In January, the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) selected its new executive director, Cara Ciminillo, who has worked as the agency’s operations director since 2012.
We asked Cara what she’s looking forward to in her new role, why play is so important and what she considers to be Pittsburgh’s best play-based learning resources.
What are you looking forward to most about being the Executive Director of PAEYC?
The transition has been exciting! On any given day, I may spend an hour with a group of Pre-K for PA Coalition members mulling over the state budget impasse, talking with a group of neighbors in Hazelwood about the role of play in healthy community development or talking with Councilwoman Rudiak and the Mayor’s Office about plans for the new Office of Early Childhood.
Early childhood and after-school professionals are some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. I’m looking forward to using my position to advocate loudly and proudly for this group. I am really excited to continue our policy agenda that includes greater access to high-quality early childhood education, as well as helping to ensure our educational policies support developmentally appropriate practices for children, from infancy through third grade.
How do you feel about the increasing demands on young children to excel academically?
What concerns those of us in the field of early childhood is the developmentally inappropriate expectations we have for our youngest and the curriculum and methods used to meet these demands. Early childhood is considered to be the most important phase of our life. More occurs from birth to age 9 than at any other stage — huge leaps in physical, social, emotional and cognitive growth. Our most respected child development researchers all illustrate that children learn best in self-directed, active and play-based learning experiences.
What are your favorite resources for play-based learning in Pittsburgh?
Gosh, there are so many – learning occurs everywhere! Frankly, we don’t need a lot of expensive materials to create rich play-based learning experiences. Our numerous parks, our grocery stores and, of course, the museums, are excellent. My 6-year-old especially likes Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. She recently taped together used cardboard boxes into a life-sized robot and then explained that it was her inspiration for the Magna-Tile robot that she built immediately following.
What do you think Pittsburgh does best in terms of early childhood education? Where do you see room for improvement?
Hands down, what Pittsburgh does well is collaborate across sectors to ensure all children have meaningful early childhood experiences. We have a mayor and City Council who get it, we have barbers in Homewood who get it, we have dozens of nonprofits who advocate and we have networks of providers leading this work each day.
And yet, we need to help families, school administrators and legislators understand the importance of educational practices and policies that support play as a critical element in all young children’s lives.
The Pre-K for PA Coalition is collecting signatures in support of $60 million in pre-kindergarten funding from the Pennsylvania budget. To show your support for $60 million in pre-kindergarten funding to be included in the Pennsylvania budget, sign the Pre-K for PA Coalition petition here.