Spark a revolution in early education: speaking up for ourselves and the children podcast header

Spark a revolution in early education: speaking up for ourselves and the children [Podcast]

This week on The Preschool Podcast we welcome back Rae Pica, Early Childhood Education Consultant and Author. Rae is a reoccurring staple on the podcast and this time we are discussing her latest book: Spark a Revolution in Early Education: Speaking Up for Ourselves and the Children.

The push for academics and rigor to be associated together is particularly detrimental to underserved youth. Everyone thinks children must prepare immensely and be ready for kindergarten and for some that can be discriminatory. Recess can even be taken away as a punishment!

There are many myths that exist in early childhood. Two that Rae covers in her book are that children learn by sitting and that earlier is better. The school of thought that ‘earlier is better’ is causing discipline problems, relentless preparation, and unnecessary discipline of children.

The word advocacy can be intimidating and overwhelming. Rae refers to it as being a champion. It does not necessarily mean public speaking or anything scary like that, there are lots of ways to be a champion such as using our words, referring to ourselves as professionals, using childcare instead of daycare, speaking with passion about your work, and sharing your story. People will start to look at us differently.

3D experiences offer much more to children than 2D. Once parents understand this they will stop asking for academic learning environments. We can do this by sharing information, having an open-door policy, and showing photos and videos of children engaging in active learning.

Supporting one another in this industry is essential. Everyone is busy and overwhelmed, the pandemic turned our world upside but we can’t go on this way in early education. Change has to come and if we don’t create it who will? It is time for us to speak up.

Podcast episode transcript

Rae PICA:

Parents have a lot of power, including political power. And there’s strength in numbers. So, we get them on our side. We help them to understand that earlier is not better, that play is the most productive thing children can be doing.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Rae, welcome back to the Preschool Podcast!

PICA:

Thanks, Ron. I’m really glad to be here as always!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, we’re really glad to have you back, as always. For those of you who don’t know Rae Pica, she’s an early-childhood education consultant and an author. And we’re going to talk to her a little bit today about early education and speaking up for ourselves and the children we serve and work with in early-childhood education. And it’s a delight to have you back, Rae. What have you been up to since the last time you’re on the Podcast?

PICA:

Well, let’s see. Considering the last time I was on the Podcast was pre-pandemic, wasn’t it? So, nothing, of course, has changed.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, pretty much all the same, right?

PICA:

Yeah, well, it’s the big pivot. I’m now doing my presentations virtually, which I actually enjoy, Ron. Somehow I feel closer to the people when they’re right there on my desktop. And I find that they’re more willing to ask questions in a chat box than maybe when I am on a stage and they’re in an audience. So, I really do enjoy doing them virtually. And then there’s the whole not-having-to-dress-up thing or leave my cat. So, it’s working out.

SPREEUWENBERG:

I hear you, we all enjoy sitting at home in our Lululemon pants or whatever.

PICA:

I’m yoga pants as we speak. I just ordered three in three different colors because why not be comfortable?

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, why not? And our pets are loving it that we’re home with them all the time.

PICA:

Yeah, Mickey and I are completely codependent, so it’s all good.

SPREEUWENBERG:

And so I understand you also have a new book that is coming out, I think. Right? It’s not out yet.

PICA:

Well, no. It depends on when you’ll air this this podcast. It drops or it gets released around November 30th.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool, and it’s called Spark A Revolution In Early Education: Speaking Up For Ourselves And The Children. I love it, love it, love it. We’ve definitely had a lot of conversations on the Preschool Podcast about change in early-childhood education and what we can all do as educators and folks working in early-childhood education to level up the early education field in the world.

PICA:

It was a virtual presentation. At the end of it, there was a Q&A, we were having a discussion. And I said something about… perhaps I used the word “revolution” and “speaking up for ourselves and the children”. And one of the attendees said, “There’s your next book.” And I got the tingles and the rest is history. So, yeah.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

I love it, I love it. Taking initiative, taking leadership. And that is a big part of a revolution, is speaking up and taking initiative for yourselves. And you’ve taken the initiative to write the book, which is about advocating for change in early-childhood education. We’ve spent some time on the Podcast before speaking about this, but would be great to hear it straight from you about just sharing some of the inequities you’re seeing in the current education system.

PICA:

Oh, well I don’t address inequities to the largest extent in the book. And there are so many it’s hard to know where to start. But in terms of some of the things I do address, like play and children having fewer opportunities to play – in many cases, children of color are provided even fewer opportunities to play. Educators too often tend to withhold recess punishment for perceived infractions in the classroom. And black boys and girls are disciplined in their schools far more than their white peers.

And then there’s the push for academics and rigor, which is something we definitely have to speak up against. It’s been particularly detrimental to underserved children because everybody thinks that they must especially be ready for kindergarten. And to them that means… Pasi Sahlburg and William Doyle, who co-wrote Let The Children Play [Why More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive], which is a wonderful book, talks about these boot camp atmospheres and draconian discipline policies, relentless preparation for high-stress standardized tests. All of that is particularly discriminatory. There’s a lot going wrong in education, let’s leave it there.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Well, and you mentioned recess, which, of course, we associate with play and playing outside. And so your book talks about some myths. And one of them is, “playtime is not productive time”. Some of them, a couple of the other ones: “children learn by sitting”; “digital devices are important to learning”. Tell us a little bit more about some of these myths in your book.

PICA:

I really see them as the biggest problem because the adults making decisions for and about children, whether they’re living or working with children, are getting so much misinformation. And they’re basing their decisions on this misinformation. One that you didn’t mention is, I think, the biggest problem. And that’s the belief that earlier is better. And that, of course, is causing all these draconian discipline problems and relentless preparation and testing and all of that. Because we think that if we don’t get them started as soon as possible on academics, then they’ll fall behind.

And really, the crazy part is, it all goes back to 1983 and a Nation At Risk report that showed –incorrectly, as it were, as it turned out – that U.S. children were falling behind other nations. And so that became this big push. And No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top and all of that has resulted from it. So, there’s that.

And they’re all interwoven. If we think that we must get them started on academics as soon as possible, and athletics, in order for them to be successful, then we’re going to not value something as “frivolous” – and I put that in quotes – as play so that’s not seen as productive time. I mean, productivity and achievement have come to be words associated with early-childhood. It’s enough to… well, my hair is already white, so it can’t get any whiter, I guess. But I cry a lot. Yeah, stop me at any point, Ron, I will just keep babbling on.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Well, let’s talk a little bit more about inspiring early-childhood professionals to advocate for change. It’s something, again, we’ve talked about a lot on the Podcast. It’s really hard to do, though – folks are busy, they have really stressful jobs and early-childhood education, very difficult jobs. Maybe you can touch a little bit on what are actionable, practical steps that folks can take to speak up for themselves and for early-childhood professionals to advocate for change in this field.

PICA:

Sure, yeah. I think the word “advocacy” can be quite frightening, intimidating, overwhelming, whatever you want to call it. I most often referred to them being “champions” rather than “advocates”. I think that maybe it’s a little less intimidating. But in the book I point out that it doesn’t necessarily mean… I think most people imagine testifying before Congress or even speaking up at a school board. I mean, public speaking, as you know, is the number one fear ahead of death. That might keep a lot of people from buying the book right there.

But there are lots of ways to be a champion, lots of ways. Just to give you a couple of simple ones, that I talk about, using our words, referring to ourselves as professionals, as educators, as teachers. We’re using “childcare” instead of “daycare”. If we think of ourselves as professionals and we refer to ourselves as professionals, others are much more likely to see us that way, not just babysitters. And never use the “just” word. “Oh, I’m just a preschool teacher.” No, no, no, no, no.

We tell our stories whenever possible. We speak with passion and enthusiasm about our work and maybe why we got into the field. So, people start to look at it differently. But informing parents is… I think that bottom up approach maybe is more important. Let’s just say it’s more important than testifying before Congress. Because parents have a lot of power, including political power, and there’s strength in numbers.

So, we get them on our side. We help them to understand that earlier is not better, that play is the most productive thing children can be doing; that no, sitting does not equal learning, no matter how much sitting you may have done in school. And the good old fashioned stuff the blocks, the books, the Play-Doh, all of that. The three-dimensional experiences offer children far more than the two-dimensional experiences of digital devices.

So, we help them understand. And then they stop asking for academics-oriented early learning environments. They asked for them in place of the play-based ones and pretty much got their way. So, the play-based ones are struggling to survive. And so we have to switch them around. Now, how do we do that? We share information with them. We have an open door policy. We have photos and videos on our websites of children playing and engaging in active learning. And we help them to understand what it is that they’re learning and how this does prepare the children for academic success. And on and on and on.

But then if you want to talk to the policymakers, we have social media these days. And it’s a lot easier than it used to be. I tweeted them. I tweeted POTUS [the President of the United States of America] and I tweeted [US] Secretary of Education [Miguel] Cardona. All of the politicians have Twitter accounts and a lot of them have Facebook pages. They all have websites so we can see where they stand.

We can use our vote. And that’s a very timely thing right here in the U.S. right now. We can vote for people who share our philosophy of early-childhood education, rather than voting in people who don’t and fighting against them later. So, that was probably more than you asked for.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

No, it’s great. And certainly that advocacy at the political level is required. But I’m going to go back to the points you were making earlier about the grassroots and with parents. Let’s maybe go through a specific scenario: If a parent has a conversation or provides feedback to an early-childhood educator about their approach to development in the classroom, and let’s say, “I want my preschool child to be doing more math worksheets, versus some of the things that you’re doing right now.” How would you suggest an educator might respond to a parent in that conversation?

PICA:

It’s challenging. It’s really challenging because we don’t want to butt heads with them. And we don’t want to come across as the know-it-all’s, or to seem as though we know their children better than they do. I think before we get to that point, Ron, it’s important for anyone thinking of enrolling to know what the philosophy of that center is so that they’re not surprised.

And before they get to that point, they provide information. They share an article about play or how children need to learn with multiple senses and all of that good stuff with the parent. They can put it in the cubby. I like the idea of sharing it personally and saying, “Oh, I just came across this fabulous article and I want to share it with you. I thought you’d like to read it, too.” I think if we prepare them in advance, we’re a lot less likely to get those kinds of questions.

And if we do get that, those kinds of questions, I go back to a story – it just always comes to mind – out of New Zealand, where the preschool teacher had a parent night. And she left half of them in the classroom with worksheets with an outline of a kiwi. And she gave them brown and green crayons and said, “Go to it.” She took the other half out to the hall where there was a kiwi tree. And of course they could touch it and smell it and taste it and fully experience the kiwis. And it was so obvious who learned more about the kiwis. So, if we have opportunities to show them the difference between the developmentally inappropriate and the developmentally appropriate.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, and I really love your idea of sharing the information. And I was looking at a synopsis of your book, as well. And it talks about providing some of the research underpinnings behind having these kinds of conversations. Because you also mentioned something about, “we don’t want to sound like the know-it-all’s.” And so I think in these scenarios, it’s always great to say something like, “Research says X, Y, Z.” So, it’s not me saying, “I’m not the know-it-all”. It’s, “I’m actually referring to somebody else, that it’s fact-based, that this is objective information that I’m sharing with you.”

PICA:

Exactly. When I taught at the University of New Hampshire as a college instructor. And any mom knows this, has had this experience of saying something over and over and over again and having it go in one ear and out the other. And then having an outside source say the same darn thing, and all of a sudden the light bulb goes on.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah.

PICA:

Oh yeah, and suddenly it’s valid, the point is valid. So, it can be, “Oh, there was this study recently that showed…” I think maybe research shows starting a sentence that way can be a little off-putting perhaps. But “Oh, there was this study,” or sharing quotes. Like, Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.” Who’s going to argue with Einstein? Everybody knows he’s the most brilliant man ever. So yeah, that outside source is really important. Thanks for bringing up that point.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah. So, it’s a very important topic, I know one that you’re very passionate about. And I understand you’re also doing some mentorship. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

PICA:

Well, I decided to create a membership program around the book. I know that I have read many wonderful books and I’ve taken notes, I’ve highlighted, I’ve referenced them. But you don’t always follow through. So, I wanted to ensure that there would be follow-through. And of course, as I said, the strength of numbers and support, supporting one another, is absolutely essential when it comes to advocacy or becoming a champion.

So, I created this membership program called Spark A Revolution, A League of Champions. We’re going to form a league. So, I picture us all wearing our superhero capes. Yeah, it’ll be a year-long program. And that… let’s see, the book is released on November 30th. And let’s see, yeah, in December. I’ve got all these dates in front of me. And I spent an hour and a half of my calendar yesterday figuring out everything that needs to be done between now and then. But early December, the membership program will begin. I’m really excited about it.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, how does one become part of the League of Champions?

PICA:

You just join it like all my other online stuff, all my online courses. It’s at www.RaePica.Teachable.com. I can send you a more specific link later. I’m keeping the price ridiculously low. And I just keep adding and adding and adding to what I’m offering in each unit. It’ll be 12 units, 12 months. And yeah, there’ll be a Facebook page where we can discuss and ask questions and all sorts of things to support this revolution.

SPREEUWENBERG:

I love it. It resonates with me because I was kind of laughing when you were talking there. Because I do the same thing when I do these podcast episodes, I get so excited and I’m writing down my notes about all these things that I want to do. And then after, I check my email or get a phone call or something and poof, all that excitement and energy and the things I was going to do have disappeared.

PICA:

Human nature, absolutely, and busy schedules. And a little bit of guidance, I think. If you had a pal saying, “Come on, Ron, you said you were going to do this, let’s do it together,” it’d make it easier.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, totally. It’s like having a gym buddy to go to the gym or a homework study buddy, yeah.

PICA:

Yes, exactly. I can use a gym buddy.

SPREEUWENBERG:

It’s always easier with company. Cool, so you shared the website with us there. How else might folks get in touch with you or learn more about your work? And also, maybe you can let folks know where they can find your book.

PICA:

Yeah, well, www.RaePica.com is where you can learn everything you need to know about me and more – more than you ever wanted to know. And when you get there, there’ll be a little pop-up box that asked if you would like to access my free resource library, which has 20 downloadable guides right now. And let’s see, and then as far as the book, Red Leaf Press is publishing that.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Wonderful. Check it out, the book is called Spark A Revolution In Early Education: Speaking Up For Ourselves And The Children, published by Red Leaf Press. Rae, this has been wonderful. Before we wrap up, any final words or other resources you’d like to share with our listeners here today?

PICA:

I guess I just want to… I know that everybody is busy. I know that we’re all overwhelmed and that the pandemic has turned our worlds upside down to a certain extent. But we can’t go on this way in early education. Change has to come. And if we’re not going to create it, then who will? We’re the ones who care the most. So yeah, it’s time for us to speak up.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah. “If we’re not going to do it, who will?” I think is a very powerful statement. So, Rae, with that, thanks again for joining us on the Preschool Podcast. Can’t wait to check out your book. And I really encourage our listeners to check out the mentorship program and be a champion.

PICA:

Become a champion. Yes, wear that superhero cape.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, indeed. You’ve deserved it. So, Rae, thanks so much for joining us on the Podcast today!

PICA:

Thank you, Ron, I really appreciate it!

Christie White

Christie is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at HiMama. She is passionate about children's development, parenting, and supporting the child care industry. She has been working to support child care centers with their events and marketing for almost a decade. In her personal life, Christie lives in Stouffville, ON with her husband Kyle and dog Tucker. She enjoys going for walks, baking, cooking, and watching reality tv!