St. Margaret's Inaugural Summer Institute Highlights the Essential Role of Play in Early Childhood Education

Over two full days of enlightening and research-based professional development, St. Margaret’s Summer Institute explored the essential role of play in early childhood education.
St. Margaret's played host to early childhood educators, administrators and policy makers last week at the inaugural 2024 Summer Institute. Over two full days of enlightening and research-based professional development, the program explored the essential role of play in early childhood education. 
Over 50 attendees from around the nation including local Orange County and Los Angeles County educators as well as attendees from Washington D.C., Texas, Northern California, Tennessee and Maryland. The program included presentations from keynote speakers, classroom observations at St. Margaret's renowned Early School, workshops, panel discussions and more.
Dr. Cris Lozon, St. Margaret's Early School director, expressed the transformative impact of the Summer Institute on the professional development of educators and policymakers, "The institute provided a unique platform for our teachers and guest speakers to share their expertise and for the attendees to witness theory in practice, fostering a sense of growth and progress in our collective understanding of early childhood education."
The Summer Institute included a look into the latest findings from neuroscience to understand how play actively engages and motivates children, fostering their physical, cognitive, and social development. These findings have practical implications for early childhood educators, as they can use them to design play-based activities that promote specific aspects of children's development. In addition, a closer exploration of methodologies for tracking children's growth over time using developmental continuums and observational techniques was part of gaining insights into play-based projects initiated by children. A particular focus on discovering projects aligned with cross-cutting concepts and interdisciplinary studies provided a balanced educational foundation.
Dr. Sandra Stone, Professor Emerita of Northern Arizona University and author, delivered the keynote address at the inaugural event. Her presentation, “What is Play: A Closer Look at Research,” set the tone for subsequent sessions. Early School professional community members Dr. Jennifer Hardison, Early School Outdoor Classroom teacher, and Tammy Pipitone, Early School teacher, shared their insights on art and play in the studio setting. Erika Garcia, Early School Outdoor Classroom teacher, and Hope Petrozzi, Early School teacher, discussed the role of play in the study of life science in the Outdoor Community Garden. 
Additional presenters included, Dr. Sonia Yoshizawa, Early School assistant director and pedagogista, on play and STEM, and Victor Cota, Director of Equity and Inclusion at St. Margaret’s, joined Dr. Lozon for a presentation focused on shaping meaningful DEI initiatives in the Early School during Saturday’s keynote. The event also featured a panel of Early School educators who discussed the importance of play and answered audience questions.
St. Margaret’s Early School is a play- and researched-based academic program with roots in constructivist teaching and the renowned Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. For the last eight years, St. Margaret’s Early School team of educators have taken a deep dive in studying the research behind  Reggio Emilia schools, cognitive development, and play- and place-based theory. 
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