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Tandem Participates in 2017 Early Literacy Network Buffet

by | Feb 16, 2017 | Our Blog |

Where can you find 40-some early childhood educators pretending to be curious, creative three-year-olds?  The 2017 San Francisco Early Literacy Network Educator Buffet at the San Francisco Public Library – that’s where!

Following only a simple prompt, "String it!," this educator created a unique jewelry design out of the materials at her table during Tandem's break-out session.

Following only a simple prompt, “String it!,” this educator created a unique jewelry design out of the materials at her table during Tandem’s break-out session.

This year’s theme, “Nurturing the Spirit of Innovation: Creating Options and Opportunity in the Early Learning Environment” attempted to rejuvenate educators and encourage them to return to their classrooms and child care centers carrying on the spirit of innovation. Tandem’s San Francisco programs team members Robia Lee and Hannah Johnson (me!) played an integral role in planning out one of the two unique break-out professional development sessions.

The keynote speaker, Michelle Grant-Groves, is the Founding Director of Inquiry, Intention and Innovation [i3] Institute, as well as the Center of Gravitya STEM-focused early childhood center. In light of the theme, the ELN planning team developed two breakout sessions geared to encourage innovation. One breakout session was focused on dialogic reading of children’s books that reflect diversity. The other, created by myself and Robia, in partnership with Maricela Leon-Barrera of SFPL, was titled, “Building on Play: Fostering Innovation.”

Inspired by the book Loose Parts, by Daly and Beloglovsky, Building on Play: Fostering Innovation was focused on use of unconventional materials in the learning environment. We proposed that educators encourage child-led, innovative free play, and intentionally observe children’s skills and developmental levels during said free play. In this breakout session, we provided participants with everyday household items– mailing tubes, shoelaces, photo frames, etc. We asked participants to join into groups and prompted half of them simply to play. The other half were instructed to observe, using a custom checklist observation tool I created, based off of the DRDP and Parten’s Stages of Play.

Two educators played with items at the nature themed table, as their tablemates used a checklist tool to record observations of the cognitive, social-emotional, & physical skills and behaviors they displayed.

Two educators played with items at the nature themed table, as their tablemates used a checklist tool to record observations of the cognitive, social-emotional, & physical skills and behaviors they displayed.

As I walked around the room, I witnessed participants testing out ideas during their play that I wasn’t sure would work. I saw them creating all-girl percussion bands, listening and joking with one another while experimenting, and just generally using the materials we provided in ways I had never imagined. I also saw them intently observing one another, and heard discussion about potential use of the checklist observation tool in their classrooms. They brainstormed ways to be more open to new ideas that children may pose, and new ways to recognize the creations children make.

As I observed these educators playing with the paper and straws, I wasn’t sure their structure would stay standing. By the time I got back around to their table again, they had fully succeeded in making it stand erect!

As I observed these educators playing with the paper and straws, I wasn’t sure their structure would stay standing. By the time I got back around to their table again, they had fully succeeded in making it stand erect!

Our keynote speaker (to the far left), Michelle Grant-Groves, records this group of educators as they use their materials and voices to make music together.

Our keynote speaker (to the far left), Michelle Grant-Groves, records this group of educators as they use their materials and voices to make music together.

Educators explored materials in ways that hadn’t occurred to me. This group found out that the cardboard tubes were fun to play with while experimenting with sound volume.

Educators explored materials in ways that hadn’t occurred to me. This group found out that the cardboard tubes were fun to play with while experimenting with sound volume.

By the end of each round of our breakout session, I felt great– I felt a sense of creativity and community. Jude Deckenbach, ELN member and representative of First Book, said, “I love the Early Literacy Buffet because it’s an outstanding opportunity to bring together early childhood educators from throughout the City to learn, share best practices and have fun.” I believe that the spirit of innovation truly did bring us all closer together that day. Closer to building stronger learning environments. And closer to one another as people united by one cause– working together to support young children and their families for a brighter future.

At the end of the Buffet, all educators joined together once more. Michelle Grant-Groves directed us through a series of fun & thoughtful prompts that further unified the group in this circle of gratitude.

At the end of the Buffet, all educators joined together once more. Michelle Grant-Groves directed us through a series of fun & thoughtful prompts that further unified the group in this circle of gratitude.

To contact the San Francisco Early Literacy Network or find out further information on the annual Buffet for educators, send an email inquiry to: sfearlyliteracynetwork@gmail.com.

Hannah Johnson

Hannah Johnson

Hannah Johnson is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer serving with Tandem. She currently lives in San Francisco.

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