Advocating for Play at School and at Home

YC0514_CoverIn the current edition of Young Child, published by NAEYC, DEY’s Diane E. Levin offers the following advice to parents:

Memo to: All Families of Young Children

From: Diane E. Levin

Date: May 2014

Subject: Advocating for Play at School and at Home

Play is essential for children’s optimal development and learning.  Through play, children use what they already know to help them figure out new things, see how they work, and master skills.  As they do this, children add new social, emotional, and intellectual knowledge and skills to what they already know.  They experience the satisfaction that comes from working things out and solving problems on their own.  They think and sometimes say out loud, “I can do it!”  This is the kind of learning through play that prepares children to feel confident in themselves as learners who see new information and ideas as interesting problems to be solved.

However, all play is not the same and today several forces can endanger quality play.  First, many of today’s toys are linked to what children see in movies and on television.  These media experiences channel children into imitating what they see on screens instead of creating their own play.  Second, the use of electronic media takes young children away from play and can make their child-created play seem boring.  Finally, growing pressure to teach academic skills at younger and younger ages takes time and resources away from the quality, teacher-facilitated play that young children need in preschool and kindergarten.

I encourage you to learn about the ways child-created active play supports learning and to advocate for play and encourage it at home.  Play will give your children a foundation for positive social and emotional health as well as later academic success in school.

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Top tips for activists

Today’s guest blogger is Karel Kilimnik. Karel is a recently retired early childhood teacher in Philadelphia, PA. Karel has spent her life working with young children and their families in some capacity. She earned her early childhood degree at Temple University and began working at the School District of Philadelphia where she found a home learning and teaching for over 20 years. Karel was active in the union and had a firm commitment to infusing everything with a sense of social justice and peace. When she retired a mere four years ago Karel became a full time education activist working to save public education. Karel says: “Every day I woke up to find something else evil being announced as private interests seek to take over public education from closing 32 schools to outsourcing almost 2,000 Head Start placements, to laying off all school counselors. I co-founded an activist organization, the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) with another retired teacher. We have been relentless in following the money in Philadelphia. Decisions are getting made behind closed doors with little pretense of involving the public. These decision makers are the only ones with any money to spend as the governor of Pennsylvania has stripped $1 billion dollars from the state K-12 education budget during his first years in office (as he somehow found $400 million to put into building a new prison right outside of Philadelphia).  Corporate interests masking themselves as philanthropic entities are helping themselves to our public schools and seeking to destroy public education. We must organize ourselves to fight back.”

At our session for early childhood activists at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in November, Karel shared her top tips for activists. We asked Karel for permission to share her tips here:

Tips for Activists

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

  1. Find like-minded people
  2. Food always helps people connect so bring in muffins or cookies.  Have tea & coffee readily available
  3. Do something fun together. Go see a movie or to a concert or an art exhibit.
  4. Put one foot in front of the other – take small steps and always, always celebrate your wins no matter how small they may seem.
  5. Do your research so that you are prepared.
  6. Support each other. Kindness begets more of the same.
  7. Be persistent. Do not give up. Oftentimes your opponents will respect you for your integrity and persistence even if you are always opposing them. Do not mistake attempts to subvert you for respect – a fine line to walk.
  8. Be positive. Look at what is possible. For this you need to know what you believe in.
  9. Talk with people. Collect business cards. Talk with the reporters who cover education.  They may come to see you as a reliable source of information.
  10. Change the conversation. For example, instead of their talk about high performing schools, change it to, “Every school a great school.” Instead of choice always meaning a charter school, change it to choice meaning good neighborhood schools. Act like a toddler and repeat this over and over and over again.

Thanks to Karel for sharing her strategies! To learn more, check out Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools on Facebook. You can also view a powerful video. Activists and the Media Mobilizing Project TV in Philadelphia, PA have produced the video Our Schools Are Not For Sale. “This is the story of Philadelphia’s teachers, parents, students, and communities who are fighting for public schools that are well-resourced, high-quality and available to all. Watch how local communities are responding to a year of unprecedented attacks, including the closing of 24 schools, layoffs of hundreds of teachers and counselors, and the elimination of school libraries, art, music, and sports programs.”

NAEYC’s Annual Conference Update

Back now from Washington, DC and beginning to reflect on all that happened. Here are just a few initial thoughts — and more soon.

Diane lets everyone in the packed hall know about DEY's efforts!

Diane lets everyone in the packed hall know about DEY’s efforts!

There were some encouraging indicators. Quite exciting was the turnout for DEY Senior Adviser Diane Levin’s featured session Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age. The massive room was filled – the estimate was at least 1,000 people in attendance.  Diane explained the many ways in which young children are affected by popular culture and exposure to media. She shared successful strategies for working with children and families. In her speech Diane called for creating schools that take into account who today’s children are – and to much applause she questioned current misguided school reform.

Many thanks to Community Playthings for sponsoring this important session! If you missed the session and want to know more, Diane’s book is available through the NAEYC online bookstore.

Many thanks also to the early childhood teacher activists who joined us at our session Finding Your Voice: Becoming A Teacher Activist, and for our evening meeting at The Henley Park Hotel. You shared your stories and your ideas – and we learned as much from you as you (hopefully!) learned from us. It was encouraging to finally meet many of you in person, after having met only online until now. DEY will be working to follow up on the ideas shared, and so please stay tuned.

In the opening session it was heartening to hear NAEYC’s new executive director Rhian Evans Allvin encourage attendees to go out and vote.  Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Green Party…whatever your political inclination is: vote! Voting is one way for early childhood educators to use their voices. As this new bill, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act gains traction, it will be our voices that help to keep what is best for children at the center.

Finally, although I wasn’t able to attend the session, I heard great things about a reflection on advocacy from folks who have been working for high-quality early childhood education for decades – folks like Joan Lombardi and Marcy Whitebook.

Those are a few initial reflections…more will be forthcoming. Please feel free to add your own reflections and/or questions…

DEY at NAEYC’s Annual Conference

Look for Defending the Early Years at NAEYC’s Annual Conference!
On November 13th Diane Levin published the piece Media Literacy for Young Children: Essential for School Success in Today’s World in her education blog with the Huffington Post. Levin describes why she testified before the Massachusetts Legislature’s House-Senate Joint Committee on Education in favor of media education for all children in the state. Levin has been looking closely for decades at media’s impact on children’s lives. Her writings and research on the topic are extensive. Her new book Beyond Remote Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age (NAEYC, 2013) is a much-needed resource for teachers who are seeking ways to support children (and families) whose lives and learning have been impacted by today’s media-saturated world.
The issues Levin addresses speak directly to DEY’s concerns about the loss of play as well as the increase in scripted curricula and testing in early childhood classrooms.  Please join us for Diane Levin’s featured session!
Friday afternoon 11/22: Constance Kamii, member of DEY’s National Advisory Board, presents Direct versus indirect ways of teaching number concepts to children, ages 4-6, 1:00 – 2:30 pm in West Salon I.
Friday afternoon: Finding Your Voice: Becoming a Teacher-Activist, 3:00 – 4:30 pm in Room 101 at the Convention Center. Thanks to the CEASE Interest Forum for sponsoring this session.

Friday evening: DEY will be hosting a gathering for teacher-activists 6:00 – 7:30 pm at the Henley Park Hotel, 926 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC – just one block from the convention center. See flier here. Please RSVP to

In the exhibit hall: Booth #935 with Hugh Hanley Circle of Song and TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment). Stop by and introduce yourself. Check out DEY materials, TRUCE materials, and with great songs for young children from our dear friend Hugh Hanley!

Diane Levin writes – and testifies – in support of media literacy for young children

dianeEarlier this week DEY’s Senior Adviser Diane Levin published the piece Media Literacy for Young Children: Essential for School Success in Today’s World in her education blog at the Huffington Post. Levin describes why she testified before the Massachusetts Legislature’s House-Senate Joint Committee on Education in favor of media education for all children in the state. Levin has been looking closely for decades at media’s impact on children’s lives. Her writings and research on the topic are extensive. Her new book Beyond Remote Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age (NAEYC, 2013) is a much-needed resource for teachers who are seeking ways to support children (and families) whose lives and learning have been impacted by today’s media-saturated world.

This issue speaks directly to DEY’s concerns about the loss of play as well as the increase in scripted curricula and testing in early childhood classrooms. Levin writes:

“If passed, Massachusetts will become the first state in the country with the wisdom and foresight to remove the blinders that most of today’s policymakers and educators are wearing as they fail to take into account the impact of media and technology on children’s optimal development and learning in their more and more narrowly-scripted educational mandates in schools.”


“Technology is affecting most aspects of children’s lives. I have used the term Remote-Controlled Childhood to capture the fact that more and more of children’s time, ideas and behavior are controlled and conditioned by what they see and do on screens–by following programs created by someone else. The more educators understand and work to counteract the resulting remote-controlled learning and behavior, the more successful they will be at promoting optimal learning in children.”

Click here to read Levin’s entire blog post at The Huffington Post.

Calling all early childhood teacher-activists!

Are you concerned about the current direction of early childhood education policy in our country?

Are you worried about the lasting negative effects that come from the loss of child-directed, hands-on play?

We are, too!

We are working to identify, connect and strengthen our coalition of early childhood activists.

DEY will be hosting a gathering for early childhood teacher-activists on Friday, November 22nd, 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm at the Henley Park Hotel, 926 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. The gathering will be a follow-up to DEY’s session Finding Your Voice: Becoming a Teacher-Activist (Friday, 11/22/13, 3:00 – 4:30 pm in Room 101 at the Convention Center) at NAEYC’s Annual Conference.

Our goal is to connect teachers who are looking to promote quality early childhood policies in their school, local community, state and nationwide. We will have a structured conversation aimed at defining ways to strengthen our network of early childhood teacher-activists and developing a shared voice.  If you are attending NAEYC’s Annual Conference, or will be in the area, please join us. Please RSVP to me at:

Please share this flier with anyone who might be interested!

Organizing Early Childhood Activists

Early childhood activists have been organizing in the UK. Last week the Save Childhood Movement in England – “a growing collaboration of individuals and organisations that share a deep concern about societal values and well being and the current erosion of natural childhood”- sent a powerful letter to The Telegraph (The Government should stop intervening in early education, Sept 11, 2013). The letter was signed by a long list of early childhood experts and is excerpted below:

“We are deeply concerned about the impact of the Government’s early years policies on the health and wellbeing of our youngest children. The early years of life are when children establish the values and mindsets that underpin their sense of self, their attitude to later learning, and their communicative skills and natural creativity.

Though early childhood is recognised world-wide as a crucial stage in its own right, Ministers in England persist in viewing it simply as a preparation for school. The term ‘school readiness’ is now dominating policy pronouncements, despite considerable criticism from the sector.”

“Research does not support an early start to testing and quasi-formal teaching, but provides considerable evidence to challenge it.”

“Instead of pursuing an enlightened approach informed by global best practice, successive ministers have prescribed an ever-earlier start to formal learning. This can only cause profound damage to the self-image and learning dispositions of a generation of children. We as a sector are now uniting to demand a stop to such inappropriate intervention and that early years policy-making be put in the hands of those who truly understand the developmental needs and potential of young children.”

The very next day, here in the United States we received this announcement:

“The U.S. Department of Education has awarded more than $15.1 million in Enhanced Assessment Grants (EAGs) to three state education agencies – North Carolina, Maryland and Texas – to develop or enhance their Kindergarten Entry Assessments.” 

We have $15.1 million dollars going to Kindergarten – and it will be for more tests. This is precisely one of the practices that Save Childhood Movement’s letter questions – and DEY questions as well.

U.K.’s Save Childhood Movement is inspiring. At DEY we are looking for ways to better organize the early childhood activists here in the United States.  To that end we will be presenting and organizing at the NAEYC Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., November 20-23rd. More information will be forthcoming about our events in D.C. Please check back and join our email list.  Write to:

Diane Levin’s new book now available!

BRCCHow can teachers protect and promote children’s positive development in today’s media-saturated world? Our own Diane Levin has some powerful ideas on this topic – which she shares in her new book, Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age. Published by NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children), it is featured as the current Comprehensive Membership book. That means NAEYC is sending the book to over 20,000 members. This is excellent news for our early childhood field.

With the explosion of technology in young children’s lives – both in school and out of school – this book comes at a critical time. As the NAEYC website explains, it aims to help teachers:

  • Adapt classroom practice to take into account the realities of remote-controlled childhood- the experiences of today’s connected children
  • Counteract the potentially harmful impact media can have on both the process and content of children’s development and learning
  • Help children and their families make informed decisions about screen time and media in children’s lives
  • Work with families to address the impact of screen media

Here are some reviews:

“Never has it been more urgent for all who are responsible for the care, development, and education of young children, as well as for those involved in creating relevant legislation and regulations, to learn from Diane Levin’s extensive experience and research on media-related issues. This book includes recommendations and suggestions for how teachers and parents can best protect and promote the well-being of all our young children.”
— Lilian Katz, Professor Emerita, University of Illinois

“Diane Levin offers wise and timely advice to early childhood teachers about how to help children get beyond the powerful and pervasive media messages that can lead to remote-controlled childhood. “
— Stephanie Feeney, Professor Emerita, University of Hawaii at Manoa

“As one of the world’s premier experts on children and the media, Diane Levin understands how today’s media culture is impacting children. This book analyzes how all types of media—TV programs, videos, video games, websites, music, advertisements, apps—are affecting children’s lives, including what and how they learn from these experiences, and offers realistic suggestions to teachers and parents for what to do about it.”
Blakely Bundy, Executive Director, The Alliance for Early Childhood

(See more reviews at the NAEYC website)

Open Letter to NAEYC – A Call for Leadership in the Field

Two weeks ago, we posted our Open Letter to NAEYC – A Call for Leadership in the Field. Since then we have received many emails of support, such as:

The letter is articulate, and provides a strong presentation of the opinions of so many in the membership.  Thank you!

I am very concerned about the attention being put on academics for young children without a full understanding of their needs. Please add my name to the letter to NAEYC.

Hurray for DEY! Thank you for helping to unveil and name the gigantic elephant in our collective educational room on behalf of young children and all those who are determined to walk the talk of DAP. Someday, this beast will be tamed for good given the diligence of DEY and countless others who work tirelessly to create a better, more meaningful world for children and families.

I’ll be proud to sign the letter…

As of this morning, 39 early childhood professionals have joined us in signing the letter. Today we are mailing this updated letter to NAEYC. If you are hearing about the letter for the first time, and would like to sign, we can easily add you to the letter posted on our website. Simply send an email to and write “Open Letter” in the subject line. Let us know how you would like to be identified.

And, if you are a prek-3rd grade teacher, please to take a few minutes to respond to our current survey of teachers. We want to hear from you about how demands on you have change since you began teaching – and how your teaching and assessments have changed as well. Thank you!

Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Education

Yesterday, the New York City Early Childhood Professional Development Institute featured a Q&A with DEY’s Senior Adviser, Nancy Carlsson-Paige:

ECE NewsWatch (ENW): How long has the nation been going in the wrong direction with policy-making for early childhood education? How far back was the exit we missed, and what are our chances of getting on the right interstate again?

Nancy Carlsson-Paige (NCP): I remember when there was a push for more academic content in early childhood in the 1980’s with the back-to-basics movement, but at that time we were able to almost halt its influence on young children because of the strong position NAEYC took with its publication Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) in 1986. Since that time though, we’ve lost a lot of ground as two important trends have lined up to take us in the wrong direction. First, NAEYC has gradually retreated from its strong defense of DAP to the point where the organization has given its support to the Common Core standards. As many early childhood educators and professors have attested, many of these standards are developmentally inappropriate, ignore children’s needs, capacities, and cultures, and do not honor their uniqueness as learners. Second, there is a forceful, nationwide push for early academics that was first legislated by the No Child Left Behind act of 2001 that has now gained traction from Race to the Top that requires standards for pre-K that align with the Common Core.

Click here to continue reading on the ECENewsWatch Blog.