Early Childhood Connections
Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago has trained over 500 early childhood teachers working with children at risk of academic failure on the project approach in the Chicagoland area since 2000. The underlying principles of the Early Childhood Connections program are grounded in the Museum’s belief that children learn best when they are engaged, motivated, intrinsically curious and most of all, having fun. The program utilizes the project approach, which encourages children to formulate questions, seek out and discover answers, consider their findings and form conclusions. In this environment, teachers become the facilitators of learning rather than distributors of knowledge. It also encourages all children to explore and learn in their own way as well as fostering the development of critical thinking, cooperation and communication skills.
Early Childhood Connections is designed to achieve the following goals:
- To increase the use of the project approach and developmentally appropriate practices in classrooms and childcare settings serving children at risk of academic failure ages 3-8;
- To increase the positive attitudes of teachers and childcare providers toward project approach learning;
- To provide parents with opportunities to play an active role in their children’s education.
The Early Childhood Connections Program provides several critical components: professional development for teachers and childcare providers conducted by Dr. Judy Harris Helm, world-renowned expert In the project approach; focused field trips to the Museum; resources and support in the project approach; parent/child in-school activities; family celebrations; and family passes for future Museum visits. The training component consists of three full professional development workshop days conducted in the fall, winter and spring of each school year. Each participating teacher conducts one or more projects in their classrooms and childcare settings during the year of training and has opportunities to share their successes and challenges with their peers.
Throughout the past eight years, the Museum has been assessing the program using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Through collaboration with Dr. Jan Perney from National-Louis University, we have concluded that through the rigorous standard of a pre- and post-test control group design, and controlling for initial differences between the intervention and control groups, there is evidence that the Early Childhood Connections Program is producing statistically significant and practically meaningful positive changes in teacher and childcare providers’ attitudes toward the project approach and an increase in the use of developmentally appropriate methods and strategies by early childhood educators.
Early Childhood Connections was generously funded by the following organizations: Anonymous, Crown Family Philanthropies, Discover Financial Services, First Bank of Highland Park, Gorter Family Foundation, HSBC Bank, USA, Illinois Tool Works Foundation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, JCCC Foundation, The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, Northern Trust, Polk Bros. Foundation, and Ventana Charitable Foundation.