Childhood Education professor will serve on NYSED Early Learning Task Force

Lindsey Russo, associate professor and coordinator of Early Childhood & Childhood Education programs, has been selected to sit on a new task force formed by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to evaluate concerns about how learning standards affect young learners, from prekindergarten to grade 2.

This Early Learning Task Force has been designed to include schoolteachers, researchers in higher education, policymakers and district administrators, in hopes of ensuring that their conversation reflects multiple viewpoints. The team will ultimately make recommendations to the NYSED for the revision of the current common core standards for early childhood education in New York State.

Russo’s background of scholarship and teaching make her a unique fit on the Early Learning Task Force. She has dedicated her career to investigating the importance of play in early childhood learning, and working with teachers, schools and districts to implement more opportunities for young students to learn through play and creativity.

“My research focuses upon play, which for me is about going back to understanding what children really need and how they learn best,” Russo said. “We know that play is the optimal learning approach or learning environment for young children, so I’m interested in looking at how we can refocus on play and move away from the sit-down, test-based model in place now toward a more interaction-based approach to education.”

The formation of the task force, and the NYSED’s inclusion of a variety of voices to contribute to its work, suggests that the state is actively seeking innovative and original pedagogical practices in preschool programs and elementary classrooms.

“The learning standards right now are relatively appropriate –social and emotional learning is included as opposed to only academic content – but this is the first time since I’ve been an educator that we’re starting to identify, on such a large scale, that we can not only teach children to ‘be nice to each other and to share’ through the medium of play, but can also teach math, science and technology,” Russo said. “I’m thrilled to be on this task force and to give voice to these concepts.”

In her work with SUNY New Paltz students and teacher candidates, Russo says this play-centric approach has been very well-received.

“We embed it in our early childhood undergraduate courses here, and then in graduate school I teach a play course for master’s students,” she said. “From 2006-2015 I worked with the Blue Man Group to help develop the curriculum for the Blue School, bringing creativity and play into the learning, and we’ve had students from New Paltz go on to participate in fieldwork or Student Teach at the school. Through this work we’re making inroads for our students to see how play can be implemented in practice.”

Russo has earned significant recognition from peer scholars in early childhood education. In addition to the invitation to serve on the NYSED panel, she was also recently invited to serve on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education.

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