Teacher Takeaways from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Annual Conference

teacher takeaways for education of young children annual conference

Don’t let your learning lead to knowledge. Let your learning lead to action.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said this, and it is a quote that sticks with me. It certainly did while attending the National Association for Education in Young Children (NAEYC) conference held in Washington, DC this past November.


I was beyond excited when I learned that I would get the opportunity to attend the NAEYC conference. I was excited to be in the presence of like-minded professionals and learn. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, or director in early childhood education, you must constantly be teachable and ready to learn as new studies and ways to teach come out. We must regularly keep up with the latest developmentally appropriate practices to make our classrooms and schools run smoothly.


With my padfolio and listening ears on, I sat in on various sessions throughout the conference week ranging from behavior management to diversity and inclusion practices. I wrote eagerly, soaking in information – excited to take it back with me and implement it in my Transitional Kindergarten classroom.


Here is a list of my top three takeaways from my week at NAEYC:


Let the small things go!

My ABSOLUTE favorite session I attended was on day one, titled “Behavior Mastery.” This session was packed to the point where other conference-goers had to sit on the floor. It wasn’t surprising that this was the case considering a significant hurdle early childhood educators face is handling challenging behavior and even more so with how COVID-19 has impacted children’s  behavior and how we approach managing it.


Ron Shuali led this session, and he really hit the nail on the head about the issue and presented clear and concise ways to help master positive behaviors in our classrooms. His most extensive advice was to let the little things go. Driving ourselves crazy with trying to have constant control over tiny humans who are just being introduced to self-control and self-regulation skills is not the way. When a child is presenting distracting behavior, he urged the audience to ask themselves these three questions:


Can I still teach? Can they still learn? Can the other children still learn?


If the answer is yes to all of these, then Let. It. Go. Brandon isn’t sitting criss-cross applesauce during circle time? It’s okay. He’s still learning and you can still teach.


Maintain Diversity and Inclusion!

One of NAEYCs core values and beliefs is to “respect diversity in children, families, and colleagues” while “[advocating] for policies, practices, and systems that promote full and inclusive participation…confronting biases that create barriers that limit the potential in children…and early childhood professionals.”

The children we serve are not too young to grasp concepts of diversity and inclusion. With NAEYC being a vast conference, with upwards of 15 sessions running simultaneously – at least a handful focused on diversity and inclusion in early childhood education. Each of these sessions provided ways (various picture books, activities, etc.) that will help foster these skills into the children we teach. It’s as simple as having books with diverse people on the cover or discussing different family dynamics that children may witness amongst their peers. It even is presented in how we acknowledge the various holidays we celebrate. For example, at Georgetown Hill, Diwali is celebrated by numerous families, and we encourage and love when parents volunteer to teach their children’s classmates about this beautiful celebration with activities and stories.

The biggest thing I consistently advocate for the children I teach is that they see themselves in everything I teach. Promoting positive self-esteem starts in early childhood education.


And finally…Keep Playing!

As you already know, Georgetown Hill is a play-based preschool. Our highly loved P.L.A.N.(tm) curriculum is perfectly curated to ensure our teachers highlight the importance of play in every learning domain. The research and the data are there to prove that children learn best through play. Amy Schmidtke, Ed.D led a fantastic session about guided play throughout Pre-K and Kindergarten. The top two points she drove home were: 1) play allows children to take ownership of their learning and 2) play environments should support whole child development in connection with academic standards.

The misconception of being play-based is that there is a lack of structure and planning. That is far from the truth. Creating meaningful play environments that align with academic standards actually requires a lot of planning and structure. Teachers aren’t just picking random toys from the shelf and saying, “Okay! Just go play!” They use play materials to teach math, reading, engineering, etc. One of my favorite themes in our P.L.A.N. ™ curriculum is Maryland. I planned an activity about our highly traveled beltway 495. We examined various pictures of the highway and then used those to create our own version of the roadway with wooden blocks and train set pieces. Creating this play-based activity required time and thoughtfulness to ensure the children were learning and having fun.

Overall, attending NAEYC changed my outlook on myself as an educator. I found the encouragement to be a voice for my students and my colleagues.

I can’t wait for NAEYC conference 2023!

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