This is one of a series of blogs featuring first-person accounts from early educators across Massachusetts.
* * *
My name is Denise Galford-Koeppel. I graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in Psychology, focused on developmental psychology. I wanted to understand the developing child first hand, so after I graduated I worked as an early childhood educator at the Wellesley Community Children’s Center (WCCC) while completing a master’s degree from Wheelock College.
I learned more about development and families from my mentors at WCCC than I did in school, and I have continued relationships with them to this day through roles there as a parent, board member, substitute teacher, and now consultant.
After teaching at WCCC, I worked in the lab of a national research study called the NICHD* Study of Early Child Care (Early Childhood Research Network) that looked at the effects of childcare on child development. There, I met young children who enjoyed the lab activities; and I was drawn to children who developed differently, the ones who did not stack blocks or who had difficulty interacting with a caregiver. This inspired me to become a developmental specialist in early intervention. I have loved that work since 1994.
I have continued my education each year as I strive to know all I can to best meet the needs of children of all populations: at risk, impoverished, disabled, multi-lingual. I have completed the parent consultant training through the Federation for Children with Special Needs. I have certification as a DIR-Floortime therapist. And through a “Race to the Top” grant, I was able to complete a Post-Master’s Certificate in Early Childhood Research, Policy, and Practice at UMass Boston.
I use all of these skills to support families, children, and educators.
I enjoy consulting with early education programs in Massachusetts. I currently consult to programs and provide training sessions on social and emotional development (the Pyramid Model) and on the development of communication in young children (Hanen-Learning Language and Loving It). I have written my own training materials on challenging behaviors, peer interaction in young children, and accessing services for children when there are concerns about development.
Research on health and happiness in adults points to peer supports and friendships as a protective factor. Peer relationships are also significantly important for children, yet providers have not made it a priority in their work with families to support children in natural settings. Young children with disabilities are at risk for having difficulties in relating successfully to peers. That’s why the fields of early intervention and early childhood education have an obligation to foster positive peer interactions from the start of a child’s exposure to peers in the community, in childcare settings, and in early intervention programs.
Based on my research on the earliest development of peer relationships, I was able this month to launch an informational campaign that seeks to highlight the importance of promoting connections between very young children. With these materials I hope to foster peer interaction in very young children and prepare children for successful interactions. The materials are part of the “Show Your Friend” project. You can learn more at info.nurturingconnections.info or at email@example.com.
Or like the Facebook page: Nurturing Connections.
I want our field to become professionalized and have a code of ethics and standards of practice like those in nursing or the mental health field. We ourselves should make this happen. We have the ability to empower ourselves by creating career ladders in individual programs and by working together to create mentor-teachers and coaching opportunities. Educators are naturally good at scaffolding children and should do this with one another.
*NICHD stands for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.