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Five MARC Head Start teaching teams shared projects at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the largest professional organization of early childhood educators. More than 7,000 educators from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 29 other countries attended the conference in November 2023.

Renowned Project Approach expert Judy Harris Helm, who has a doctorate in education and founded Best Practices Inc., facilitated a NAEYC conference session titled “Reigniting Engaged Learning: Celebrating the Project Approach.” Helm and colleagues Lilian Katz, Ph.D., former assistant professor of early childhood education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Sylvia Chard, M.Ed., Ph.D., professor emeritus of early childhood education at the University of Alberta, Canada; and Karrie Snider, Ph.D., associate professor early childhood education at the University of Central Missouri, have authored numerous publications on the Project Approach. In their books “Engaging Children’s Minds: The Project Approach,” (Katz and Chard) “Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years” (Katz and Helm) and “Growing Child Intellect: The Manifesto for Engaged Learning in the Early Years,” (Helm and Snider a project is defined as an extended, in-depth investigation of a particular topic.

The Project Approach starts with a real-world topic or location familiar to children, such as the doctor’s office, pets or traffic signs. During project work, educators help children act as researchers who pose questions, investigate, interview experts and represent their findings. The main goal of Project Approach is to develop positive intellectual dispositions in young children. According to Helm and Snider, teaching and learning with the Project Approach often feels and looks different from traditional teacher-directed approaches. Educators shift from instructor to facilitator while intentionally connecting project-related experiences to curriculum standards.

Local projects featured at the NAEYC Annual Conference

Fish Project
Early childhood teacher Kennedy Lynn and early childhood paraprofessional Stacy Breeden supported an investigation of fish in their preschool classroom at the Excelsior Springs School District Early Childhood Center. They were coached by MARC Head Start Education Coordinator/Coach Michelle Draper.

Wheels Project
Head Start classroom instructors Krysten Haas and Lynndrell Williams and Head Start teaching assistants Rosario Lopez and Jennifer Gilbert, all from Kansas City Public Schools Woodland Early Learning Center, facilitated projects on the topic of wheels in their preschool classrooms. They were supported by Kansas City Public Schools Head Start Instructional Coach Stacia Privett-Martin.

Babies Project
The Babies Project was conducted by a class of toddlers at the Independence School District Sunshine Early Education Center. The investigation focused on babies was facilitated by teacher Krista Droke and teacher assistant Cathy Kneece with support from Independence School District Instructional Coach Elizabeth Crowe.

Cafeteria Project
Classroom teacher Maggie Burton and paraprofessional Sharon Kuhl from the Center School District Yellowjacket Early Learning Center worked with Center School District Education Coordinator/Instructional Coach Wendy Maupin to facilitate the Cafeteria Project in their preschool classroom, which focused on the cafeteria in their school.

Balls Project
Teacher Jennifer Floyd and teacher assistant Jen Rice from the Independence School District Sunshine Early Education Center were coached by Independence School District Instructional Coach Pegi Stamps as they implemented the Balls Project with their class of 2-year-old children. The project centered on an investigation of different types of balls and equipment.