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Embracing a Vision of Social Justice in Early Childhood Education

By Ann Pelo

Early childhood programs that put social justice and ecological teaching front and center share particular characteristics.

They prioritize anti-bias, culturally sensitive teaching and learning. Teachers call attention to the ways in which people are different and the ways in which people are the same, honoring individual and group identity. They intentionally introduce issues of fairness and unfairness, and coach children to think critically and to take action. Teachers learn about children's family and cultural identities and integrate those identities into the daily life of the classroom, at the same time as they acknowledge the ways in which their own cultural identities shape their teaching.

They are organized around play and ample time for exploration. Teachers create time and provide open-ended materials for children's imaginative, self-directed play. They talk with families, with other teachers, and with community members about the value of play for children's healthy development and for their learning.

They use curriculum approaches that are responsive to children's developmental and intellectual pursuits. Teachers pay attention to children's play and conversations, watching for the developmental themes, compelling questions, understandings, and misunderstandings expressed in their play. They use what they observe to develop curricula that challenge children to think deeply and to explore collaboratively.

They cultivate a sense of place — of belonging to a particular patch of earth and sky — and a connection to the earth and its creatures. Teachers take the children outdoors and bring the natural world into the classroom, inviting the children to engage their senses and their minds as they come to know and care about — and to care for — the place where they are spending their days.

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