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Ed. Magazine

No, Pinterest Isn’t the Place to Build Lesson Plans

Alum’s nonprofit pilots new play-based early ed curriculum in Boston
Illustration by Tete Garcia
Illustration: Tete Garcia

When Neighborhood Villages, a nonprofit based in Boston that advocates for early childhood education, first started working with childcare centers, they noticed that it wasn’t easy for teachers to find quality curriculum for their young students that was both play-based and culturally relevant. As a result, teachers often turned to a fun but unlikely curriculum source: Pinterest.

Sarah Siegel Muncey, Ed.M.’05, cofounder of Neighborhood Villages (with Lauren Birchfield Kennedy, a 2009 graduate of Harvard Law School), wasn’t surprised that the online site, most known as a place to get ideas for birthday parties and room decorating, became a go-to for early childhood teachers.

“They didn’t have anything else,” she says. For the most part, curriculum for children 0 to 5 that is both affordable and hits all of the points that Siegel Muncey says are important for children in that age range — play-based, culturally competent, and paired with coaching and materials to maximize the result teachers are looking for — is in short supply. “There are things that exist that people will proudly say are their curriculum, and they are just not curriculum. They're activity suggestions. Teachers desperately want to do right by the children in their classes.”

With this in mind, Neighborhood Villages recently began partnering with Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the LEGO Foundation to create a new play-based early education curriculum for toddlers in Boston under age 3. This will expand on curriculum the nonprofit earlier designed with the city’s Focus on Early Learning programming for ages 3 to 8. All of the curriculum is aligned with the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care curriculum standards.

“Until we treat early education and care as a public good, we’ll continue to see the same outcome: a system that fails everyone.”

The nonprofit will pilot and test the toddler curriculum (with a goal to then expand statewide) through a program they created called The Neighborhood — a network of five Boston-based early education providers, serving about 3,000 people, including 900 children. Siegel Muncey says as research shows, and as anyone working in the preschool world sees on a daily basis, investing in early childhood learning is critical for both parents and children.

“Socioeconomically, this lack of investment in childcare infrastructure is hurting everyone from the woman who wants to make partner at our law firm to the woman who doesn’t know her schedule at Dunkin Donuts three weeks from now,” she says. “The idea that we don’t invest in 0 to 5 in a meaningful way, and we pretend that human needs all of a sudden appear when a child turns five, it’s not only inhumane and stupid, it’s a really dumb way to spend your money.”

As the nonprofit states on their website, “until we treat early education and care as a public good, we’ll continue to see the same outcome: a system that fails everyone.” Asked what’s different about the curriculum they are creating, Siegel Muncey says, in part, it was created by educators for educators — and it won’t cost centers anything.

“What makes this curriculum especially unique is the process by which we are co-constructing it with a very diverse group of toddler teachers, family partners, and early childhood leaders who work in classrooms with toddlers every day,” she says. “Additionally, the curriculum will be free and open source, which is a shift in early education, where programs are currently spending thousands of dollars on curricular products that don’t even meet their needs.”

Siegel Muncey says she’s feeling hopeful about what she sees as this next, important phase in the early childhood world, where we’ve moved from “this is important” to “yes, but how do we do it?”

She says, “Lauren and I used to drive around making the case for early education and talking about brain development. We don’t do that anymore. We can skip that. Nobody needs to hear that. They’re like, yeah, but how do we fix this? And those people asking us are different people. They’re business leaders and they’re politicians. They’re not just early ed advocates sitting around at a conference talking. I think they’re seeing a rare unicorn of an issue that is affecting everyone so much that both sides of the aisle are often in agreement about it.”

She calls it a moment.

“It really is a different moment for childcare and for early education and early brain development and just this whole field. People are taking it seriously and everybody is paying attention,” she says. “We really need to know how it all is going to work when it looks good.”

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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