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Are You a Teacher or a Developmentalist?
November 3, 2023
Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.
-Plato, Greek philosopher, 427–347 BC
Early in the new book Whole Child Alphabet: How Children Actually Develop Literacyauthor Stacy Benge writes:

"Although I work in the realm of early childhood education, I identify more as a developmentalist, focusing on human development across the lifespan in all domains. I believe the keys to early education include understanding the intricacies of child development, building relationships with the children presently in the setting, then designing the environment, interactions, and experiences around that. This is what will bring about the strong foundations that will support children in their future endeavors, not pushing a top-down agenda and introducing academics too soon. The mindset needs to be a matter of development, not a matter of teaching."
In a recent conversation with Benge on That Early Childhood Nerdhost Heather Bernt-Santy remarked on the passage,

“That's what I loved!...I've become so increasingly uncomfortable with calling it early childhood education over the last several years or calling myself a teacher. I used to really embrace it because I felt like, ‘no one respects what I'm doing so if I call myself a teacher I'll get that,’ but for me the more I think I see the field and policy going, whatever we can do to bring it back to the child is so important. If we're talking about the ‘teacher,’ I feel like I'm still really talking about myself and what I need in the classroom space or what I need from the children. When we're talking about being a developmentalist, it helps me really shift to think that it's about me understanding what's going on and then supporting. Will some learning come from that? Absolutely!”


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Comments (2)

Displaying All 2 Comments
Kirsten Haugen · November 06, 2023
Eugene, OR, United States

Good point, Frances. As always, exchanging ideas helps us all refine our own thinking. Word changes can be so rooted in a particular context that in other times or places they may not make a lot of sense. At the same time word changes can offer more accuracy or allow us to actively reject implicit biases. Word change or not, I was hoping to draw attention to whether our focus is on delivering pre-determined, standardized lessons on micro-focused objectives and standards or on using an understanding of development to facilitate seeing, understanding and supporting each child where they are at. In that, I think we share a lot of common ground. Thanks as always for adding your perspectives!

Francis Wardle · November 03, 2023
University of Phoenix/ Red Rocks Community College
Denver, Colorado, United States

Why do we continually have to change words? Equality is now equity; Latino/Latina is now Latinx, and homeless is unhoused. The meaning of words changes over time. I much prefer the process of continually deconstructing and reconstructing word meanings. Teaching has ALWAYS involved understanding development, especially at the younger ages (which is why the earlier editions of DAP published by NAEYC were so powerful; the latter ones, not so much!). In fact, one of the most powerful pedological processes is scaffolding, which requires the teacher to have a profound understanding development. (Parenthetically, I wish we in the US would use the internationally accepted term, pedagogy, far more than we do!) Let's emphasize the developmental aspects of teaching - and education, rather than changing another word!

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