Inspiring Young Minds Through Art and Exploration

Anna Golden is the atelierista, an early childhood education teacher with an arts background, at the Sabot at Stony Point School in Richmond, VA. She’s taught at the progressive school, which serves students from pre-K through eighth grade, since 1996. Golden is a painter and mixed media artist who also teaches art education classes at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, VA. Raised in a family of artists and musicians, it’s no surprise she created a career that blends the arts and learning.

“Even very young children come into school with culture, knowledge and all sorts of things they can share,” she says of her youngest students. “A lot of people think of young children as cute but needy — needing to be filled with knowledge and skills in order to grow into the people they'll become. The truth is that children come to us as powerful and filled with ideas, and we adults are enriched by appreciating that.”

Golden is a passionate advocate for early childhood and arts education. “I think it's really important for early childhood teachers to communicate about our work, so I write articles and book chapters, I have a blog, and I speak or do presentations whenever I can.”

Why did you decide to be a teacher, and how did you choose early childhood education (ECE) in particular?

I always worked with children at camps and through babysitting when I was a teenager, but planned on a career in art. After college I was working in commercial art and thought I'd found my path but soon realized it was not for me — I really wanted to work with children. I wanted something that would combine the kind of problem solving I did in art with education. My sister-in-law loaned me a copy of the book The Hundred Languages of Children, and when I read about the Reggio Emilia approach, I knew I had to find a school that would let me work in this way. I love teaching all children, but I especially enjoy the way young children wonder and explore. As children get older, they can become more self-conscious, which can get in the way of creativity.

How can we help young children make the transition from home to the rules and procedures of school?

It’s so important for the school to welcome the participation of families. There are lots of little ways to create a home–school connection, like the journals families create over the summer, full of photos and writing. These journals are a great source of comfort when children are sad or missing home. It’s very sweet to see children showing their journals to each other to share their families, pets and favorite activities.

At Sabot, parents pick up their children inside the school, so they have a chance to view documentation and to chat with each other and with staff. The preschool program depends on two parent volunteers daily, one greeter who helps with carpool, and one Star Parent who assists for the whole day. Of course, the preschool teachers have an open-door policy in the classrooms, and they host dialogs with parents several times a year.

What's the most valuable skill an ECE teacher should possess and why?

The most important things are an image of children as capable thinkers and doers, and an attitude that includes the ability to really listen.

Because I think of myself as a teacher-researcher, I’m always learning from the children. So for instance, last year a group of teachers wanted to understand the relationship between magical thinking and science. One day when I was with a small group of children who were outside drawing trees, they began wondering aloud whether each tree was a boy or a girl and hypothesizing a life as a princess or prince tree. These moments are such a good opportunity to learn about learning. I could see that the children were proposing a fanciful story to fill in the gaps in their knowledge about trees. Once I started paying attention to these stories, I often notice children using this tactic. This kind of ongoing learning is, for me, the greatest joy of working with young children.

Do you have any advice for a teacher considering ECE?

Look beyond traditional schooling and find inspiration in theories and philosophies of education that speak to you. Even if you’re working in a traditional school setting, let your interests guide your approach; teaching can be a source of real passion and personal growth. Above all, listen and let the children guide you. There is so much wonder and fun they can share!

What are two supplies no pre-K classroom should be without and why?

Good children’s scissors and tape. The scissors have to really cut, or they create so much frustration it's not even worth having them. As for tape, we can pretty much make anything you can think of if we have some paper and tape!

Margot Carmichael Lester is owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. The granddaughter of schoolteachers, she’s a frequent guest instructor, leading K–12 workshops on persuasive, opinion and argumentative writing. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on Google+.

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