2012 PAEYC and Family Support Conference
PLAY! Transforming Children, Families, Communities and LIVES!

The joint PAEYC/Allegheny Family Support Conference held on September 21st and 22nd, 2012 at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh was informative, insightful and inspiring. We were all reminded that Play is essential for the healthy development of children and for adults as well, something that we often forget. 

From the Keynote speeches by Darell Hammond of Kaboom (Friday) and Dr. Linda Carson, PhD, Co-Creator and Lead Trainer of I Am Moving, I Am Learning (Saturday) to the more than 100 workshops, the two day conference was a resounding success; teaching and engaging all who attended in mind-expanding, diverse, and richly relevant topics while providing resources and materials to attendees.

One of the most unique aspects of this biennial conference is it brings parents and staff together to share, learn, and explore. Thanks to scholarships provided by the Department of Human Services, parents from Family Support Centers across Allegheny County were able to participate in workshops along with staff from the early care and education/Family Support communities. The Office of Child Development’s (OCD) Partnerships For Family Support (PFS) team hosted a lunch for more than 50 parents and children on Saturday, September 22nd. This was followed by an opportunity for families to participate in a wide array of fun and enriching play activities at the Convention Center. Highlights included the giant blue block from the “Imagination Playground”, arts activities, hoola-hooping, and old-time traditional games, and much more (as usual, Freddy the Frog from the Ready Freddy Program was a huge hit with the kids!).  

Another highlight of the conference was the Family Support “Arts Showcase”. Thanks to an ongoing collaboration between OCD and Gateway to the Arts, we were able to send professional artists into 20 

Family Support centers this past summer for 4-session “mini-residencies.” Families used the book “Whoever You Are” by Mem Fox for inspiration, and the resulting arts displays were one of the most beloved aspects of the conference.

The Office of Child Development staff presented 10 different workshops and participated in the Family Support Assembly on Friday afternoon. The diversity that characterizes the work of the Office of Child Development was evident in the variety of workshops that the Office’s staff presented: 

  • Janell Smith Jones, Andrea Rudek, Laura Townsend, and Sheila Beasley presented with a group of Panelists from Family Support about their work in Early Intervention Screening and its importance to young children at risk for Developmental and Social Emotional Delays.

  • Ken Smythe-Leistico engaged attendees with an activity filled presentation about the Ready Freddy Program and the research behind it. The Ready Freddy Program promotes school readiness and enthusiasm for school through Kindergarten Transition activities.

  • Gloria Rodriguez-Ransom presented on how to understand the world through the eyes of Autistic children and what one can do to engage them in play at their level. She refuted some of the myths relating to Autistic children and explained how important it is to be patient and observant in order to adjust to their sensory needs. 

  • Penny Lang (presented in two sessions) did a fun, thought-provoking, activity-filled workshop about infusing classroom teaching with creativity. The activities brought out the creative spark in workshop attendees as well as gave them ideas for their classrooms that could spark student’s creativity.

  • Kalani Palmer (presented in two sessions) engaged her audience in several fun experiments to demonstrate the importance of exploring natural and social science during out of school time. Research shows that children who use scientific reasoning and problem solving skills did better in science as a subject.

  • Ray Firth was part of a panel that examined the role of maternal depression in the healthy development of their children.

  • Stacy Flowers and Audra Redick gave a presentation and interactive workshop that explored practical strategies for teaching children the social-emotional skills to succeed in the classroom.

  • Barbara French, STARS TA Consultant and Phyllis Esch, Independent Consultant, presented an overview of the 12 module series, Mind in the Making. This series includes modules that enable practitioners to learn the stages of child development and how to maximize a child’s brain development for optimal learning.  This workshop brought to light approaches to understanding how children learn (research-based) and how one can become a great teacher as well as impact a child’s life and life skills.

  • Sheila Beasley moderated Friday’s Family Support Assembly which celebrated the importance of Family Support Centers in communities across Allegheny County. Attendees answered the question: “How do you play?”in an energetic fast moving exercise;  then had an opportunity to watch an inspiring family engagement video created by a team from the Office of Child Development’s Division of Applied Research and Evaluation Division. As in past years, parent “speak outs” were a highlight of the Assembly. Additional speakers included Carol Wolfe from Gateway to the Arts, and family support founder Eartha Sewell. The Assembly concluded with a call to advocacy and action by longtime Family Support parent leader Elaine Harris-Fulton. In a session directly after the assembly, Sheila presented on “How Parent Engagement Changes Parents, Children and Communities”. Several Family Support parent leaders attended,

  • Sheila Beasley and other members from the Langston Hughes Poetry Society engaged their session audience in writing poems using templates. The open discussion had everyone thinking about poetry and culture and it’s role within the context of engaging youth and sharing the love of language.

In addition to all the great presentations by the Office of Child Development staff, many staff members volunteered to help with the conference.  Partnerships for Family Support (PFS) worked closely with parents and staff from Family Support Centers across the county and PAEYC staff to plan and execute this two-day event.

As always, it was a pleasure to work with our close friends at Family Support and PAEYC on this biennial event. The Office of Child Development staff members are always grateful to be able to share and grow by being involved in this important endeavor.