Sunrises and Sunsets: Making Meaningful Memories in the Early Years

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.

As the sun sets on the year 2020, none of us has escaped the challenges that it has brought. As the sun rises on the year 2021, it is time again for me to think about what lies ahead. I was hopeful in January as I felt that the year would be so much better than the year before where I spent most of it in a battle with breast cancer. I have always had trouble with new year’s resolutions but when the end of my treatment coincided with the end of 2019, I wanted a word to hold onto in the months ahead. I chose hope. It has helped me to weather the storm that has been 2020. This year, I want to first think back before thinking forward. I love playing with words and their meanings. I challenged myself to come up with three words beginning with the same letter that characterized my experiences in 2020. They are … weathering, wooden toys and webinars! What are your three words? They can begin with any one letter that you like.

As we navigate the perfect storm that is COVID, we will remember this year. At all points in life whether it be in the early years or the later years, memory is a fundamental capacity that plays a vital role in social, emotional and cognitive functioning. According to the Encyclopedia of Child Development our memories form the basis for our sense of self, guide our thoughts and decisions, influence our emotional reactions, and allow us to learn. As such, memory is central to cognitive development. I don’t remember much about 2019. When I was warned about chemo brain, I didn’t understand that it was cancer-related cognitive change and while, I am clear headed now, I have very little memory from the months of fog. I don’t remember writing half of the blogs that I wrote in 2019 and this continued into the first few months of 2020. The lifting of the fog coincided with the coming of the pandemic. It has been a year of weathering and it is one that I will not easily forget thanks to the sunny faces of my two grandchildren who have brought so much light into my life.

I will also remember 2020 as the year I experienced a surge in my fondness of wooden toys. Aren’t the sunset and sunrise arches above from Rose and Rex amazing? They are my mementos for 2020 and I plan to pass them onto my grandchildren! Sharing my love for wooden toys with my grandchildren has been a COVID gift and I cherish these memories. I did not realize how much I appreciate memory until I suffered from loss of memory. The ability to form memories and remember them is a vital part of human experience. Memory is an area that I have not previously considered as it relates to early childhood. From the first breath of life, the opportunity to think backwards, or to develop memory, begins. While this is a memorable year for my grandchildren, I know there will be a difference between how Reese, 14 months and Griffen, 4 years, will remember the year of the Corona Virus. While young children are competent and capable in many ways, their memory capacity is limited. Memory development is linked to a sense of self. Children do not fully develop a sense of self until around 1½ or 2 years of age. Having a sense of self, gives a place for memory to be organized and to develop personal meaning. I am continually amazed by Griffen’s memory. He loves when I tell him stories. Sometimes, I forget that it is a story I have told him before, but he remembers what I have forgotten. These stories hold meaning for Griffen as do our shared play experiences. Having the opportunity to support my grandson in his early years has been such a gift. I had to dust off my early childhood educator skills and dig out from my basement all the glorious loose parts that I have collected over the years to use in the many workshops that I facilitate to early childhood educators like this wooden tray filled with wooden loose parts and some bling!

I remember now how much I love playing with children. These memorable experiences have helped me to recognize how important it is to look at memory development as a way to think about and plan for children. According to the article, Developing Memory remembering begins with understanding. Memory development not only takes you back to experiences that hold meaning, but it is a complex cognitive ability that is important in many aspects of thinking and learning, such as language and literacy, planning, following directions, problem-solving, reflecting, imagining, and the overall ability to form a positive sense of self. I hope that the readers of this blog will recognize how important it is to focus on memory in the early years. Harness those memories and use them to create meaningful program plans for children. Both of my grandchildren love the Rings, Nins and Coin Set from Modern Rascals. Notice how Reese uses her memory to repeat her success at ringing the Nin!

Perhaps I will create a webinar about memory in early childhood education. Then again, I think I need a break. I like many others, have zoom fatigue. This has been the year of the webinar. These online professional learning experiences have replaced face to face workshops. I see many benefits to this type of learning for early childhood educators. Webinars are accessible. I am so grateful to have reached so many early childhood educators and early years teachers from all over the world!  Starting in May and ending this month I have participated in, developed, organized, hosted, facilitated and presented about 100 webinars! Accessibility is important but so is affordability. This is vital for an audience made up members of the early years sector. That is why I am so pleased and proud to host a final webinar in 2020 as the coordinator of the York Region Nature Collaborative. Since 2003, Mother Earth Water Walkers have been raising awareness of our relationship and responsibilities for loving and caring for the Water. This water-based webinar will invite all nations on a Water Walk along the Humber River in Toronto with Grandmother Vivian Recollet, her Granddaughter, and Oshkaabewis (Ceremonial Helper and Messenger) Hopi Martin. You can register here. In lieu of payment, you donate what you can. This webinar is meant for those who work in the early years.

From the last webinar of 2020 to this, my last blog post of the year, it has been a year to remember. I am grateful that I had the strength and fortitude to write even during the storm of COVID and the fog of chemo. All my posts serve as memory activators. I wrote them as much for myself as I did for other early childhood educators. I have always maintained that those who work in the early years are the salt of the earth, a phrase that refers to groups of people who have great worth to society. In my long career as a proud early childhood educator, never has this been more apparent to me than during this unprecedented pandemic. My word for 2020 was hope. My word for 2021 is love – love for my family, for sunsets, sunrises and love for the early years sector. As an expression of gratitude and love for all those in my province (Ontario) who work with our youngest learners, I am offering a giveaway on Instagram! Enter for a chance to win the wooden tray of wooden loose parts featured above. I will see you in 2021!

If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm ~ Frank Lane

4 thoughts on “Sunrises and Sunsets: Making Meaningful Memories in the Early Years

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