Education in the First Five Years of Your Child’s Life

Rachael Giannini, Preschool Teacher, Film Star of No Small Matter

Rachel Giannini is a childhood specialist, an early childhood advocate, and a video blog host. She currently splits her time as a public speaker, early childhood commentator, and curriculum designer. Learn more at Rachelgiannini.com.

Full Interview Transcript

Kelly Krueger Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me.

I’m really passionate about raising awareness of the importance of that early childhood development. I think a lot of people just look at the early childhood thinking, “Oh, it’s just pre-school, it doesn’t matter, we’re going to worry about their education later.” And I do want to raise that awareness of that it is important. Can you talk about what it means to have a quality early childhood education?

Rachel Giannini: Yes, first of all, there’s a very interesting fact, the No Small Matter puts out there, but I want to bring it to context. The film discusses greatly that in this country, over 11 million children spend an average of 34 hours a week in the care of somebody other than their parents. I’m a sucker for Venn diagrams, so we’re going to make this a circle. And then due to the fact of Harvard and the Perry preschool project and Abecedarian project, we really realize how incredible brain development is before five years old. You can tweak it later, you can move things around a little bit, you build it once, before five. That’s the circle, where those two circles intersect, those are early childhood educators. Those people that you think are playing, that are so adorable because their babysitters, we’re legitimately brain builders, and we are building a foundation that is going to last the child, the rest of their life. There have been so many longitudinal studies that show that children who have high quality, early preschool experiences, high quality, where you see teachers engaging with children, asking open-ended questions.

It’s kind of like a domino effect, they’re better prepared when they get to kindergarten, [6:00] as a result, by the time they hit third grade, they’re at a third-grade reading level, they’re doing great, they’re on track. If you hit a third-grade reading level at third grade, the odds of you graduating from high school, go up, the odds of you attending college, go up. The odds of you becoming incarcerated go down, the odds of you having any kind of misdemeanors, felonies, struggles go down regardless of your social economic status, and I am a true result of that. My parents had three kids under three, I grew up hyper impoverished. I have my master’s, my brother has his masters, my sister who has down syndrome is thriving, and it’s because we all had incredible pre-K experiences.

Kelly Krueger: Incredible Pre-K experience was because you went to a quality preschool or you because of your mom?

Rachel Giannini: No, I am a head start baby and it’s funny, if head start wasn’t just part of my life, if I could have taken the head start into first grade and second grade, then maybe I would have become a teacher right off the bat. Because it was the most amazing time too. I can’t tell you a single thing about any of my teachers, I can tell you everything about Ms. Var. I can tell you what you smelled like, what the room looked like, what the cot that I never slept on felt like under my skin. I could tell you everything about that classroom because it is so ingrained in my brain. And even though my parents outside of school would do things on the weekends, try to really take all of those little bits and nuggets that they had from early on and pull them in.

Also, you have to realize that in a child’s brain 250,000 neurological connections are being made every single minute. What that means is sincerely, I can’t stress this enough of the gravity of every moment in that child’s life is an opportunity for a teachable moment. So. you may not have gone to preschool, but you might’ve had a parent who talked to you all the time. Who read a ton of books to you, who encouraged you to play with open-ended materials like Legos and blocks and cardboard boxes [and that child is going to do amazingly well when they go into school, because that’s the same thing that we do in the classroom. A well-developed early childhood program is a place to engage with other kids, but at the core of it, it’s us asking questions and encouraging children to explore on their own, everything a parent can do in the home.

Kelly Krueger: All preschools are different; are there certain things you should be looking at when you’re looking at a preschool for your child?

Rachel Giannini: There are a lot of different philosophies and a lot of different pedagogies that you can find, there’s Reggio, Montessori, Waldorf, Hyde scope. And I’m sure every single person would love to tell you all about them when you go in on your tour, but the one thing that’s really important to look for regardless of the philosophy is how is that teacher interacting with that child? Are they sitting down on the ground with them? Are they co-learning? Are they playing next to them? Are they taking documentation? Meaning do you see that they’re writing down stuff? Do they have a camera, are they capturing moments? Because you really want to think about one, if this person is going to have 34 hours a week of your child’s time, how are they engaging with your child? If you happen to be in a classroom where you see that there’s some kind of conflict going on, don’t judge the teacher on that because children are children, but watch how the teacher settles it. How do they engage? Are they using words? Is there like a naughty chair that they’re doing or are they really talking out and getting to the root of what was the problem?

Also, look at the space and I know every classroom you see will be totally different, but is that child represented in that space? What I mean by that is, is their artwork up, not just artwork that just seems randomly spurts out, but does every piece of artwork maybe have that child’s name and a date. Then what’s going on because even a three-year-old who draws four big scribbles can tell you that those scribbles are actually a magical castle, and behind that, you don’t see a unicorn that’s flying by. And if that child’s words are on that picture, that’s a really great center because they are fostering and encouraging that child’s development, regardless of those few scratchy lines. So yeah, just look for that child being present, look for how the teacher engages, and again, if you happen to see any kind of conflict, look at what they do as resolution, and if you don’t see that, that is something that you can most definitely ask. Every teacher that you come up to and say, how do you handle conflict resolution? They should, without even batting an eye, should be able to tell you exactly how they do that.

Kelly Krueger: I love that, those are great tips because there are so many different schools. Even my own children went to a school that was very well-respected, but my son wasn’t connecting with the teacher and my daughter, they just had different experiences; same philosophy. And I think the teacher is huge.

Rachel Giannini: Yeah, so that’s the thing, like Montessori really focuses on a lot of independence, Reggio focuses on a lot of creativity and Waldorf focuses a lot on nature, they will have bonuses, and if that’s something that you as a whole just want to gravitate towards, definitely, but regardless, really look at those interactions.

Kelly Krueger: I love having your insight and I thought the movie was really great, if people aren’t going to preschool, what are they missing?

Rachel Giannini: Yeah, definitely. For anyone, I will say that you don’t have to go to preschool, and obviously I’m a huge believer in it. I have seen the power of preschool, I have lived the power of preschool myself, but obviously preschool is not always an option for parents.

. One preschool is really great because of the fact it does allow for children to engage with other children and unless that child has 20 other siblings, they may not have the opportunities to always deal with conflict resolution. They may not have all the opportunities to share and talk about give and take, but you know what? You can do that in the home.

You can engage with your child; you can come up with scenarios. You can also provide opportunities for that child to engage in very similar ways that they would within a preschool setting by allowing them the opportunity to discover. To put out provocations and by provocations, I mean anything that makes a child ask who, what, when, where, why? So, things like shells and leaves or bugs or rocks and encourage the child to ask really great questions. You can, at the same time ask your own child open-ended questions, questions that make them have to really think deeply about something, think critically and let them play. Let them play with open-ended materials that they can build, create and discover and be able to expand their brand in that way.

Kelly Krueger: When you say play, what does that mean?

Rachel Giannini: Play is a self-motivated act. It’s a child entrust that is driving the direction of their curiosity. Play as adults can look like gardening, can look like knitting, could look like bowling because as adults, we still play. It doesn’t matter that we get old we still play. It really is a child who is engaged, who is making connections like building blocks, it’s math, it’s science, but in their brain, they’re making this amazing narrative. That maybe they’re building a zoo or maybe they’re building the tallest building in the world. It’s incredible because when a child is doing what they want to do and playing with a toy that has many options, something that isn’t picked button and button will tell you what to do. It’s at those points that that child is allowed to really feel challenged and think of the next step and the next step, so play is learning.

Kelly Krueger: Can you talk a bit more about what kinds of toys or things you would do to encourage, that’s open-ended play?

Rachel Giannini: Yeah, so we all know that trope, like you buy the kid a really expensive toy, and they throw it out to the side and they play with the box, and the reason why they play with that box is that, that box can be anything. That box can be a spaceship, it can be a restaurant, it can be a crib for a baby doll.  That box is whatever that child wanted to be, and it can change all the time; that is an open-ended toy. Any toy that doesn’t have a set of rules to it is open-ended. And the reason why educators and parents and all of the specialists in the world really get behind open-ended toys is because of fact that it encourages curiosity. It encourages creative thought, encourages problem-solving and critical thinking skills. All of these skills that not necessarily have a finite amount of time when it comes to development, but you really want to develop them early. It really helps to support that development. So, giving a child a box, that play will last a lot longer than giving a child a toy that maybe does one thing, but it’s really cool, and there’s a commercial about it. It’s just really special when you see a child who’s engaging in something that you may see as trash or something that’s not exciting, and they have the biggest smile on their face and they’ve made it into something that you can never have thought of.

Kelly Krueger: Yes, I love that, I think that’s super important, my kids love playing with boxes.

Rachel Giannini:  Isn’t it the best?

Rachel Giannini: It’s so interesting, I remember we were setting up a classroom and we had this whole kitchen area set up and it was wooden spoons. And then it was incredible Kelly because within a couple of days, those kids took all those spoons and they migrated into the music area and they made them into drums. They turned them into drumsticks, and it was this, and then I started playing games with like putting balls and walking to see if they think can balance. And the idea of like, I thought we were just going to stir stuff with that, or I thought we were just going to pretend to eat, and you guys took it somewhere totally different. That can be an open-ended material. I think as long as you allow a child to put their agenda in the play, it can be anything.

Kelly Krueger: Love it.

Rachel Giannini: I want parents to really realize that they are their child’s first and best teacher. It’s something that I don’t think parents are given enough credit for. Just because you didn’t go to school to become a teacher, you influence that child every day. Children are aspirational creatures and you were sincerely their biggest inspiration. And a well-placed question, a well-placed prompted bedtime, or at mealtime, at the grocery store. There are so many little things that parents can do that spark wonder and curiosity and make a child think more and deeper about things around them. And I want nothing more than every parent to really feel empowered because of those little moments when you’re folding clothes and decide to make it a math activity. Or you’re setting the table, and you’re talking about where our food came from, or at bedtime, that night you’re reading a story and a really well-placed, what do you think is going to happen next, goes a really long way. So, a parent who is also working and doing everything else, it’s a lot to ask, it’s a lot going on, but I think parents need to realize that really small gestures go a really long way.

Kelly Krueger: Love it. Thank you again for coming and sharing your knowledge and telling us more about the film.

Rachel Giannini: Of course, thank you for having me, anytime you want to chat, I’ll be here.

Kelly Krueger: Thank you.

 

About Rachael Giannini

Rachel Giannini is a childhood specialist, an early childhood advocate, and a video blog host. She currently splits her time as a public speaker, early childhood commentator, and curriculum designer. Learn more at Rachelgiannini.com.

Education in the First Five Years of Your Child’s Life

Rachael Giannini, Preschool Teacher, Film Star of No Small Matter

Rachel Giannini is a childhood specialist, an early childhood advocate, and a video blog host. She currently splits her time as a public speaker, early childhood commentator, and curriculum designer. Learn more at Rachelgiannini.com.

Full Interview Transcript

Kelly Krueger Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me.

I’m really passionate about raising awareness of the importance of that early childhood development. I think a lot of people just look at the early childhood thinking, “Oh, it’s just pre-school, it doesn’t matter, we’re going to worry about their education later.” And I do want to raise that awareness of that it is important. Can you talk about what it means to have a quality early childhood education?

Rachel Giannini: Yes, first of all, there’s a very interesting fact, the No Small Matter puts out there, but I want to bring it to context. The film discusses greatly that in this country, over 11 million children spend an average of 34 hours a week in the care of somebody other than their parents. I’m a sucker for Venn diagrams, so we’re going to make this a circle. And then due to the fact of Harvard and the Perry preschool project and Abecedarian project, we really realize how incredible brain development is before five years old. You can tweak it later, you can move things around a little bit, you build it once, before five. That’s the circle, where those two circles intersect, those are early childhood educators. Those people that you think are playing, that are so adorable because their babysitters, we’re legitimately brain builders, and we are building a foundation that is going to last the child, the rest of their life. There have been so many longitudinal studies that show that children who have high quality, early preschool experiences, high quality, where you see teachers engaging with children, asking open-ended questions.

It’s kind of like a domino effect, they’re better prepared when they get to kindergarten, [6:00] as a result, by the time they hit third grade, they’re at a third-grade reading level, they’re doing great, they’re on track. If you hit a third-grade reading level at third grade, the odds of you graduating from high school, go up, the odds of you attending college, go up. The odds of you becoming incarcerated go down, the odds of you having any kind of misdemeanors, felonies, struggles go down regardless of your social economic status, and I am a true result of that. My parents had three kids under three, I grew up hyper impoverished. I have my master’s, my brother has his masters, my sister who has down syndrome is thriving, and it’s because we all had incredible pre-K experiences.

Kelly Krueger: Incredible Pre-K experience was because you went to a quality preschool or you because of your mom?

Rachel Giannini: No, I am a head start baby and it’s funny, if head start wasn’t just part of my life, if I could have taken the head start into first grade and second grade, then maybe I would have become a teacher right off the bat. Because it was the most amazing time too. I can’t tell you a single thing about any of my teachers, I can tell you everything about Ms. Var. I can tell you what you smelled like, what the room looked like, what the cot that I never slept on felt like under my skin. I could tell you everything about that classroom because it is so ingrained in my brain. And even though my parents outside of school would do things on the weekends, try to really take all of those little bits and nuggets that they had from early on and pull them in.

Also, you have to realize that in a child’s brain 250,000 neurological connections are being made every single minute. What that means is sincerely, I can’t stress this enough of the gravity of every moment in that child’s life is an opportunity for a teachable moment. So. you may not have gone to preschool, but you might’ve had a parent who talked to you all the time. Who read a ton of books to you, who encouraged you to play with open-ended materials like Legos and blocks and cardboard boxes [and that child is going to do amazingly well when they go into school, because that’s the same thing that we do in the classroom. A well-developed early childhood program is a place to engage with other kids, but at the core of it, it’s us asking questions and encouraging children to explore on their own, everything a parent can do in the home.

Kelly Krueger: All preschools are different; are there certain things you should be looking at when you’re looking at a preschool for your child?

Rachel Giannini: There are a lot of different philosophies and a lot of different pedagogies that you can find, there’s Reggio, Montessori, Waldorf, Hyde scope. And I’m sure every single person would love to tell you all about them when you go in on your tour, but the one thing that’s really important to look for regardless of the philosophy is how is that teacher interacting with that child? Are they sitting down on the ground with them? Are they co-learning? Are they playing next to them? Are they taking documentation? Meaning do you see that they’re writing down stuff? Do they have a camera, are they capturing moments? Because you really want to think about one, if this person is going to have 34 hours a week of your child’s time, how are they engaging with your child? If you happen to be in a classroom where you see that there’s some kind of conflict going on, don’t judge the teacher on that because children are children, but watch how the teacher settles it. How do they engage? Are they using words? Is there like a naughty chair that they’re doing or are they really talking out and getting to the root of what was the problem?

Also, look at the space and I know every classroom you see will be totally different, but is that child represented in that space? What I mean by that is, is their artwork up, not just artwork that just seems randomly spurts out, but does every piece of artwork maybe have that child’s name and a date. Then what’s going on because even a three-year-old who draws four big scribbles can tell you that those scribbles are actually a magical castle, and behind that, you don’t see a unicorn that’s flying by. And if that child’s words are on that picture, that’s a really great center because they are fostering and encouraging that child’s development, regardless of those few scratchy lines. So yeah, just look for that child being present, look for how the teacher engages, and again, if you happen to see any kind of conflict, look at what they do as resolution, and if you don’t see that, that is something that you can most definitely ask. Every teacher that you come up to and say, how do you handle conflict resolution? They should, without even batting an eye, should be able to tell you exactly how they do that.

Kelly Krueger: I love that, those are great tips because there are so many different schools. Even my own children went to a school that was very well-respected, but my son wasn’t connecting with the teacher and my daughter, they just had different experiences; same philosophy. And I think the teacher is huge.

Rachel Giannini: Yeah, so that’s the thing, like Montessori really focuses on a lot of independence, Reggio focuses on a lot of creativity and Waldorf focuses a lot on nature, they will have bonuses, and if that’s something that you as a whole just want to gravitate towards, definitely, but regardless, really look at those interactions.

Kelly Krueger: I love having your insight and I thought the movie was really great, if people aren’t going to preschool, what are they missing?

Rachel Giannini: Yeah, definitely. For anyone, I will say that you don’t have to go to preschool, and obviously I’m a huge believer in it. I have seen the power of preschool, I have lived the power of preschool myself, but obviously preschool is not always an option for parents.

. One preschool is really great because of the fact it does allow for children to engage with other children and unless that child has 20 other siblings, they may not have the opportunities to always deal with conflict resolution. They may not have all the opportunities to share and talk about give and take, but you know what? You can do that in the home.

You can engage with your child; you can come up with scenarios. You can also provide opportunities for that child to engage in very similar ways that they would within a preschool setting by allowing them the opportunity to discover. To put out provocations and by provocations, I mean anything that makes a child ask who, what, when, where, why? So, things like shells and leaves or bugs or rocks and encourage the child to ask really great questions. You can, at the same time ask your own child open-ended questions, questions that make them have to really think deeply about something, think critically and let them play. Let them play with open-ended materials that they can build, create and discover and be able to expand their brand in that way.

Kelly Krueger: When you say play, what does that mean?

Rachel Giannini: Play is a self-motivated act. It’s a child entrust that is driving the direction of their curiosity. Play as adults can look like gardening, can look like knitting, could look like bowling because as adults, we still play. It doesn’t matter that we get old we still play. It really is a child who is engaged, who is making connections like building blocks, it’s math, it’s science, but in their brain, they’re making this amazing narrative. That maybe they’re building a zoo or maybe they’re building the tallest building in the world. It’s incredible because when a child is doing what they want to do and playing with a toy that has many options, something that isn’t picked button and button will tell you what to do. It’s at those points that that child is allowed to really feel challenged and think of the next step and the next step, so play is learning.

Kelly Krueger: Can you talk a bit more about what kinds of toys or things you would do to encourage, that’s open-ended play?

Rachel Giannini: Yeah, so we all know that trope, like you buy the kid a really expensive toy, and they throw it out to the side and they play with the box, and the reason why they play with that box is that, that box can be anything. That box can be a spaceship, it can be a restaurant, it can be a crib for a baby doll.  That box is whatever that child wanted to be, and it can change all the time; that is an open-ended toy. Any toy that doesn’t have a set of rules to it is open-ended. And the reason why educators and parents and all of the specialists in the world really get behind open-ended toys is because of fact that it encourages curiosity. It encourages creative thought, encourages problem-solving and critical thinking skills. All of these skills that not necessarily have a finite amount of time when it comes to development, but you really want to develop them early. It really helps to support that development. So, giving a child a box, that play will last a lot longer than giving a child a toy that maybe does one thing, but it’s really cool, and there’s a commercial about it. It’s just really special when you see a child who’s engaging in something that you may see as trash or something that’s not exciting, and they have the biggest smile on their face and they’ve made it into something that you can never have thought of.

Kelly Krueger: Yes, I love that, I think that’s super important, my kids love playing with boxes.

Rachel Giannini:  Isn’t it the best?

Rachel Giannini: It’s so interesting, I remember we were setting up a classroom and we had this whole kitchen area set up and it was wooden spoons. And then it was incredible Kelly because within a couple of days, those kids took all those spoons and they migrated into the music area and they made them into drums. They turned them into drumsticks, and it was this, and then I started playing games with like putting balls and walking to see if they think can balance. And the idea of like, I thought we were just going to stir stuff with that, or I thought we were just going to pretend to eat, and you guys took it somewhere totally different. That can be an open-ended material. I think as long as you allow a child to put their agenda in the play, it can be anything.

Kelly Krueger: Love it.

Rachel Giannini: I want parents to really realize that they are their child’s first and best teacher. It’s something that I don’t think parents are given enough credit for. Just because you didn’t go to school to become a teacher, you influence that child every day. Children are aspirational creatures and you were sincerely their biggest inspiration. And a well-placed question, a well-placed prompted bedtime, or at mealtime, at the grocery store. There are so many little things that parents can do that spark wonder and curiosity and make a child think more and deeper about things around them. And I want nothing more than every parent to really feel empowered because of those little moments when you’re folding clothes and decide to make it a math activity. Or you’re setting the table, and you’re talking about where our food came from, or at bedtime, that night you’re reading a story and a really well-placed, what do you think is going to happen next, goes a really long way. So, a parent who is also working and doing everything else, it’s a lot to ask, it’s a lot going on, but I think parents need to realize that really small gestures go a really long way.

Kelly Krueger: Love it. Thank you again for coming and sharing your knowledge and telling us more about the film.

Rachel Giannini: Of course, thank you for having me, anytime you want to chat, I’ll be here.

Kelly Krueger: Thank you.

 

About Rachael Giannini

Rachel Giannini is a childhood specialist, an early childhood advocate, and a video blog host. She currently splits her time as a public speaker, early childhood commentator, and curriculum designer. Learn more at Rachelgiannini.com.

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