In the first event of its kind in Storm Lake, over 150 people who work with children - teachers, preschool staffers, Head Start providers, day care operators and others - came together Saturday at King's Pointe to...
Well, to be kids again.
The occasion was the first of what is anticipated to be an annual Early Childhood Conference, sponsored by the Buena Vista, Crawford and Sac counties Empowerment program.
If it sounds like the kind of event where people speak in serious tones about the nuances of educational strategy, child health and safety and so on, it was.
But it was also a place where full-grown adults leaped onto their feet and waved colorful streamers around like mad, play tested sand toys and other fun stuff, wore oversize glitter glasses, did impromptu crazy dances to the tune of songs like "I Am a Pizza," and batted beach balls around.
The orchestrator of this madness was Sharron Krull, director of Playful Connections. The author, professor and educational consultant has dedicated her life to "connecting kids, parents and eduators through the power of play."
It might be uncommon to see an educator conference speaker with a sheen of perspiration, but a speech for Krull is a workout. She is in constant motion, dancing, bouncing, waving her arms, blowing up a ball to throw into the audience, balancing a beanbag atop her blond head while she explains a point.
All the while, her audience gets the point. Teach kids by connecting to them at their level - a level ruled by activity and exploration. Teach by playing.
The audience rollicks right along, when someone shouts out an answer to a question on children's needs, Krull cries back, "Kiss your brains!" slapping a hand to her lips as if to blow a kiss and then whapping herself on the skull in her signature move.
She advised the educators and caregivers to "put (kids) to work" helping to manufacture the fun. Not everyone has a budget for materials, so she showed how to turn common items into playthings. A quick twist and a fast knot and her old scarf sails into the crowd as a safe-for-little-ones ball. A bit of whispy cloth is pressed into service for a child's one-person game in which they develop coordination in both hands and attention skills tossing and catching over their own heads.
The conference stressed the vital role of those who work with toddlers and preschoolers.
"Empowerment is training for anyone who works with kids, and that is what we are trying to do for our region," one of the organizers of the new conference said.
"You can't fully educate or care for a child unless you work to be a role model for the child - and a role model for other teachers as well," she said. "And to do that it is important to remain a child - be a child in the heart. That's why Sharron is here - to inspire us and energize us so we can go back and do the same for all the kids we serve."
Krull's husband, a retired police chief, runs the organization Fight Crime Invest in Kids. He spoke during an earlier session to the crowd in the new lodge's conference facility.
He said that a 27-year study has proved that preschool gives people a better path in life. By age 40, those who had no preschooling were found to be twice as likely to have become involved in serious crime as those who had it, and four times more likely to had been arrested for drug abuse, and much more likely to be on welfare.
Why is such a conference so important?
"Today, 77 percent of our families with children under 6 have both parents working, probably full-time. Who is providing the care, who is going to be the role model?" Krull asks, tilting his head to indicate the answer - the local caregiver people in that room tossing balls and dancing jigs.
Annette Koster, Director of the area Empowerment program, said the event is the beginning of a push for quality assurance in day care and preschool education programs in the area.
There are 65 such programs operating out of homes in the area, and none are believed to be currently accredited, she said.
She encourages the child service providers to begin a quality rating program as a first step toward taking that responsibility for proven excellence.
For more information on the Empowerment program, contact Koster at 712-662-3880.
And while you are at it, you might just ask for a demonstration of The Pizza Dance, because it's never good for a grown-up to be too darned grown up.