The Back to Basics Conundrum in Early Learning: Reflecting on the Past to Move us Forward

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Recently, a kind and sharing early childhood educator posted my blog, Pedagogical Documentation: Why? When? Who? What? Where? How? on a Facebook group for Reggio-inspired educators. Since she tagged me, I looked and saw that it immediately garnered a comment. “Basic” was all she wrote. I replied “it was meant to be” and tried not to take it personally. I had already been thinking of this post, and saw the irony in the synchronicity. It is a conundrum in early childhood education when it comes to the training needs of teachers. Shouldn’t we be moving forward and embracing the current and new? Or should we go back to basics?


I love saying conundrum. It is one of those words that are fun to say over and over again. However, having a perplexing problem would seem to be something to avoid. Without a clear solution, this back to basics problem represents a platform to reflect. I believe that we need, in addition to looking to the trending topics in ECE such as STEAM to look to the past, to the basics. The basics are really not so basic. The reflection on what they are could prove to be a worthy exercise for early childhood educators. It is something that Cindy Green and I have been doing a lot of thinking about lately. With over 75 years of combined experience, we are constantly reflecting on all things ECE. There are basics that have a long tradition in ECE. Blocks, dramatic play, sand and water play, books and art. Those would be my picks for the basics. What would be yours? As someone who teaches early childhood students and does multiple workshops every year for early childhood education teachers, I appreciate opportunities to engage at a higher level of thinking. But I miss the basics and think the basics are often missing for children too! It is not that these topics are simple. They are complex with a rich history. Newer ideas like those emanating from the work of Reggio educators, since the end of World War II, such as pedagogical documentation, the hundred languages of children, and the image of the child are by nature very complex. Many appreciate when they are broken down to the basics.


In the education world, back to basics often becomes intertwined with the three Rs. From an early childhood education perspective reading begins at birth and considering books are on my basic list, I am going to let my reflections wander back to my first workshop of 2018. It also draws me back to conundrum, the word. Conundrum is a Tier 2 word. Working with the Toronto District School Board, with Cindy Green, friend and colleague, we presented the same workshop on the same day, one in the east and one in the west to approximately 200 ECEs in total. With inspiration from our Australian friends we presented a session focused on playful literacy. When participants chose a book to plan a story table, we invited them to read the books, looking for Tier 2 words.

Tier 2 Words

In my second workshop this year, I invited participants to create a story based on their stick and stone creations, using Tier 2 words and other literary techniques. This is a complex way of looking at a basic part of every early childhood educator’s practice – reading to children and supporting emerging writers.

Share your story

There was something very powerful about both experiences because I think all involved enjoyed the word play just like I am finding the word conundrum engaging and intriguing. Authors are intentional with word selection. Early childhood educators can be too. I am embracing the back to basic conundrum and intend that this be the first of many basic blog posts. Also, Cindy Green and I look forward to unveiling some future professional learning opportunities based on the basics. We have called the series Environments: Basics and Beyond and will focus on blocks, dramatic play, literacy and art. We have another full day experience planned just about blocks, which we are very excited about! Stay tuned to find out more.

3 thoughts on “The Back to Basics Conundrum in Early Learning: Reflecting on the Past to Move us Forward

  1. I just love that thought, “the basics aren’t so basic”. Yesterday after our seven hour planning session thinking about “the basics” we definitely pondered a lot and we are excited and curious about how these workshops will motivate educators to go beyond the status quo.


  2. I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve often found that I seem to know more about the complex concepts than the actual practicum associated with them. So many of the trainings I have attended focus very heavily on the “why” of ECE, but the “what” and especially the “how” is left unanswered.

    While ECEs often align on their goals, the methods we use to achieve them (the “basics” as it were) sometimes look very different, and I feel that it is those methods that are absolutely essential to share with one another. In my opinion, sharing our practical, day to day experiences is what moves the profession forward and upward.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Blocks, Blocks and more Blocks: Essential Materials for Play and Learning | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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