Curriculum, Lesson Planning

21st Century Learning in Early Childhood

21st Century Learning in Early Childhood

What is 21st Century Learning?

The short version? The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (or P21) was the answer to major companies saying students were graduating college and were not ready for the work force. My husband who was a manager for a big-box retail store would come home complaining his associates would not be able to get projects done or would bicker and argue over the smallest details and never make actual progress. Basically, our students were graduating book smart but socially stunted. Companies like Intel, The Walt Disney Company, Ford Motors, and Pearson were looking for the “4 C’s” to be included in students’ education: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

Graphic from P21

While shown separately here to make referencing easier, P21 values all aspects in this framework, including the pools to help facilitate learning, equal in their importance. Everything is integrated into the overall outcome.

21st Century Learning in an Early Childhood Environment

The ironic thing about 21st Century Learning is most preschool and early childhood centers are already doing it. As professionals, we know better than anyone that a child learns best through play and interacting with peers. Not only that, we intentionally set up our day to have students work and learn together in groups. It is very common in the block center to see students using both woodblocks and toy animals. What usually happens is the students will use the blocks to create houses or shelters for the animals to live in. They then act out imaginative episodes with their peers. While this might seem like simple play to the average viewer, the trained early childhood professional knows it is much much more than that! Students are using their creativity and critical thinking skills to first build a shelter out of the blocks. Is it big enough? Is there a roof? They then collaborate with their peers to share their resources and build a structure together. The rest is all creativity and communication. Is it raining outside and our T-Rex needs to go to sleep? Maybe he’s hungry and needs a car to drive to the grocery store! The dramatic play here is endless. This is just one example, but learning opportunities like this happen continuously in all centers.

So if we’re already doing it, why isn’t it being recognized? Honestly, it’s because by nature teachers are modest creatures. We’re not explaining all of the learning happening during the day. We have to remember that the majority of the people we serve do not have degrees or training in any sort of education field. While it is something educators eat, breathe, and live, to the untrained eye this same dinosaur and blocks scenario just looks like simple play time. We also need to educate our parents and families on what learning looks like in early childhood because it’s not all finished worksheets, flashcards and writing samples. I always coach my teaching staff to brag about all of the learning taking place in their lesson plans. Those daily reports are their time to show off all of the wonderful experiences in their classroom so why not take credit for everything happening? If you come from a center with a prescribed lesson plan, what does your newsletter look like? What do your conferences look like? Make sure you’re giving yourself all of the credit you deserve!

Wording is everything!

Below is a sample lesson plan from my Pre-Kindergarten classroom. The theme was “Engi-nuity” where we were studying famous buildings and architecture from all over the world. At the end of our two weeks, each student selected a structure to recreate using whatever materials they thought would work best. I’ll first show you some examples of how I worded the lesson plans, and then show some final products at the end.

Sharing Our Ideas & Art History: During morning meeting we used our Promethean Board to look at the architectural design of the Eiffel Tower using Google Earth. We learned about the lead architect on the project, Steven Sauvestre, and why he designed the Tower using triangles.

Developing Our Imaginations, Music & Movement: As we worked during Project Time, we listened to traditional French music so we were totally immersed in the culture of the time period the Eiffel Tower was built. Our teacher would point out different instruments like the accordion so we could hear its timbre.

Building Our Skills, Computer & Technology: We researched famous structures all over the world while utilizing the program “World Explorer” on the computer. To properly navigate the program, we needed to use simple mouse skills like “drag and drop” and click on specific items when prompted. We will use the information we gained during this individual activity to help guide our selection of a structure to recreate.

Building Our Skills, Manners: We worked together as a class to build a 3D puzzle of the Eiffel Tower. While it tested our critical thinking skills, we also had to collaborate and communicate as a team to finish the puzzle correctly.

Sharing Our Ideas, Literature & Language: We worked in small groups to research information about our chosen structure. With help from our teacher, we worked on our handwriting and phonemic skills as we wrote three interesting facts on our structure information poster.

Becoming a P21 Exemplar

While the wording of your lesson plans is a great first step to P21, I must stress that like any accreditation, there is a process involved. If your center is interested in becoming accredited as a P21 Exemplar, I recommend taking their Preliminary Quiz to see if your center should apply. There are also great resources on STEM, professional development opportunities, and even a parents’ guide to 21st Century Learning and citizenship on their main website.

Wishing you well,



Disclaimer: Photos and information used with permission from Partnership for 21st Century Learning.
Team Building

Team Building through the 5 Love Languages

Team Building with the 5 Love Languages

In February our school was closed for a day for a teacher inservice day. Still being within my first year as an administrator, it was the first time I was expected to plan that 8-hour inservice day. Ideally, I would have hired a professional trainer to come in and teach on a topic that would be beneficial to all of my staff. With my owner still within her first year in the childcare business, however, money is pretty tight; it was up to me to figure something else out.

My Owner and I have been through a lot in our first 10 months of running a school together. I think the biggest hurdle, and one we’re still coming across, is the turnover in staff. Turnover is inevitable when there is a management change no matter what field you’re in. What we were experiencing was a sense of “old” staff (staff that stayed on through the change) vs. “new” staff (staff hired in under my Owner and myself) and infant-toddler staff vs. preschool-pre-k staff. Because of this, our students and families were suffering. No one wanted to work together and those who thought outside the box were being criticized and ridiculed by those wanting to keep the status quo.

I was thinking hard about getting teachers to understand and start to relate to one another. Unfortunately, in a career that empowers and relies on women, we don’t play well in the sandbox together. Now I don’t expect all of my staff members to sit around and sing kumbayah together on their lunch breaks or anything, but I do expect them to treat each other with kindness and respect and be considerate of one another–you know, the same values we’re teaching the children. I was all for some Myers-Briggs personality typing (INTJ in the house!), but my Owner suggested looking into the 5 Love Languages.

The 5 Love Languages

I have not read the book, but I did do some research and read some articles on how this is not only applicable to romantic relationships, but relationships with children and co-workers. After checking out the website and reading about the different types, I had to take the quiz to figure out which one I identified with.

Each type refers to a way you respond best to others. To some, words hold great power, where others like to spend quality time together to feel connected. For our purposes (and one I recommend continuing) we omitted Physical Touch since that is not applicable in the work place. At our meeting, I had each teacher take the quiz and write their name under the language they best identified with. Some were quite surprising! Turns out I am a Words of Affirmation and Acts of Service type of girl.

But how did this apply to our needs? By taking the different characteristics of each trait, I made a chart to help teachers identify ways to communicate and show appreciation toward their fellow staff members. Many teachers also took pictures of the lists and who identified with each language so they would remember!

5 Love languages chart

It was a great moment of togetherness for our staff. I truly felt like we broke down a few barriers and began to connect on a much more meaningful level. We took a few moments to speak about our language and how it guides our way through the work day. Being the director, I get called 5 million (or so it seems) times a day with requests for more paper towels, a jug of paint, a heatable that needs warmed, to go to the bathroom, or to check out a kid’s gunky eyes. Being a Words and a Service language person, a simple “please” and “thank you” go a long way with me. That closing teacher that comes up to me at 5:30 asking “What else can I do before I go?” and doesn’t shirk at washing the snack dishes is a godsend. With this discussion we all learned how to better communicate with each other and how to show our appreciation for one another.

I wanted to end our inservice on a high note and with something tangible to remember this by. I found this brilliant quote and printed it on card-stock–one for each staff member–with their name at the top. On the back we went around and wrote anonymous positive messages. Once they were all filled, I laminated them and hung them in the teachers’ classroom closets. Hopefully both the positive message on the front, and the kind words of encouragement from their coworkers on the back help them through any difficult days.


I highly encourage any staff or team having difficulties connecting to look into the 5 Love Languages. It was such a simple exercise but one that has seeped into the classrooms and learning environment. It truly has changed the dynamic of our school!

Wishing you well,




It’s Okay for Kids to Feel Disappointment

It's Okay for Kids to Feel Disappointment


This past weekend my little guy turned one. We are so lucky because he also shares a birthday with my sister, so it’s twice the fun! My sister and I are three years apart just like my kids, Emma and Lee. When birthdays come around in my family there has been a tradition that the other sibling would also receive a small present so they wouldn’t feel left out. The thought here was that it would be hard for a younger child to understand why their sibling was receiving gifts but they were not. This way no one was left out and everyone felt included.

So when Lee’s birthday came around, I’m not sure why I was surprised that every member of my family also bought Emma a present. While I know that my parents always meant well, I’m not sure I agree with the tradition when it comes to my own children. In this world of “everyone gets a trophy” there’s not much room for teaching children compassion and generosity for others.

Before Lee’s birthday, we spent time talking with Emma about how we were going to celebrate the day Lee was born with family, cake, and giving him and her Aunt presents. The day after Lee’s party, she asked my husband why she had also received presents from everyone. “It wasn’t my birthday, daddy,” she said. “When I went to my friend’s birthday party, I gave him a present, but I didn’t get one. It was his birthday.” Emma was genuinely confused. She was also 100% right.

As parents (and educators) our instinct is to try to save our children from any sort of discomfort. So in an effort to save Emma from feelings of sadness, she was actually robbed of the experience to work through those emotions and learn from the situation. Our ultimate goal is to teach her compassion and generosity for others, so why not give her as many opportunities to do so? If we were to wait until she were at an age to be able to “handle” being left out, what age would that be? When infants learn to walk do we not work with them several times each day until they finally master the skill? We also work with our children on learning letters, colors, and shapes until it is completely ingrained. Social-emotional skills are no different. The more opportunities we give our children to identify and work through their emotions the more adept they will become. Being able to function socially in everyday situations is an important life skill that definitely outweighs my need to “protect” my child from disappointment. Giving children the skills they need to cope with emotions can only result in more well-rounded, compassionate human beings for the future.

Our ultimate goal is to teach her compassion and generosity for others, so why not give her as many opportunities to do so? If we were to wait until she were at an age to be able to “handle” being left out, what age would that be? When infants learn to walk do we not work with them several times each day until they finally master the skill? We also work with our children on learning letters, colors, and shapes until it is completely ingrained. Social-emotional skills are no different. The more opportunities we give our children to identify and work through their emotions the more adept they will become. Being able to function socially in everyday situations is an important life skill that definitely outweighs my need to protect my child from disappointment. Giving children the tools they need to cope with emotions can only result in more well-rounded, compassionate human beings for the future.

Wishing you well,



More for our Boys

Below is a Facebook post I had published this past November. I have been asked to share that post again and welcome your feedback and discussion!

heart breaker

Lee has been growing recently and currently has very little clothing that fits him. So at the end of a very long work week, I took both kids to a clothing store before heading home. If you’re a momma or know kids at all you know this process must be done quickly otherwise impending meltdowns ensue. I picked up several things, but one was this sweater made by Carter’s. When we got home I showed off all of the new things to my husband, Matt, and cooed over this one saying, “It even says ‘handsome like daddy!’ It’ll be cute for Valentine’s day!”

Today I can’t believe I actually spent hard-earned money on this and I’ll tell you why.

When Emma was born I knew that I wanted her to be her own person. Yes, I know those things get influenced by Matt and I’s personal interests and tastes, but I didn’t want her to not do something because it wasn’t what “girls do.” She loves things like tea parties, unicorns, Sophia the First, and magic wands. But she also loves hockey, dragons, Dude Perfect, and swords. As a result, I have this amazing daughter who confuses pediatricians because “daddy uses the vacuum” and “I wasn’t a princess, I was a knight for Halloween.” We always try to encourage her so that she can complete any task she puts her mind to. Yes, she might need some help in the process, but ultimately the success is hers and I never want her to feel like she needs someone else to help her do it.

There are two other things that really influence our parenting style: The Golden Rule and Conscious Discipline. Treat others as you want to be treated, and remember that it’s ok to feel the way you do; it’s how we handle those emotions that not only make us stronger individuals, but better citizens. We teach her that her actions, both positive and negative, have an effect on others’ emotions. Through this, we try to teach her empathy, consequences, positive intent, assertiveness, and composure.

There’s been a big push recently in the education world and society in general to do a lot of these things for our young daughters that Matt and I have done with Emma. STEM education, #feminism, pictures of women CEO’s and clothing for girls saying things like “do all things with kindness,” “Love will light the way,” and “kind heart, fierce mind, brave soul.”

But what about our sons? The same major clothing retailer that’s selling those wonderful tees for girls also has these tees for our boys: “I’ve got game,” “heart throb,” “let the shenanigans begin,” and my personal fav, “boys will be boys.” Why is this ok? Why do we tell our daughters to be kind, brave, and gentle but our sons to party, hurt the feelings of others and you’re forgiven because you’re a boy?

I think what bothers me the most is that it’s so easy for us to gloss over these societal norms and not pay attention to the bigger message something like this sweater—for a baby—passes along to our boys. The only thing I was thinking when I bought this was how cute and sweet I think Lee is now and how handsome I believe he will be as he grows up. That does not give him an excuse to intentionally hurt another person. I know, I know, “Heather you’re being ridiculous, he’s only a baby. He doesn’t even understand that his clothing has letters on it.” But then that turns into “He’s only 4, he can’t read yet,” and before you know it he’s 8 and then 14 buying God only knows what at Hollister and Abercrombie that just perpetuates the issue and the cycle goes on and on and on.

I’ll keep this sweatshirt though. No, Lee will never wear it, but I’ll keep it as a reminder that I want more for my son. I want him to grow up the same way we are raising Emma—that he can be and do whatever he wants. Whether that’s an athlete, doctor, scientist, ballerina, secretary, or stay at home dad is completely up to him. We will teach him that his actions have an effect on others and The Golden Rule is applicable in all walks of life. These sayings and social norms will still continue around us and they will only stop if we actively make them. I can’t make another parent see things the way I see them or force retailers to stop producing merchandise like this. But I can teach Emma and Lee that it’s not ok. And they can teach their children. And maybe, just maybe, the cycle will stop.

Wishing you well,



A new beginning

Hello and welcome to my new blog! I will be focusing on life as an early childhood director and educator and working mom of two. I hope you join me for the ride!

“Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.” –Maria Montessori

Wishing you well,