A University of South Florida (USF) research team was awarded a Library of Congress grant to strengthen the skills of early childhood teachers in supporting preschoolers’
exploratory learning and play-based inquiry using community-based historical photographs.
The team, which includes College of Education Professors Ilene R. Berson, PhD, and Michael J. Berson, PhD, aims to create home-school linkages that promote inclusive family-friendly experiences that connect stories of the past and children’s lives today. The project is being conducted in partnership with the Tampa Bay History Center, the Florida Department of Education’s Division of Early Learning and early learning coalitions in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco and Hernando counties.
The research team will curate collections of community-based primary sources from the Library of Congress and the Tampa Bay History Center into interdisciplinary activity sets that focus on common nonfiction themes that support Florida’s Early Learning and Developmental Standards. These project-based inquiry experiences will incorporate children’s literature and hands-on exploration that foster problem-solving, critical thinking and visual literacy skills.
“Young children have demonstrated interest in historical objects and events, and they have the capacity to make personal and collective meaning from the past,” said Ilene R. Berson, a USF professor of early childhood education who serves as principal investigator on the project. “Family history and narratives about the past are especially influential, but preschoolers are also fascinated by the lives of others. They are interested in learning about life events that are outside their own experiences and use this information to start to make sense of their own lives. Exposure to primary source inquiry may support children in both the development of a sense of identity and reduce the tendency to create rigid ‘us and them’ boundaries, contributing to more subtle understandings of cultural discourses around identity and belonging.”
The Bersons have received international recognition for integrating emerging technologies
into instruction and modeling innovative pedagogy. Their research has contributed
to the foundational knowledge on developmentally appropriate pedagogy in early childhood
and elementary social studies education.
“Preschools, libraries and museums are natural partners in that they share similarities in their support for early learning and family engagement for young children and families in their communities. Because of this, libraries and museums often partner with preschools to offer programming. However, libraries, museums and preschools could be expanding their partnerships to have a greater impact for preschool children and families and offer more inclusive access,” said Michael J. Berson, a USF professor of social science education and co-principal investigator on the project. “This project will provide time and space to work on cultivating a partnership that develops strategies for working together to support preschool children, educators and families. The outcome will be a community of practice that centers on collaborative planning and peer learning to design exploratory classroom activities and associated resources for family engagement that support learning inside and outside of school.”
In a previous project funded by the Library of Congress, the Bersons worked with Bert
Snow of Snow & Co to launch the KidCitizen project, a free online resource that provides elementary-aged students with authentic,
age-appropriate engagement with primary source materials to help build literacy, critical
thinking skills and content knowledge. To date, KidCitizen has been used in schools
throughout all 50 U.S. states and in Puerto Rico.
The project, titled “Scaffolding Historical Inquiry for Preschoolers: School & Home Active Play-based Explorations (SHIP-SHAPE),” is funded by the Library of Congress’s Professional Learning & Outreach Initiatives Office and will begin on Oct. 1.
About the USF College of Education:
As the home for more than 2,200 students and 130 faculty members across three campuses, the University of South Florida College of Education offers state-of-the-art teacher training and collegial graduate studies designed to empower educational leaders. Our college is nationally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and our educator preparation programs are fully approved by the Florida Department of Education.