Hi, I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things early childhood education.
In this week’s episode we learn about improving the quality of child care through creating professional learning communities, with our first international guest, Wendy Oke, from Ireland. In this conversation we talk about the inspiration behind KazooCare.com a soon-to-be online community where parents, teachers and early learning advocates can empower each other through making quality resources and mentorship accessible. We also focus on the importance of investing in our teachers through supporting them and increasing the appreciation for early-childhood education by starting conversations.
This is all so that children no matter who they are or where they are from can have access to quality education. If you’re a parent and educator or an advocate looking for inspiration on how to support our teachers then stay tuned for this episode of the Preschool Podcast.
Wendy, thanks so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast. It’s great to have you as a guest on the show.
And you started something there called Kazoo Care. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is?
KazooCare.com offers teachers, providers, parents in the early-childhood community a place to share, collaborate and stay informed on changes in the early-childhood profession. I really want it to be a place where advocates can have their voice heard. They can publish blog post themselves on the blog, but they can also share and send teaching resources. That can come in the form of videos, lesson plans, e-books, white books… just a place where you know if you’re a teacher, a homeschooler and you’re working with children you can log on to KazooCare.com and find all the information essentially that you need to educate and care for young children in the most effective way possible.
And what prompted you to start this website?
It’s kind of a long story, so I’ll start at the start. I live in Arlington, Cork, but I originally came from Nigeria. My grandfather would have been a huge inspiration in my life. He would have gone up in extreme poverty, but his mom really believed in the benefits of having a quality early-childhood education and into primary school and so on. So even though he grew up in extreme poverty he went you know to a good preschool, a good primary school, and essentially became a lawyer. He went to study in Bristol University in the UK and then he became a judge in Nigeria. So it’s always been ingrained in me, the power of a quality early-childhood education and what that can actually do for a child’s life. Not only can it break the cycle of poverty, but it can help them into adulthood. We know the benefits research shows that these children are less likely to be incarcerated. They’re more likely to own their own homes and have a better educational attainment than children who don’t receive these quality learning experiences. I always believe that we should support our teachers because they make a huge difference and can make a huge difference in children’s lives.
But then I went in and did my degree in early childhood education. And I’m now doing a master’s by research where I looked at the challenges that preschool providers, teachers and also parents face when it comes to educating and caring for young children. And what kept coming up in my research was that we don’t have a place as preschool providers in the community to access quality teaching resources, to just be able to ask a question, advice and support. We’re using Facebook groups and things like that. We don’t have one place where we can get this information. And also pay was another huge thing. People were saying they have to get a second job to supplement essentially bills that they have to pay.
So I thought, if we can promote best practice, get all this information online, but then also enable parents or home schoolers, preschool providers and teachers a place where they can share their resources for free if they want, but also sell their teaching resources on an affordable price, the not only are we helping preschool providers and teachers earn an extra income but then we’re from sourcing best practice. So that’s essentially where KazooCare.com came from.
Very cool. And what are you studying for your masters, then?
It’s a master’s by research, in early-childhood education. I’ve interviewed over thirty parents and teachers and providers in the early-childhood community. I’m just looking at the challenges they face, what needs to be done to improve the quality in early-childhood education. So I’ve looked at compliance regulations all the way to teaching resources on curriculum.
I would think that some of the larger childcare organizations and programs would have some of these types of resources. And some of the smaller ones, especially home childcare programs or home-schooling parents, would require something like Kazoo Care. Is that right? Or are some other larger childcare programs also using this?
Yes. Right now we have 4,000 people that have signed up. I haven’t launched the website as of yet. I’m just kind of testing it out and talking to providers. A lot of them are actually teachers, and we have a few homeschooling parents. I’d say out of 4,000, easily 3,000 are teachers themselves, which is quite interesting because, as you said, you would think that larger organizations and preschools have these teaching resources. But what people have said to me is that, with regards to the curriculum, they want it based on the child’s interests and things like that. But it can be difficult to sit down and make those learning experiences and opportunities. But maybe if you just wanted to log on and talk to another provider or teacher or get some advice, or maybe your children are interested in playing with sand or water play, people can type in “water play” and then see what comes up. So we can just kind of give you more ideas really on how to provide quality learning experiences for young children.
Do you think it’s accurate to say that preschool teachers now are seeking to be more proactive with finding more creative resources and bases of knowledge and information for activities to do in their programs, to provide a more individual experience for their children?
Right. So I’m going to base this on my research, and what I found with teachers as well. In Ireland for instance we have the Aistear Curriculum Framework, and this would be the same in the UK. And also Common Core Standards and Curriculum are really pushing the individual child, really focusing on the interests of the child, dispositions [and] skills of the individual child. Instead of just having a generic lesson plan that anyone can do we’re really focusing on honing the skills of the individual child. A lot of the preschool teachers that I would have interviewed would have said that they really were looking for an individualized lesson plans, or lesson plans that they could apply to any setting. I would think that it’s moving towards a more creative, innovative way of making learning experiences. It’s not as generic, or you tell the children what to do, but you’re actually following the child’s needs. You’re allowing the child to explore. But then you’re basing your teaching and your practice on what the children are interested in, and you’re not telling them what to do, if that makes sense.
It’s great. It sounds like there’s more applying of knowledge and experience with this type of approach. I think it’s excellent. And I know the idea of a community of teachers and educators coming together online and offline is a common theme of the podcast, as something that everyone seems to think is something that needs to happen more and needs to be more accessible. And so I think Kazoo Care is definitely onto something with that.
There [are] quite a number of things that I can do when I come to the site. What are you finding that people are engaging with the most? Or [are] there certain things that are resonating with your visitors in terms of lesson plans or books or activity ideas?
I think one of the main things that people are going to would be, first, things like mass resources. Individual lesson plans that are going for more teams. A lot of e-books that are there now people are seeing are quite good because it gives you kind of the whole picture. Instead of giving you one lesson plan it takes you through why – for example, the science and math resource package – science is important in the first place. It gives you a bit of theory, a bit of background. It tells you how to actually apply the science resource pack so you can use this you know over a year instead of just using one lesson plan.
And then you can look at the different lesson plans and say, “Oh, actually, there’s one child in my preschool who’s quite interested in shapes, for instance, who would love that and experiment on how to make lava using natural materials.” So you can you can really apply it to a wide range of settings.
So I would say something like the e-books that give a lot of value. In the science e-books you’re getting fifty science lesson plans, and you’re getting adaptations for children with special needs. You’re getting pictures. Also some teachers would use worksheets, so we’ve included them in the resource packs.
But then also the blog would be something that a lot of people are going to because it’s updated regularly. And I also allow teachers, providers, homeschoolers, advocates to have their voice heard. There’s a lot of different things going on in the early-childhood community with pay, working conditions, an overregulated sector. People really want to get their voice heard. They want to write on these issues. I really believe that as a community if we can come together and really starts know telling society not only why early-childhood education is important but why we need to invest more in it. And if more people keep talking about it and talking about it someone is going to listen. They won’t have a choice.
So the blog really allows that and you can just submit yourself. Obviously the content is moderated but we get really good people writing for the blog. We’ve had people writing on inclusion and tolerance. We’ve had people writing on quality in education. Just a range of topics on early-childhood education. So definitely the blog and also the e-books that come with the variety of lesson plans.
Very cool. Do you have to create an account or something to access the blog? Or is it open to the public? How does that work?
The blog you actually don’t have to. You can actually submit without creating an account. I would say do create an account because then you can write a little blurb about yourself or promote yourself or your service. It has your name and then people can find you if they have any questions. So it is good to register. But if you don’t want to you can completely submit a blog post without having to register. Maybe put a bit of detail about yourself at the end so people can find you, if that’s something that you would be interested in.
Very cool. So you said you haven’t really even launched this and you’ve had over 4,000 people joining your community, which is phenomenal. Where do you see this going?
– To be honest it broke my heart when I was talking to all these teachers and providers. I’m going to answer the question and roundabout way, but just to start off with: A lot of teachers see early-childhood education as a profession. But they also see it as a vocation. It’s something they love. They love working with children. They’ve always wanted to do this. But then they’re also saying, “Look, we do love this, but we want to be supported. We want this society, our governments to take us seriously. We’re educating young children but we’re also caring for them. We want resources. We want a place where we can get training. So that’s what I see it being. I see it being a place where the community – whether you’re homeschooling parent, a provider, a teacher – you can come together to any kind of resources that you need. Whether that’s lesson plans, videos… you can really just get support.
Again, we talked about the larger preschools. But also most preschools are actually quite small – I’m speaking for Ireland. There’s one or two people involved in it, and it can be quite isolating. Sometimes you just want to ask a simple question, or to vent with someone. If you’re a preschool teacher you can get all your information there.
It is a very tough job that is under-recognised, no doubt. And so, like you said, just having those peers to be able to speak, to bounce ideas off of, is I think certainly a very important endeavour.
What’s exciting you most about what’s happening in early-childhood education right now? Definitely trying to fix a couple of the clear issues with Kazoo Care, [are] there positive signs about the trend that we’re moving towards right now?
So, I’m going to speak from my perspective, and from Ireland’s: There’s definitely been huge changes in Ireland, so let me put it into perspective. In Ireland up to a few years ago you didn’t need to register. You didn’t need to do that, maybe a decade ago. You didn’t need to register, you didn’t need to do any police vetting to open a preschool. Anyone off the street could literally just decide to open a preschool. We’ve moved from that to now having a curriculum framework, Aistear, which was implemented in early 2009. I know other places are going through this kind of change where it’s gone from no kind of standards or regulations to having standards and regulations, and following a curriculum. So that’s really exciting because now we have things that we’re following. We have standards and there is accountability. That is exciting because we’re moving towards that. But I still think – not to be negative – that there is still a long way to go. We need to start investing in preschool education, supporting our teachers, giving them training in order to be able to carry out their job to the best of their ability.
In Ireland there’s actually now standards. The government are now investing in training preschool teachers. They’re giving them continued professional development opportunities, which were never available in Ireland prior. So that’s something that’s good. And I think we’re definitely moving towards the right direction. There’s a lot of research that’s come out, showing the benefits of early-childhood education and people are starting to listen. So I think now we need to move from research to implementation. Yes, we know there’s huge benefits, but now it’s kind of like, “Show us the money!” There needs to be some kind of action now. How are we going to support teachers? How are we going to actually realize these benefits?
Obviously I’m a researcher myself. Research is amazing. But now we need to start supporting parents as well. A lot of parents I would have talked to, they didn’t know what curriculum was being used in the setting. They didn’t know what type of setting it was. They barely liaised or talked with their preschool teacher. And it wasn’t because the preschool teacher was at fault, but there’s so much pressure on teachers. There’s not enough time. So then you’re saying, “On top of having to spend time in lesson plans or going on different websites to keep up to date with best practice and changes, now we also want you to meet with parents one day a week. Now we also want you to ensure you’re compliant with regulations.” There’s just so much. So there needs to be a plan put in place to support our teachers, but of course also our parents.
In Canada there’s a very similar trend, in terms of having more standardization around curriculum, learning and development in early-childhood education. The history of early childhood education explains the different early childhood education curricula and programming approaches that are available today.
But the big challenge as you’ve spoken to is that it’s not necessarily coming with the investment and the financial recognition that early-childhood educators should get along with that. So it’s almost like, “Here’s a lot more stuff that you guys need to do in terms of the paperwork and administration, the regulatory aspect, the family communications, the documentation in the classroom,” all of these things which require more expertise, more education. But now we need to recognize that with the resources to provide the educators with the time and the means – and oftentimes coming back to financial means – to achieve these demands.
And so just to clarify. so your website, it’s KazooCare.com. It sounds like a very cool website that’s definitely meeting a need that we’ve heard about in terms of bringing teachers together to share experiences and information and quality teaching resources. As you say, a key word being quality. And also that idea to provide them with the opportunity to get some supplemental income until we can fix this problem that we have in early-childhood education. Very cool.
Wendy, thanks so much for coming on the show today. It’s been great to have you as guest.
Thank you so much. It’s been a great experience. It’s my first time on a podcast and I just want to come back now. I don’t want to leave! It’s been great. Thanks so much for having me.
Wonderful. Thanks, Wendy.