Early Learning Nation’s community of experts, advocates, leaders and readers continues to grow. As much as we’d like to, we can’t invite you all over for Thanksgiving dinner, but this might be the next best thing. Imagine we’re going around the table, and each guest has a chance to respond to the question, What are you most thankful for in the early learning world?
“As a new mom, I’m grateful for early learning champions in our homes, classrooms, libraries and community centers who intentionally leverage every opportunity to engage in early learning. Bringing early learning to our young people, specific to their care situation and accessibility needs, is critical in growing minds regardless of social and economic barriers. We all can be an early learning champion.”
“Despite the significant and ongoing challenges of this year, we have increased public awareness of the crucial importance of early childhood, and the will of policymakers to make significant and sustained public investments needed to rebuild and strengthen the early childhood care and education system.”
—Barry Ford, President and CEO, Council for a Strong America (read our interview with Maxine Clark, founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop and co-chair of the ReadyNation CEO Task Force on Early Childhood)
“These past couple of years have brought on many new challenges, such as virtual learning and mask wearing—neither of which are conducive to teaching young children. The teachers have been heroes during this time and many children have benefitted from their efforts.”
“The early educators who have served as a lifeline for our young kids, families and communities in the COVID-19 crisis. I’m also thankful that finally a light is being shined on their critical roles in shaping the next generation and allowing parents to work.”
“I am most thankful for the brave, inspiring, innovative educators who have kept my sons Shaan and Sai engaged over the last year, through books, music, art and more. They’ve kept my sons close to knowledge and curiosity and I’m so grateful for this critical support.”
—Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Moms (read our interview)
“Throughout the pandemic, our early care and education workforce has worked diligently to help families and to provide safe nurturing places for our youngest children. This underpaid, underappreciated workforce cannot be thanked enough.”
—Jillian Herink, Executive Director for the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children (read “Making It Work in Iowa”)
“The dedicated early care and education workforce continues to demonstrate outstanding commitment to our nation’s children through the most challenging circumstances. It is past time for us as a society to recognize their vital work through equitable compensation and benefits.
“I’m most thankful to contemplate the opportunity for equity in early learning across the county, and that we are beginning the conversation that every child has equal access to quality pre-K in order to drive educational and social outcomes for all communities.”
“The rest of the world finally realized what early childhood professionals and child care providers have known for years—that the early years matter and that care givers need to be respected and valued through recognition and wages. There has never been more public funding and emphasis on changing the system and creating financing structures that work for families, providers and employers. We now need to build the bridge between a dying system that never worked that well for anyone and a kinder system where child care providers are equitably compensated, families have equitable access and children can flourish.”
“The dedication, patience and hard work of early childhood educators that spark curiosity and provide the critical foundations of learning for children to thrive in school and beyond. The relationships and connections that children form in the early years—at school, at home and in the community—are essential for healthy development and I’m grateful to the many teachers and child care workers who provide a nurturing and safe environment for our youngest learners.”
“Persistence of the advocates who have championed young children for decades; parents of young children who weathered the COVID storm—balancing so much everyday; providers of care who worked throughout it all, under difficult conditions and deserve so much more support! And people around the world who are working to assure children are protected from crises, conflict and climate.”
“The incredible marriage—right now—of the world of early learning science and the world of national public policy. For the first time in a very long time, there is a way forward to focus resources (people, knowledge, time, marketing and money) on the very early years of a child’s life within the context of their families and communities. Finally, we are looking at our historical track record in racial, economic, health and educational inequity with the powerful commitment of policy behind it. It feels like we have the wind beneath our wings, at last.”
“The early learning educators and caregivers are truly the ‘unsung heroes’ of the COVID era. Through personal commitment and sacrifice—financial, personal and health—they have stood up for America’s children every day.”
“It is becoming safer for children to be in a variety of settings with caring adults focused on supporting them to grow and learn. I’m also thankful that the conversation is now centered on what kinds of learning experiences are possible and necessary for early learners, rather than whether early learning could/should happen and who should get access to it.”
“All the champions for children who exist within the early learning field—from caregivers and early childhood professionals, to researchers and local leaders across community settings. We have such gratitude and respect for the dedication, commitment and compassion displayed by early learning champions who rally together and support a child’s most critical early years of life, ensuring they have a strong foundation to thrive as learners and in life.”
Although I am not a fan of the struggles we’ve faced during the pandemic, I am thankful for the spotlight that has been placed on early childhood development and education. The field has spoken up and the nation has taken steps towards helping better the infrastructure.
“We’re at a time in history when we’re recognizing through independent, separate fields of study and thought that we’re talking about the same basic core concepts around early learning, including the primacy of shared, supportive, nurturing interactions and relationships as essential. Recognizing this ‘jumping together’ (what biologist E. O. Wilson called ‘consilience’) offers a framework to collectively walk in the same direction towards meaningful positive change.”
—Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Medical Director, Reach Out and Read Wisconsin (read “Beyond the Book”)
“The early educators who create the responsive, nurturing environments where young children learn and grow. These educators are essential for children, families and the broader economy. Yet they often do it all without access to the fair pay and robust professional supports they deserve and that educators in school districts receive.”
“The ingenuity, persistence, and love that early childhood educators and caregivers bring to their work every single day, and especially during the pandemic. May we finally begin to grant them the respect and rewards they deserve.”
—Gregg Behr, Executive Director of The Grable Foundation and co-author of When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids (read our review)
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.
Illustrator Art Hondros received wrist-slappings for his cartooning activity in both high school and the US Navy. His sequential features have appeared in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine and Packingtown Review in Chicago. He produced a graphic novel based on a lost 1920s silent film in 2018. He is a member of the collective known as DC Conspiracy that publishes the free comics newspaper, Magic Bullet.