. It’s truly humbling to be at this wonderful event with all of you – Dr. Sullivan, the first woman in human history to walk in space, and to precede Josh Bernstein – who shows us the power of what can happen when we allow children to approach the world with wonder. Thanks to my husband, my friends and colleagues at School Readiness Consulting for being here this evening. I do want to use the honor of this award to share with you a few thoughts and conclude with a question for us all.

First, I cannot speak highly enough of SEEC! SEEC works so intelligently to light the fire of curiosity in young children – connecting children to a world of wonder using the Smithsonian’s rich collections – it is truly inspirational. To some it may look easy, but it’s not! Teaching in this manner is a craft. SEEC teachers apply developmental science daily to inform their teaching and interactions with children. As early learning gets more attention nationally, it’s absolutely critical that places like SEEC exist as a model and vehicle for others to see what it should look like.

This last point brings me to a second thought. Simply put, America needs more SEEC’s…SEEC serves over a hundred very lucky young children annually, but there are not enough SEECs for all the children that need a place like it. Millions of children in our nation endure poor quality early learning or go without it. D.C.’s children are fortunate enough to benefit from universal pre-school under Mayor Gray’s leadership but nationally the reality remains grim.

Only about half of three- and four-year olds nationwide attend preschool. That alone is a problem given the strong evidence linking the lack of quality early childhood experiences to delinquency, school drop-out, poverty and poor health in adulthood.

That National Institute for Early Education Research estimates that about nine out of ten children in the top 20% of America’s wealthiest households attend pre-k. Compare that to just under half of middle-income children, and less than half of poor children. Less than 5% of infants and toddlers in low-income households are in quality programs.

Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming and preponderance of evidence demonstrating that 90% of a child’s brain forms before the age of five, high quality early learning is only guaranteed to those families that can afford to pay for it. We also lack equity in the quality of children’s early learning experiences – how they are taught. Children from more affluent families are more likely to get richer experiences rooted in creative play with an eye to nurturing a skilled sense of wonder. This we might call a ‘pedagogy of wonder.’ In contrast, children from families who lack resources are more likely to be in environments where they are drilled on their letters and numbers, tied to tests, and punished for misbehavior, what Martin Haberman has called a ‘pedagogy of poverty.’

The science of child development and the craft of early childhood tell us that all of these children can learn in the same manner. All children come into the world with an innate curiosity and love of learning. Indeed, we need more SEECs to spread a pedagogy of wonder and ignite a curiosity in a child that will last them a lifetime. Nothing short of this will ensure that a child’s zip code doesn’t determine whether or not they realize their full potential.

So the question I want to leave you with is this:
How do we make this happen? How do we spread pedagogies of wonder?

All of our children – and their development – must be a shared public responsibility.

Thank you.”

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