Teaching Kindergarten Conference Focuses on “Rediscovering the Joy and Purpose of Kindergarten”

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

The theme of this year’s conference, “Rediscovering the Joy and Purpose of Kindergarten,” explored questions about inspiring hope and resilience in today’s classrooms: Who are our kindergarteners? How can we understand and respond to their needs while navigating academic pressures and COVID-19-related concerns? How do we continue to create environments that support social justice and how can we care for ourselves during this challenging time?

“Incorporating joy into our kindergarten classrooms and curriculum has always been within our work, but now more than ever, educators are using joy, music, art, and play purposefully to strengthen values of social justice and equity and to support children’s cognitive development” said Joy Lundeen Ellebbane, Director, Continuing Professional Studies, and coordinator of the Teaching Kindergarten Conference. “We are encouraged by our presenters and workshop facilitators, and we’re inspired by the commitment and expertise of the participants.”

The conference, which was founded by early education experts Betsy Grob, GSE ’72 and ’99, and Fretta Reitzes, GSE ’69, began its first day of programming with a keynote presentation titled “Reclaiming and Elevating the Joy, Purpose, and Power of Kindergarten” by Takiema Bunche-Smith, former executive director of Bank Street’s Center on Culture, Race & Equity. Maria Richa, Director of Diversity and Equity, Bank Street School for Children, also engaged participants in a group art activity titled “Rediscovering the Power of Art: Lines, Shapes, and Joy.” 

The second day kicked off with a keynote presentation titled “Big Masks, Little Masks: Finding Each Other in the Kindergarten Classroom” by Lesley Koplow, Director of the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice, Bank Street College. The day also included a keynote conversation between Renee Dinnerstein, an early childhood educator with over 50 years of experience, and Jacqueline Allen-Joseph, a teacher with more than 30 years at the NYC Department of Education. During “Reflections on an Educator’s Journey: A Conversation with Renee Dinnerstein,” Ms. Dinnerstein spoke about the role of play during the time of COVID-19. 

“There’s this panic that children have fallen behind and that we have to make sure our kindergarten students know their letter sounds and number sounds so they can go into first grade. Well, if they are somehow emotionally or socially hurting, then play and creativity, both in and out of the classroom, are even more critical now,” Dinnerstein said. “It’s also important for teachers to understand the research behind play. Adding joy is important, and we need to be able to defend it.”

Attendees also joined breakout workshops to practice ways to cultivate confidence, collaboration, and community among students while welcoming joy back into the role of teacher. Topics included “Close the Box and Step Back into the Garden: Guiding Children’s Learning Through Play,” “Joy for Whom?: Recognizing Joy and Purpose in Black Children’s Play and Creating Pro-Black Classrooms for Young Children,” and “Boys Can Draw Eyelashes, Too: Gender Neutral Education in Early Childhood Classrooms,” among others. New workshops for pre-K and 3K teachers and administrators were offered this year, such as “Navigating the Early Childhood Curriculum Using Play as a Guide” and “Singing Your Song and Finding Your Joy: Music in the Early Childhood Classroom.”

The Teaching Kindergarten Conference was established in 2017. To learn more about the conference and view details on this year’s keynote presentations and workshops, visit the Teaching Kindergarten Conference webpage