Welcome To A Seat At The Table

 Many years ago, I was introduced to the importance of a being invited to a seat at the table. A simple gesture of sharing food and camaraderie creates unity and friendships. Food may unite us at a table to fill our stomachs but it is the relationships that form at that table that fill our lives.  The value of a piece of furniture to capture inclusion, sharing, celebrations, and building of community, lies in a table. When you are provided a seat at the table, it represents an opportunity to be heard and to make a difference.  Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a new table, to meet new friends, eat new foods and rekindle my passion for learning. Along with forty-nine other early childhood educators, we spent a weekend of sharing, celebrating and feasting on, among other things, Philadelphia Cheese Steak! Last weekend was the annual Terri Lynne Lokoff Teacher Awards.  Ironically, from this celebration, a new table of learning and sharing will make its way into the Ginkgo Tree Nature School. 

  In August 1987, Fred and Kay Lokoff founded the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundationto honor the memory of their daughter Terri, who died tragically in an auto accident.The Terri Lynne Lokoff Foundationis the advocate in our country for supporting and elevating the status of early child care professionals. Each year, this Foundation is the only organization in the countryto honor child care educators nationally for their valuable work and innovative thinking at the Terri Lynne Lokoff Children’s TYLENOL®, Children’s ZYRTEC® National Child Care Teacher Awards.The Lokoff foundation is dedicated to making America better by improving early care and education. Their focus is to improve the quality of programs that care for and education children from birth to five. Therein, lies the beauty of this award and our tables. 

  Childcare educators are rarely recognized for their importance on brain development, social skills and emotional competencies that they share with our earliest learners.  The salaries are low, the hours are long, turnover is high and there are rarely benefits included in their contracts. Recently, however, early care educators are being invited to the table of “education.” The landscape of early childhood education is changing.  It isn’t pretty, it won’t happen quickly, but it is happening because of research, changing demographics, and policymakers.  It is changing because foundations and families like the Lokoff’s believe in our youngest learners and their caregivers. The Lokoff Foundation recognizes the importance of those first five years and the importance of the education that these children spend their days learning. 

    A celebration of that learning and those teachers is held annually as the Lokoff Foundation invites us to their table, to honor early childhood educators who are not often recognized and invited to the “adult” table of education. This award gives fifty teachers $500 for a classroom project and $500 for the teacher’s personal use, along with the trip to Philadelphia to be honored for their passion, their time and their sacrifices. Many of these teachers that were honored would not qualify for funds in other grant-supported opportunities. Family child care programs, non-profits, for profit, and small private schools are rarely considered to apply for funding from sources that only recognize traditional ”pre-school” classrooms for these opportunities. Recognition in early care is unheard of.  If you missed it in the second paragraph, let me share it with you again.  The Lokoff Foundation is the ONLY organization in the country to honor early childcare teachers nationally for their work.  They invite us to have a seat at the table. All of us, regardless of school setting, we are invited to the table of education. Yes, the landscape is changing! The crawling movement is beginning to steady itself for the walk forward to a day we see federally funded early childhood education and care.  Until that day arrives, we will be forever grateful for those who do recognize the hard work and importance of early care education.  Thank you to our families that trust us with their most valuable possession, our mentors, the researchers, policy makers and the Lokoff Foundation. 

            The Ginkgo Tree classroom enhancement project is titled, Under Construction: Blocks, Blueprints and Brain Development. We asked for an outdoor block area.  As you know, we are more than a bit block crazy over here. We build all over our outdoor classroom, with sticks, rocks, loose parts orwhatever we can find.  Finding an outdoor unit block was like striking gold!  Unit blocks work best on flat surfaces, so we requested the Community Plaything’s Outlast Tableas the centerpiece of our Block Center.  We need this table for building blocks, but also for building community, trust and friendship, which are all very important skills to master before kindergarten.  There is a term in early childhood classrooms called a Play Buzz.  A Play Buzz is that moment during play when all is good, all is right, all needs are met and all the children are learning. You will often know it by the silence in the classroom.  I can tell you that the majority of our play buzzes happen as a group during block play. Blocks are the magic. Our goal was to give the magic a permanent home in our Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom. 

            We have a Community Playthings Outlast Table that we love dearly. We use it almost daily for our meals, artwork, kinetic sand play, magnets and other learning activities.  I tend to over research everything and I looked at other outdoor tables. Did I really need another table, exactly like the one we have? After hours of research, I decided we did! It’s hard to find a table where everyone can be invited to have a seat at the table! Which is just as important for inclusion and for building skills much deeper than simple block building. Having a seat at that table gives children power to make decisions and influence on how a project progresses. It allows the child to be heard and to make a difference. 

            Last week I had to ask my students to move block play so we could use the table for lunch. I knew the request was not going to go over well and it didn’t.  I get it.  It was a project in progress. It was a play buzz. They weren’t finished, even though the clock said it was well past our lunchtime.  So, we ate on a blanket on the lawn.  Glasses of milk and our lawn don’t get along so well.  We needed a block table. We have had our table for a number of years and it is as sturdy as it was the day it arrived. It sits outdoors all winter long, and this Illinois winter was crazy cold and crazy long, and our table welcomed us back when the yard was drenched with mud, and too deep for play!  There are so many things we love about all the Community Playthings products that we own, (and we have a lot!) but it is the table that joins us. It is the table that brings us together for learning and sharing, feasting and celebrating. It may just be a major piece of our foundation of learning. 

            Our goal for creating this space is to engage the children with a rich learning environment that encourages building, creating and problem solving. The collaboration that happens with building blocks is the rich, engaging and relationship building environment that educators crave. The same can be said about for The Lokoff Teaching Award.  The collaboration that happened last weekend was rich, engaging and an environment that built relationships that changed our lives. Thank you to the Lokoff Foundation for inviting all of us to a seat at your table! 

Our new table, benches and blocks! LOVE!

Our new table, benches and blocks! LOVE!

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Early Childhood Education is…education. It just looks like play!