Lynn Darling was named in September as the director of Mississippi State University’s Early Childhood Institute. Interim director since 2011, she has worked for the ECI in different capacities for the past decade, including teaching, curriculum writing and coordinating training. Darling is an Emory University anthropology graduate who went on to complete master’s and doctoral degrees in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Q — What’s the mission of the Early Childhood Institute at MSU?
A — The mission of the Mississippi State University Early Childhood Institute is to develop and provide research-based practices and policy recommendations that promote high-quality early childhood development and learning for all young children in Mississippi.
Q — Besides from public sources, where does the Institute’s revenue come from?
A — The Institute’s work is supported by grant funding from federal and state agencies as well as private foundations.
Q — What are some of the programs and services the Institute offers?
A — The Institute operates the following programs:
1. Quality Stars, Mississippi’s tiered quality rating and improvement system for licensed child care centers.
2. Partners for Quality Child Care, a technical assistance program that provides support to directors and teachers in licensed child care centers to improve the quality of early learning experiences for the children in their care.
3. Aiken Village Preschool, a program for three- and four-year-old children on the campus of MSU. Aiken Village Preschool is one of only 30 programs in the state with national accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It is also a five-star center in the Quality Stars program.
4. Excel By 5, a certification program which recognizes communities that are dedicated to improving the overall well-being of children by age five.
5. Coaching for CLASS Improvements, an individualized staff development training protocol using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) that focuses on quality teacher-child interactions in Pre-K through third-grade classrooms.
The Institute provides the following free resources:
1. Curriculum and Standards for Infants and Toddlers
2. Curriculum and Standards for 3-year-olds
3. Curriculum and Standards for 4-year-olds
4. Science Starters (science curriculum for Pre-K)
4. The Gross and Fine Motor Activities for Early Childhood Series
5. Quick Peeks and Good Practice (video series)
6. College Transfer Guide
Q — What are some the barriers to quality early childhood education in Mississippi, and how is the Institute working around them?
A — There are a number of barriers to quality early childhood education in Mississippi, some of which are unique to Mississippi and others which are prevalent across the country. The biggest challenge is a lack of the resources needed to provide quality early learning experiences:
> Knowledge: a high-quality program is guided by a philosophy of education that supports developmentally appropriate practices.
> Qualified teachers: a high-quality program relies on teachers who understand their role in fostering child development and learning.
> Materials: a high-quality program requires furnishings, materials and space that allow children to learn through play.
The knowledge of early childhood development constructivist philosophy is the primary resource of quality early childhood education. The field of early childhood education has long supported a developmentally appropriate approach to learning. This philosophy has been validated by decades of research in child growth and brain development. Unfortunately, we often see a direct-instruction approach in early childhood classrooms with a focus on teacher-directed whole group lessons, work sheets and rote memorization.
This approach does not acknowledge the abilities or developmental stages of young children, nor does it support the development of the whole child. Best practices for young children include an emphasis on social and emotional development, physical development and cognitive development in order to provide the foundation for future social and academic success. Administrators of early childhood programs, including both private child care programs and school-based programs, need an understanding of child development in order to support best practices in their classrooms. Increasing the number of high-quality programs that can serve as model programs is one way to improve the understanding of best practices in action.
A highly qualified workforce is a second, but equally critical, resource needed in quality early childhood education. Private childcare programs struggle between keeping their tuition costs low in order to serve more families and providing competitive salaries for teachers. Unfortunately, keeping tuition costs at affordable prices for families does not allow for very attractive salaries. It is difficult to attract college graduates with the available salaries, so childcare teachers may lack an educational background in early childhood education.
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