Teaching Kindergarten Conference Focuses on Purpose, Connection, Compassion, and Joy

On March 8 and 9, teachers, administrators, higher education faculty, and more gathered online for the Bank Street Graduate School of Education Teaching Kindergarten Conference: Where Did the Garden Go?. The annual conference celebrates the important and unique role of kindergarten in the lives of young children and provides learning opportunities for educators to enrich their early childhood teaching practice.

This year’s theme, “Creating a Classroom with Purpose, Connection, Compassion, and Joy,” explored ways for all children to become resilient and compassionate learners in challenging times and included discussions about old and new ways to encourage the healthy social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development of kindergarteners.

“The last few years have been particularly challenging for our early childhood educators. We gather like this to honor their persistence and inspire them with new ideas,” said Joy Lundeen Ellebbane, Director, Continuing Professional Studies, Bank Street Graduate School of Education. “The days we spent together provided an opportunity for educators to uplift each other while learning and exploring their role.”

The conference, which was founded in 2017 by early education experts Betsy Grob, GSE ’72 and ’99, and Fretta Reitzes, GSE ’69, began with a keynote presentation titled “Wishes for a Hopeful Tomorrow: Walking With 5-Year-Olds in the World of Today” by Lesley Koplow, MS, LCSW, who is the founding director emeritus of the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice at Bank Street College.

In her presentation, Koplow focused on how teachers can help children who are bombarded with an endless stream of information and imagery to feel confident, safe, and hopeful in today’s world.

Koplow said, “Kindergarteners are usually very busy people. What motivates them? What scares them? What helps them develop a positive self-image? What gives them peace of mind? Most of our kindergarteners were born in 2018 and they were two when COVID hit our city, making interaction with other children less possible or scary and dangerous. No young child can master social-emotional developmental milestones on their own without supportive adults who nurture the interactions that literally create the neurological connections and pathways within the child’s developing brain and psychologically create a path for the emergent self. For over 20 years, research outcomes show that warm relationships with first teachers predict positive school outcomes throughout the grades. That’s you, the essential ingredient.”

Following the first keynote, Maria Richa, Director of Diversity and Equity, Bank Street School for Children, hosted “The Art of Gathering: Explorations with Found Objects.” A former art teacher, Richa actively engaged participants to rediscover the process of gathering materials and making art so they can better create classroom environments that are collaborative, experimental, and joyful creative spaces.

The second day of the conference kicked off with a keynote presentation by Mitchel Resnick, Professor of Learning Research, MIT Media Lab, entitled “Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity Through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play.” He discussed his Lifelong Kindergarten research group, which makes use of Scratch, the world’s most popular coding platform for kids, and enables children to use technology to design, create, experiment, and explore just as they do with wooden blocks and modeling clay and fingerpaint.

Resnick said, “I participated in a conference where people debated the greatest inventions of the previous 1,000 years. Some argued for the printing press, others the steam engine, the light bulb, or the computer. My nomination for the greatest invention of the previous 1,000 years? Kindergarten! Today’s kindergartens, however, are becoming more like the rest of school. In my presentation, I’m arguing for exactly the reverse: the rest of school—in fact, the rest of life—should be more like kindergarten, which has an experiential style of learning ideally suited to the needs of today’s society.”

Next, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, the New York Times bestselling and award-winning husband and wife team, presented “Jewels and Tools–How Books Shine for the Youngest Hearts and Minds.” In this engaging and inspiring author’s corner, they looked at how storytelling and books for the youngest readers foster an early love of literacy, chart the path for school success, and inspire them to become lifelong readers.

During morning and afternoon breakout sessions, attendees chose from a list of practical learning workshops on many topics, including “‘You Took My Lego!’ A Community Problem-Solving Approach,” “Into the Garden: Love, Joy, and Nature in the Kindergarten Classroom and Beyond,” “Children Have So Much to Say: Encouraging Classroom Conversations,” and “Becoming a Voice for the Littles: Influencing Schools, Districts, and State Policy,” among many others.

To learn more about the conference and view details on this year’s keynote presentations and workshops, visit the Teaching Kindergarten Conference webpage