By Nancy Wilhelm, Program Coordinator, State 4-H Office
Elizabeth “Beth” Bye is the Executive Director of the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield. She has worked in early childhood education for over 30 years. She is also a member of the Connecticut Senate representing the 5th district which includes Bloomfield, Burlington, Farmington and West Hart-ford. Beth has spent her career working to assure all children have access to high quality learning opportunities. I sat down with her recently to get her thoughts on the benefits of early childhood education.
Her background in early childhood development and education began with a BA and MA in Child Development from the University of New Hampshire. Beth states that she was interested in the research on the impact of infant daycare on child development and in helping children to develop internal controls. She adds that “you can al-ways impact children, but it’s great to set their course early in life.” When asked what the research says about how we educate our youngest children she responds, “the research tells us that young children learn actively. They need to interface with a variety of materials, and explore, move and go outside. They also need to interact with other children and teachers. Their brains are qualitatively different and so they take in information differently than adults.” Beth also states that “play is the work of children”. It is universal, like walking and talking and is essentially how children make sense of their experience. Developing an attitude toward learning that is enthusiastic and flexible is also important and early childhood education programs can help to set the stage for children to be eager and excited about learning through play and active learning.
Environment also plays a key role in creating an effective early child-hood education program. The environment needs to be conducive to learning with interesting materials and activities. Safety is a key factor as well. There is more fear among parents now regarding their child’s safety and so the question arises, how much freedom to allow children to explore and develop. Responsive care is critical to a safe learning environment. Building self-regulation is also important so that children can be part of a com-munity early on, learning how to work as a team, and care about others.
Beth credits the 4-H program with helping youth to create their own inquiry experiences with 4-H pro-jects and activities as well as teaching independence, enthusiasm for learning and contribution to com-munity. 4-H members learn these skills early on and it tends to stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Beth’s connection with Auerfarm began as a consultant for the Bloomfield Public Schools. Over 13,000 youth visit Auerfarm each year to learn about agriculture and the environment.
Auerfarm offers a variety of seasonal, school and summer enrichment programs that provide a wonderful setting for active sensory learning. Children take a hayride around the 120-acre property exploring the gardens, orchards and fields and also get to sample apple cider and maple syrup during seasonal programs. Auerfarm also has an ongoing relationship with the Wintonbury Early Childhood Mag-net School which visits the farm for several weeks during the year. What better backdrop for active learning than a 120-acre farm with animals, gardens, and orchards.