2024 Early Childhood Symposium

The Early Childhood Symposium is an annual gathering that provides an opportunity for anyone who works with young children – educators, caregivers, and parents – to gain knowledge, perspective, practical skills and tools for supporting all young children.

2024 Early Childhood Symposium

Saturday, February 24, 2024 at Percy Julian Middle School!

Workshop Handouts and Symposium Resources

REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED. We have reach capacity, so we unfortunately are unable to accept walk-in registrations. 

The theme this year is 3 R’s: Reflection, Representation, & Resilience

For over twenty years now, the Collaboration for Early Childhood has hosted our Symposium. We are so excited about the theme this year. Reflection, Representation, and Resilience are integral to inclusive and dynamic early learning experiences for our little ones. We recognize that there are other R’s that are also key to building communities where young children thrive – Relationships, for example, are the context for all child development. This year, we welcome you to come to the Symposium ready to explore the R’s that matter most to you in your practice.

The day will include a continental breakfast, keynote address, lunch, and a variety of early bird, morning, and afternoon breakout sessions led by noteworthy presenters. Participants will also have the opportunity to network, collect resources, explore books, and update their Gateways Registry membership. Learn more about the day’s schedule and workshops below!

This is a Gateways Registry Approved Event. Early Intervention Credit, ISBE and PD Clock Hours available.

Symposium Schedule Overview

Event Schedule Overview

6:45 – 7:30 Early Check-in
7:30 – 9:00 Early Bird Workshops
8:00 – 9:30 Breakfast, General Check-in
9:30 – 11:00  Morning Workshops
11:15 – 12:30


Welcome: Mary Reynolds, Executive Director, Collaboration for Early Childhood

Introduction of Keynote Speaker: Talley Hann, Co-Chair of the Collaboration for Early Childhood Professional Development Committee

Keynote: Elevating Equity in Early Childhood, Presented by Angela Searcy, Ed.D. and Vincent Rodriguez


12:30 – 1:30 Lunch and Play Stations
1:30 – 3:00 Afternoon Workshops
Registration Information

All registrations will be online this year, but you are welcome to pay by credit card or check. Please note that if you are interested in attending, reserve your workshops and register immediately, even if you do not have your payment information on hand. You will just select to pay later when you register. Please register early to ensure you can join us before we sell out!

Registration – January 12-February 16, 2024 $45
Full-Time Student Registration Fee (proof of valid/current ID required) You will need to email a photo of your student I.D. to Lisa, our Operations Coordinator at ljarvis@collab4kids.org. She will respond to you with a discount code that you can use at registration. $30
Late Registration – for non-student registrants after February 15, 2023 $55
Joan White Scholarships are now closed.


Information About Credits
Educators who attend the Early Childhood Symposium are eligible to receive three types of credits listed below. Participants who are looking to receive professional learning hours, or CPDUs, can only receive hours/credits once and should not be awarded from multiple sources for only one event.

About Credits

  • Gateways Credits — Symposium participants can earn 1.5 hours of credit for all workshops, and .75 hours of credit for the keynote session. Gateways Credentials are symbols of professional achievement that validate knowledge, skills and experience. They are awarded and recognized by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Bureau of Child Care and Development. They are required for some Circles of Quality in ExceleRate Illinois and can be used to help with employment decisions in early learning programs. Learn more about Gateways credentials.
  • Early Intervention Credits — The Symposium workshops also qualify for Early Intervention (EI) Credits. The Core Content Areas (types of Early Intervention Credits) and their abbreviations are:
    • WWF = Working with Families
    • INT = Intervention
    • ATYP = Atypical Child Development
    • ASSMT = Assessment of Children with Disabilities
    • TYP = Typical Child Development
  • PD Clock Hours/CPDUs — CPDU stands for Continuing Professional Development Unit. This professional development is a credit that educators, teachers, and school support services personnel must complete to maintain their certification. The Collaboration for Early Childhood’s Early Childhood Symposium is an approved professional development event. Participants will need to provide their IEIN (Illinois Educator Identification Number) to receive this credit.

Workshop Details

Early intervention credit areas are delineated in each workshop listing (to learn more about the abbreviated content areas, click here). All workshops are worth 1.5 hours of Gateways credit, and the keynote session is worth .75 hour of Gateways credits and 1.25 WWF EI credits.

Early Bird Workshops – 7:30 – 9:00 (1.5 hours)


EB (A) Relationships: Pre, During, and Post Covid (1.5 WWF)

Covid has really made us think about our interactions with not only our classes but also our peers. During this workshop we will look at how relationships have evolved since COVID. We will look at how we formed them with the children Pre Covid, what we had to do to form them during COVID and what it looks like now and we will also look at what this looks like for the children. We will also discuss the importance of taking care of ourselves to prevent burn out. 

Presented by Ashley Passfield & Dana Imlah

Dana Imlah is a Site Supervisor for Metropolitan Family Services in DuPage County. Ashley Passfield is currently a 3-5 teacher at the Child Development Lab at Heartland Community College in Normal, Il. Both Ashley and Dana have hearts for the classroom but also enjoy being able to share their knowledge with others while presenting at conferences.

EB (B) Process Art vs. Product Art (1.5 INT)

This workshop will provide attendees with information on how “process art” is far more beneficial and developmentally appropriate than “product art.” Attendees will learn how “process art” inspires children, builds self-confidence, and encourages them to use their imagination. Attendees will learn how to talk to parents about why “process art” makes a difference in their child’s development. This interactive and engaging workshop will give attendees the tools, strategies, and techniques that will make them believe that “process art” is key to creating a healthy environment for children! 

Presented by Christine Henry

Christine Henry is an enthusiastic and passionate educator with a Master of Science degree specializing in Early Childhood Education. She has worked in the field for over 27 years. Through her consulting business, Imagine My World, LLC, she loves to share her experience, her knowledge, and her enthusiasm with educators to help them create an environment filled with fun, laughter, love, confidence, and success! Christine’s mission is to provide high quality professional guidance, while inspiring a passion for learning through playful and purposeful experiences.

EB (C) Building Bridges: Collaborative Care, Consistency, and Bias Awareness in Early Childhood Education (1.5 WWF)

This presentation will delve into the critical intersection of collaborative care, consistency in early childhood education, and the profound impact it has on children reaching their full potential and experiencing healthy development. By emphasizing the importance of recognizing and addressing biases, prejudices, and potential barriers, we create a more inclusive and equitable environment for young learners. 

Presented by Danyale Washington

Danyale Washington is a dedicated, multi-faceted professional with a B.A. in Psychology. She is also a DONA-trained Postpartum doula, Certified Sleep Consultant, CAPPA-Trained New Parent Educator, ABA Therapist, and more. She believes that every child deserves a thriving village, which is also the driving mission of her company, Sweet Piece Solutions. Through workshops, coaching, and mentorship, Danyale empowers parents, guardians, and childcare professionals, addressing challenges from sleep issues to postpartum concerns. Her focus extends beyond children to nurturing caregivers, knowing that when they get support and tools they need, they help children thrive. Rooted in compassion, Danyale ensures every child’s voice resonates strength and promise in the world.

EB (D)Listening to Learning: Assessing and Teaching Young Children (.75 ASSMT, .75 INT)

This workshop introduces teachers and childcare providers to Bridging, an innovative approach to assessing and teaching young children through a series of instructional routines across the early childhood curriculum. Instructional routines, such as story dictation, counting collections can be implemented daily to achieve specific educational objectives. In this assessment and teaching process, “listening” is an active verb that entails awareness and sensitivity along with observation and interpretation. The ultimate objective is facilitating learning, both for adults and children.

Presented by Gillian McNamee & Jie-Qi Chen

Gillian McNamee is professor emeritus of child development and early childhood teacher education at Erikson Institute, Chicago, IL. Gillian has carried out professional development initiatives with teachers in the Chicago area as well as across the United States, Europe, Taiwan, several regions of China, Istanbul, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan. Her work focuses on how teachers can observe and listen to young children to become the teacher young children need to be prepared for their future.

Dr. Jie-Qi Chen currently holds the Barbara T. Bowman Professorship in Early Childhood Education and is the founder of the Early Math Collaborative at the Erikson Institute. With a heart for education, Dr. Chen’s journey began as a classroom teacher, working with children of various age groups from infancy to adolescence. Over the past three decades, Dr. Chen has dedicated herself to advancing teacher learning and development. Having previously served on the Governing Board of the NAEYC, she now holds a director position for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

EB (E) Sunshine Circles: Building Healthy Relationships the Theraplay Way (.75 INT, .75 WWF)

Children bring their attachment styles and challenges everywhere. As children are exposed to adverse childhood experiences, the adults who support them benefit from learning and enhancing the approaches they utilize to meet their underlying social emotional needs. This workshop will demonstrate how to use Sunshine Circles, an evidenced based, adult directed, play -based group intervention to support the development of healthy relationships, enhance social emotional learning and support children’s positive mental health.

Presented by Mandy Jones-Fischer

Mandy Jones-Fischer, LCSW, RPT, JD is a Certified Theraplay Practitioner, Supervisor, and Trainer. She is also the Executive Director of The Theraplay Institute. She has specialized knowledge in treatment of the mental health needs of children and families, particularly toddlers and those who have experienced early complex trauma. Mandy has focused much of her career working with foster and adoptive families.

EB (F)Mammal Time! How to use the Great Outdoors to Build Wild, Happy, Confident, Resilient Humans (1.5 WWF)

Learn how to use child curated nature play with airway focused activity woven in to allow kids to learn like mammals: we use emergent learning strategies, foraging and simple exercises during snack and gross motor play to facilitate nasal breathing, healthy chewing, risk assessment, short term memory/executive functioning, interoception and other skills all through the lens of hunter/gatherer organizational principles for adult/child and child/child relationships. Learn how to tap into your own wild wisdom as you facilitate wellness and deep learning in children.

Presented by Jodi Walker

Jodi Walker is a distinguished orofacial myologist with 29 years of experience, renowned for her transformative approach to therapy. As a certified yoga instructor and primary orofacial myologist, Jodi specializes in neurodiverse affirming care, infant feeding, tongue ties, and nature-based treatment. She’s known for infusing playfulness into therapy, making it enjoyable and engaging. In 2013, Jodi founded the Center for Svedhyaya Therapy Services, revolutionizing service delivery through nature and individualized care. She holds certifications in PROMPT, IAOM orofacial myology, and feeding therapy, emphasizing her commitment to holistic well-being. Jodi’s legacy is one of compassion, innovation, and transformation, illuminating the path to fulfillment and joy for all she serves.

EB (G)Liberated Learning: A Pedagogy of Belonging (.75 INT, .75 WWF)

This workshop is intended for those who want to prioritize the needs of the children and yearn for more than the assembly line teaching style and factory models for education. Learning needs to be liberated and in order for us to do that, we  humanize the children we work with as well as our own lived experiences. So, we’re going to do what comes naturally to us as educators, but let’s make it about humanity. We’re going to evaluate the culture of our learning spaces, Assess our own competencies, and once we’re done with that, we’re going to create an action plan to implement into the culture of the spaces we share with children and their families.  This workshop is designed to build you up, so while you may see areas that need improvements, the goal is to make YOUR LEARNING visible. Keep a curious frame of mind as the objective here is to stretch where we can and make room for growth.

Presented by Kisa Marx

Kisa Marx is an Early Childhood Practitioner and Advocate with over two decades in the field. She is most passionate about her role in founding The Play Lab Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides humanity centering, self-affirming, high-quality care for every child. When Kisa is not fighting for the rights of children, you can find her with her partner tending to their garden of adult children, pets, and plants.

EB (H)Changes in Self-Understanding from Preschool through Primary Grades 

In this workshop early childhood educators will revisit concepts related to identity development during early childhood with special emphasis on how children’s self-understanding changes from age three to eight. Experiences children have with representing themselves through self-portraits, narratives, and other identity focused activities reflect children’s current self-understanding and support children in their identity development. Several examples of activities and experiences for children in early childhood classrooms will be shared and explored related to self-understanding.

Presented by Mary Quest and Shae Turner

Mary Quest is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education in the College of Education at Chicago State University. Prior to joining CSU, Mary was the Early Learning Partnership Coordinator for the Collaboration. Mary has been a full time faculty member at Erikson Institute and Columbia College Chicago, and an adjunct professor at Pacific Oaks College, Concordia University Chicago, and Triton College in River Grove, IL. She was an early childhood classroom teacher for 12 years in a variety of settings and has facilitated numerous professional development workshops locally, nationally, and internationally.

EB (I)Storytelling and a Sense of Self (.75 INT, .75 WWF)

This participatory workshop will demonstrate how the use of storybooks, theater games and improvisation enhances children’s ability to recognize and express their own personal stories and feelings and the stories and feelings of others.

Presented by Rhona Taylor

Rhona Taylor, Second City trained improviser and Early Childhood Teacher Educator for thirty years, loves melding her theater skills with play based values. She teaches active listening, and always incorporates the improvisational philosophy of “Yes, and…”

EB (J)Conflict: The Essence of Growth. Inspiring Growth in Employees, Teams, and Students (1.5 WWF)

Conflict is often seen as something to be avoided at all cost. In reality, facing conflict head on teaches us about ourselves. We work with our students to learn from conflict to be empathetic and self reflective, but when it comes to conflict as adults we forget the very lessons we try to impart to our students. In this seminar we will look at the role of conflict in our teaching career and how we can learn to use it to improve our craft. As ECE moves to more team work, and less hierarchy, handling conflict is a necessary skill.

Presented by Talley Hann

Talley Hann, founder and co-owner of Oak Park Friends School, has been an educator all her life. She began taking care of kids in her teenage years, then went on to graduate from Northwestern and teach in an alternative high school setting. This led her back to graduate school at National Louis for special education which led her to teach upper elementary in a therapeutic day school and become an adjunct professor at National Louis University. Talley has presented locally and nationally on her research of the use of constructivist pedagogy in schools. After having kids, she founded her own in-home daycare in 2007 which has grown into Oak Park Friends School with the help of her two co-owners Chloe Cunningham and Jessica Flannery, and many many others. Her greatest joys are helping teachers and parents realize the power and joy of childhood itself and helping them realize that this does not have to be a race to the end, but a journey to enjoy.

EB (K)When Good Kids Behave Badly: Why “Challenging” Behaviors Show Up in the Classroom (.75 ATY, .75 WWF)

In early childhood, THERE ARE NO BAD KIDS. Full Stop. But there are bad behaviors, and they present challenges for staff, families, and the kids themselves. This session will address the “WHYs” rather than the “Whats” and help early childhood staff understand the possible causes of such behavior, the role they can play in them, and the impact that strategies and social emotional development activities can have on creating a safe and positive early learning environment for all.

Presented by Tracy Patton

Tracy (she/her) holds an M.S. in Child Development/Infancy from the Erikson Institute (2011) and resides in Carol Stream, IL, with her husband, puppy, and a rotating cast of her four kids. She is currently Program Manager of the Easterseals Partnering with Parents Home Visiting Program. With 25 years devoted to infants and toddlers, she wears multiple hats: Early Childhood Talent Developer, Grief Facilitator, Grant Writer, and more. Recognizing how sensory play transforms behavior, she shares insights with parents, emphasizing how play impacts language, math, and self-regulation. Her workshops at Once Upon Some Messy Fun (since 2012) blend passion for mess-making with literacy and sensory activities. Tracy, a national presenter and home visiting supervisor, illuminates pathways for child development, captivating audiences with humor and expertise.

Morning Workshops – 9:30 –11:00 (1.5 Hours)


AM (L)Self-Care Workshop for Day Care Providers/Taller de AutoCuidado para Proveedoras (1.5 WWF)

The workshop will be facilitated in Spanish to provide a space to discuss and address the unique challenges and responsibilities faced by Latine child care providers. During this workshop, you will explore how you can implement comprehensive and sustainable self-care techniques that include Reflection, Representation & Resilience so that you can thrive in this important work of caring for young children and cultivating young minds. // El taller se impartirá en español para brindar un espacio para discutir y abordar los desafíos y responsabilidades únicas que enfrentan los proveedores de cuidado infantil Latine. Durante este taller, explorará cómo puede implementar técnicas integrales y sostenibles de autocuidado que incluyan reflexión, representación y resiliencia para que pueda prosperar en esta importante labor de cuidado de niños pequeños y cultivar mentes jóvenes

Presented by Alma Martinez and Jessica Martinez 

Alma Martinez, a first-generation Latine woman, leaves an indelible mark in her commUNITY. As a licensed home-based daycare owner, vibrant Dia de los Muertos events founder, Latine commUNITY organizer, and yoga practitioner, she embodies determination and cultural pride. Her journey began with ‘Quetzali,’ a nurturing Spanish immersion daycare fostering child development and supporting working parents. Passionate about family empowerment, she champions resources for thriving families. Alma’s commitment extends to cultural preservation, organizing Dia de los Muertos celebrations, fostering unity, and spotlighting cultural awareness. An advocate for inclusivity and safe spaces, she elevates voices through events, educational workshops, and yoga advocacy, inspiring a future of unity, equity, and empowerment in Oak Park’s vibrant community. 

Jessica Martinez is a vibrant soul whose passion spans yoga, early childhood education, food blogging, and adventurous travels. Her yoga journey started as a pursuit of balance, evolving into a mindfulness practice she shares with students, guiding them toward self-discovery and tranquility. As an early childhood educator, Jessica fosters curiosity and expression in a playful environment, nurturing a love for learning. Her adventures, coupled with a captivating food blog, enrich her teaching and personal growth. An animal lover, particularly of dogs, Jessica’s compassionate nature extends to all she does, infusing life with joy and enthusiasm, embracing growth, connection, and the beauty of diverse experiences.

AM (M) Ready to Learn through Relationships: Bringing Trauma-Informed Practices to Early Childhood (.75 ATY, .75 INT)

This workshop explores themes from the Ready to Learn through Relationships Program which has been implemented in Head Start and Early Childhood Settings in Chicago. Educators and other staff will learn about the impact of trauma on child development, how to develop a trauma “lens”, and an overview of trauma-informed strategies designed for preschool classrooms.

Presented by Anna Sroka and Caroline Kerns

Anna Sroka, a doctoral student at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a graduate research assistant at the Center for Childhood Resilience (Lurie Children’s Hospital, Chicago), has 5+ years of clinical and research expertise across hospital, school, and community realms. Graduating from Loyola University Chicago with degrees in Psychology and Studio Art, she conducted at the University of Chicago, investigating nutritional supplementation effects on pregnancy among Black women dealing with chronic stress and its impact on infant neurodevelopment. Anna actively aids the Ready to Learn through Relationships (RLR) Program implementation for early childhood educators in Head Start settings and is supporting the development of a family version of the RLR Program. 

Dr. Caroline Kerns is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Center for Childhood Resilience (Lurie Children’s Hospital) and Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She brings over a decade of experience across clinical, school, and community settings to her work. Her focus lies in enhancing access to evidence-based mental health practices for children and families by fostering their implementation across diverse settings. Collaborating with educators and community partners, Caroline champions trauma-informed and culturally sensitive prevention and intervention strategies, particularly for early childhood populations. Dr. Kerns conducts research and program evaluations in this domain and co-chairs the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Special Interest Group within the American Psychological Association’s Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

AM (N) Science and Resilience of a Developing Brain (1.5 TYP)

What leads to healthy brain development? It appears that genetics predisposes us to develop in certain ways. But our experiences and our interactions with our environment have a significant impact on how our predispositions are expressed. In this workshop, participants will learn how the brain develops, the importance of early experiences and how these experiences affect the developing brain. Participants will be asked to play “The Brain Architecture Game” that engages participants in understanding the science of early brain development—what nurtures it, what hinders it, and why.

Presented by Bilge Cerezci

Bilge Cerezci, Ph.D., began her teaching career in Turkey before moving to Chicago in 2007 for graduate studies at the Erikson Institute. She completed her master’s in child development with an infancy specialization in 2009. Awarded a Ph.D. in applied child development from Loyola University Chicago and Erikson Institute in 2017, Dr. Cerezci has held faculty positions at City Colleges of Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, and St. John’s University. Currently a faculty member at National Louis University, her research features in esteemed national and international academic journals such as Early Education and Development, Journal of Vincentian Social Action, and Early Childhood Education.

AM (O)Brain to Belly: Movement and Mindfulness from a Nervous System Lens (.75 TYP, .75 INT)

From the brain to the belly, lives the vagal nerves – the main nerves responsible for our parasympathetic nervous system. As a co-regulating species, the condition of our grown up nervous system sets the stage for our classroom climate. You will be guided through movement, mindfulness, & sound that can be integrated into your classroom to boost cognition and produce positive effects on the mind & body. Built through a child development and neuroscience lens, you will experience creative ways to engage kids in important stages of emotional learning.

Presented by Erin Bracco, and Asher Waldron

Erin Bracco is an Illinois Professional Educator and a Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher having completed her 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, 95 Hour Kids Yoga Teacher Training, Partner Yoga Training, 85 Hour Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, and Mindful Schools Mindful Educator Certification. She is the co-founder of both Buddha Belly Kids Yoga and Meet Me in Child’s Pose and recently acquired Youth Alliance Yoga. Previously, Erin was a kindergarten teacher from 2010-2017 in the Berwyn South School District 100 and again in 2020 when she led the first Kindergarten Program at Bubbles Academy.

AM (P) Windows, Mirrors, and Doors: Books as a Tool of Resilience (1.5 INT)

This session will explore using children’s picture books as mirrors, windows, and doors to teach children how to build resilience all while seeing reflections and representations of themselves in the books we pick for the classrooms.

Presented by Hunter Stuckemeyer 

Hunter Stuckemeyer is a full-time faculty member at Triton College where she teaches early childhood education classes. Before joining Triton, she engaged in 13 years of experience teaching infants through preschool in a variety of roles. She is currently working on her Ed.D at NIU where she is focusing her research on infant and toddler literacy.

AM (Q)How to Talk so Children will Listen (1.5 INT)

Communicating with young ones can be challenging! This session will give you many practical tools that you can use with infants, toddlers, preschoolers and K-2 kiddos. You’ll have the chance to practice using some of the tools to gain comfort with them. This session will help you become more aware of how you say things, as well as what you say! If you’re interested in building healthier and productive communication with your young ones, this is a great session for you.

Presented by Jennifer Moore

Dr. Jenn Moore, former principal, teacher and coach, is thrilled that her career has led her to provide professional development to educators who work with children at all levels, birth through graduate school. She is National Board and TEFL certified, and loves learning new things. Jenn believes that educators want to make schools wonderful places to be for both adults and youth, and is committed to helping make that a reality. You can learn more about her by visiting her website

AM (R)Casualties of Caregiving: Toxic Productivity, Compassion Fatigue, and the Childcare Crisis (1.5 WWF)

This workshop is created to provide a safe space for Caregivers to come together after four years of pivoting, reimagining, & reframing quality care post Covid. Many are worn out, feeling despair and traumatized and don’t know it. This workshop is a reminder that we matter and quality care depends on the quality of the care that we are given.

Presented by Kisa Marx

Kisa Marx is an Early Childhood Practitioner and Advocate with over two decades in the field. She is most passionate about her role in founding The Play Lab Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides humanity centering, self-affirming, high-quality care for every child. When Kisa is not fighting for the rights of children, you can find her with her partner tending to their garden of adult children, pets, and plants.

AM (T)Toddlers as Investigators! Making a Shift from Thematic Curriculum to Inquiry Learning for Toddlers (1 WWF)

Emergent curriculum in early childhood is a vital practice for enthusiastic and motivated learners. When teachers are responsive to children’s interests and ideas, the children develop healthy dispositions and become passionate learners. This workshop will focus on implementing emergent practices with toddlers including the art of listening and observing, developing curriculum which focuses on the toddler’s inquiries, demonstrating the sources of emergent practices, and sharing methods of documentation.

Presented by Melissa Pinkham

Melissa Pinkham, M.A  is an educator, adjunct professor and author. She currently teaches toddlers and their families at Northeast  L.A. Forest School in Los Angeles. Melissa is also a curriculum specialist with a focus on inquiry-based learning and emergent curriculum practices with toddlers. In addition, she is the author of the book, “Emergent Curriculum with Toddlers: Learning through Play” published by Redleaf Press.

AM (U)Lions and Tigers and Blocks, Oh My! (1.5 INT)

This workshop will give some information on the importance of blocks and building with young children. It will also provide some inspiration photos and discussion along with time to play with blocks in a variety of ways.

Presented by Sarah Simpson

AM (V)Career Growth Through a Wellness Lens (1.5 WWF)

Families who enter Early Head Start and Head Start programs are often meeting poverty thresholds with difficulties engaging in long-term workforce solutions for financial stability and growth. This session will provide an overview of wraparound services, findings from focus groups, and how staff leadership determined program components to assist with career growth opportunities and career success skill development. The session will introduce three family-based mental health and parent-child series as engagement tools for career exploration and job growth.

Presented by Vikki Rompala

Vikki Rompala serves as the Vice President for Family Hub at Chicago, where she is responsible for developing and overseeing programming addressing health and wellness, workforce, financial literacy for families with older adults and early childhood. She has a 20-year history of service provision, program development, education and training, research and public policy aimed at developing innovative initiatives and systems integration to improve the health and well-being of families. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with PhD public health program evaluation training.  

Afternoon Workshops – 1:30 – 3:00 (1.5 Hours)

PM (W)The Mess that Calms: Using Sensory Activities to Enhance Social Emotional Development (1.5 INT)

The smell of coffee, the softness of a kitten, the booms of thunder or fireworks: As humans, we are sensory beings. Sensory input is a powerful stimulus for a wide range of emotions and behaviors – both positive and negative. Understanding this is the key to self-regulation for children as well as adults. We can diffuse and change big feelings and negative behaviors by increasing self-regulation skills through sensory play and activities. This workshop will be hands-on with different types of sensory materials available to make and touch.

Presented by Tracy Patton

Tracy (she/her) holds an M.S. in Child Development/Infancy from the Erikson Institute (2011) and resides in Carol Stream, IL, with her husband, puppy, and a rotating cast of her four kids. She is currently Program Manager of the Easterseals Partnering with Parents Home Visiting Program. With 25 years devoted to infants and toddlers, she wears multiple hats: Early Childhood Talent Developer, Grief Facilitator, Grant Writer, and more. Recognizing how sensory play transforms behavior, she shares insights with parents, emphasizing how play impacts language, math, and self-regulation. Her workshops at Once Upon Some Messy Fun (since 2012) blend passion for mess-making with literacy and sensory activities. Tracy, a national presenter and home visiting supervisor, illuminates pathways for child development, captivating audiences with humor and expertise.

PM (X) Reflecting on Trauma and Resilience (1.5 WWF)

Children’s lives are directly impacted by traumatic events as well as loving caregivers. By using a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging lens, we can consider how traumas are felt across the diverse communities that childcare providers serve. We will examine trauma and resilience, screening tools, research on the impacts of trauma, and review a case study. We will consider the important roles that providers play in recognizing the signs of traumatic exposure, promoting infant mental health, supporting children and families, and creating environments that support resilience.

Presented by Elysia Aufmuth

Elysia M. Aufmuth is a psychotherapist, mental health consultant, parent and partner. She has worked with children, families, and childcare providers for more than 20 years. Elysia has created and presented various trainings to childcare professionals on understanding challenging behaviors, reflective approaches, and the impact of trauma on children’s development. Elysia likes to learn about the strengths that every child, child care provider, and parent has while thinking about how we can use those skills to deal with our challenges. By recognizing and building upon our strengths Elysia believes we can deepen the impact of our caregiving work. When Elysia isn’t working, she enjoys spending quality time with her family, puttering in her garden, and cooking.

PM (Y) How Parents Can Help Children with Developmental Delays Meet their Potential (.75 INT, .75 WWF)

This workshop will help providers and parents to build capacity to increase the effectiveness of early intervention services for children with developmental delays.

Presented by Heather Risser

Heather’s work centers on designing, implementing, and assessing innovative service delivery methods aimed at enhancing parental capacity to address their child’s behavioral, mental health, and disability needs while accessing therapeutic services. Collaborating with parents and community providers, she identifies gaps in service access and delivery, devising intervention strategies to bolster parental capability in meeting their child’s requirements, overcoming treatment barriers, supporting therapeutic objectives at home, and fostering self-regulation in children with mental health symptoms and neurodiverse conditions. Additionally, Heather’s lab offers training and technical assistance to community providers offering mental health services to children and families.

PM (Z)The Ready Child-Readiness for Kindergarten: Supporting Families, Teachers, and Children (1.5 WWF)

Information and resources about kindergarten readiness. The University of Illinois launched a free access online resource for families and teachers filled with kindergarten readiness information and activities. Participants will receive a shared definition of kindergarten readiness, as well as free access to The Ready Child website and resources and how to identify each child’s unique strengths, and to build on those strengths. In this session we will discuss 5 core objectives of school readiness, explore The Ready Child resources, and engage in a hands-on school readiness activity.

Presented by Kathleen Sheridan & David Banzer

Kathleen M. Sheridan is an associate professor in the department of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois in Chicago.  Dr. Sheridan received her PhD in Child and Family Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her MA from Washington University in St. Louis. Her current work focuses on early STEM literacy, kindergarten readiness and professional development for early childhood educators. Sheridan has been published in leading academic journals, delivered keynote speeches, and has presented her work at workshops and at regional, national and international conferences.

David Banzer is a postdoctoral research associate in Educational Psychology within the College of Education at the University of Illinois Chicago. He was a preschool teacher and an early childhood administrator supporting teaching staff within a community-based center supporting young children and families in marginalized communities in Chicago. He has developed and led early STEM professional learning communities for Head Start teachers. His work focuses on early math, science, and engineering teaching and learning within preschool settings, and early childhood teachers’ professional development and learning.

PM (AA)Mathematical Resilience: Reframing our Relationship from Resenting to Rejoicing (.75 INT, .75 WWF)

Have you ever thought “I’m bad at math?” Do you struggle to engage around math with children because it makes you feel anxious? Then this workshop is for you! After reviewing important math precursor concepts and big ideas for ages 0-5, we will learn techniques that we can employ to find joy in math so that we can share that joy with children! These include adult-level math play, reflection upon our math identities, and fun activities for children using storybooks, games, and simple routines.

Presented by Lauren Solarski

Lauren has a PhD in Child Development from Erikson Institute in conjunction with Loyola University, and a Masters in Education and Social Policy from Northwestern University. As a part-time university instructor and early education consultant, her work focuses on the truth that “math is about relationships.”  Previously, Lauren taught PreK-2 and served as a founding co-facilitator of the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) Early Math Interest Forum. You can also find her on LinkedIn

PM (BB)City Kids Outdoors: Connecting Chicago Families to Nature (1.5 WWF)

Chicago families deserve a loving connection with nature. But how do they find it? We know that spending time outdoors is healthy, both physically and mentally, for children and adults. Living in a major urban area with cold winter temperatures comes with challenges for encouraging outdoor play. Learn more about the benefits of nature play, and the power of social media community, through this workshop. Megan Blomquist will share her experiences and knowledge regarding community building, social media, and outdoor nature play and how it has impacted nearly 2,500 Chicago families.

Presented by Megan Blomquist

Megan is an outdoor play enthusiast with two young children of her own. She is a Chicagoan with nearly 15 years of experience in community building, non-profit work, and social media marketing. Megan is seeking balance and community, through nature, while in an urban landscape.

PM (CC)Little Man of the House: A Discussion on Parentification (1.5 WWF)

Parentification is when a child is forced to take on the role of an adult. Many children get pushed into the role of caretaker for their younger siblings or become the referee in their parent’s arguments. We will discuss the impact parentification can have on children and explore preventative methods.

Presented by Dr. Raheen Young and Sir Royce Briales

Dr. Raheem Young is a University Lecturer in the Community Health and Human Services Department at Governors State University. He co-founded the nonprofit Welcome to Fatherhood to help men cope with the pressures and stresses of fatherhood, relationships, and everyday life. Dr. Young is an Albert Schweitzer Fellow for Life and has worked with many community-based organizations to improve the quality of life for men, women, and children.

Highly dedicated and fun-loving, Sir Royce Briales is a powerhouse entrepreneur whose underlying mission is to give fathers the quality advice, support, and empowerment they deserve. As the Co-Founder of Welcome to Fatherhood (WTF), a spearheading nonprofit organization where new and experienced fathers of all ages can showcase their superpowers to the masses. He enjoys building a strong community that gives both dads and their kids the best grounds to thrive on.

PM (DD)Promoting Resilience in Early Childhood Education (1.5 INT)

This workshop will promote social and emotional competence, foster resilience, and build skills to promote success for our youngest learners.

Presented by Sabrina Robertson

Sabrina Robertson, holds a C.A.S. in Curriculum and Instruction and a Master’s in Early Childhood Education with a PEL from National Louis University, as well as 30 years of comprehensive experience with children aged birth to eight. With varied roles from director to mentor, she specializes in devising interventions for optimal child development and success. As the owner of SDC Consulting LLC, Sabrina offers interventions, therapy, workshops, and consulting to early childhood agencies. Credentialed in developmental evaluation and therapy via Illinois’ Early Intervention, she dedicates free time to advocating for inclusive education. A proud parent to Davion, 16, who has autism, Sabrina champions quality education for diverse learners.

PM (EE)Facilitating Attuned Interactions (FAN): A Tool for Reflection, Representation, and Resilience (1.5 WWF)

The FAN Approach builds intentionality in problem-solving by helping practitioners and educators determine when to use empathy, exploration, information-giving, and/or reflection to support caregivers and colleagues. By reading and responding to cues, practitioners and educators use attunement to draw on the other’s unique experiences and perspectives to guide problem-solving. The FAN offers strategies to become balanced and to employ critical self-reflection in order to understand the deeper meaning(s) of dysregulation (i.e. recognizing bias, trauma/stress responses) and the impact on self & others.

Presented by Tori Graham and Sarah Martinez

Tori Graham, FAN Lead Trainer and Director of FAN Training at the Fussy Baby Network, holds roles as an Adjunct Professor at Aurora University and previously served as a Program Manager at Teen Parent Connection. Tori earned a BSW from the University of Iowa and an MSW from Aurora University and also holds an Infant Mental Health Certificate from Erikson Institute. With over eight years at Erikson Institute, Tori leads FAN curriculum development and training under Linda Gilkerson. Tori is dedicated to early childhood development and merges expertise and experience in her diverse roles.

Sarah Martinez is a member of the faculty at the Erikson Institute in Chicago where she is Co-Director of the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Certificate Program. Sarah holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and a master’s degree in early childhood special education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sarah’s bachelor’s degree is in special education from Vanderbilt University. Sarah is a member board of directors of the Illinois Association for Infant Mental Health, where she has served as president and secretary. Sarah is a frequent presenter on topics of infant and early childhood mental health, attachment, and parent child relationships.

PM (FF)Talk of the Teachers Lounge: When Intense Challenging Behaviors Occur (1.5 WWF)

The teachers lounge is a space that can hold camaraderie, collaboration, and connectedness but can also hold bias. This implicit bias isn’t inherently negative, in fact, it’s simply a human adaptation that simplifies information and helps your brain make quick associations and decisions. However, when left unchallenged, implicit bias has the potential to evolve into explicit bias in the classroom, potentially harming the children, families and colleagues. This workshop challenges educators to stop, reflect on their own implicit biases, and grow so they can better understand challenging behaviors within their classroom.

Presented by Angela Searcy

Dr. Angela Searcy holds a B.A. degree in English and secondary education and a M.S. degree in early childhood development from Erikson Institute, with a specialization in Infant Studies and a Doctorate in Education with a specialization in assessment and response to intervention. Her research revolves around brain-based learning as assessed by CLASS and it’s correlation to aggressive behaviors in preschool children and efficacy of the Push Past It framework. Angela is a certified teacher, early intervention specialist, and certified Infant and early childhood mental health specialist. You can read her full bio in the Keynote section of this webpage. 

PM (GG)Equity All Day in 0-8 Classrooms (1.5 WWF)

Did you know children as young as 15 months want to play with adults who divide food and toys equally? Anyone who has ever dispensed pizza slices at a preschooler’s birthday party already knows young children care deeply about equality.  Elevating equity is all about creating systems that celebrate everyone! Sounds great but, how do you do it?

Presented by Vincent Rodriguez

Vincent Rodriguez is a 2018-19 Teach Plus Illinois Early Childhood Educator Fellow. Vincent is the Diverse Learners Coordinator at Christopher House in Chicago, where he works with staff and children who need support. Vincent is part of the Simple Solutions educational team of presenters. He graduated from DePaul University with a BA in Early Childhood Education/Early Learning.

Keynote Address:

Elevating Equity in Early Childhood (1.25 WWF)

Presented by Angela Searcy, Ed.D. and Vincent Rodriguez

Elevating equity requires educators to be mindful of how to include children, families, and colleagues in all parts of early childhood programming. It takes a positive approach by embracing differences. Participants will discover strength-based, evidence-grounded techniques that lead to professional growth and learning along with finding the common ground to truly elevate experiences and access for families, children and colleagues. Be ready to sing, laugh and dance your way to elevating equity.

Dr. Angela Searcy holds a B.A. degree in English and secondary education and a M.S. degree in early childhood development from Erikson Institute, with a specialization in Infant Studies and a Doctorate in Education with a specialization in assessment and response to intervention. Her research revolves around brain-based learning as assessed by CLASS and it’s correlation to aggressive behaviors in preschool children and efficacy of the Push Past It framework. Angela is a certified teacher, early intervention specialist, and certified Infant and early childhood mental health specialist.

An educator since 1990, Angela is the owner and founder of Simple Solutions Educational Services and has experience at all levels of education including early childhood, middle, high school and college. Angela is currently a seminar leader and adjunct faculty at Erikson Institute, a professional development provider for The Discovery Source, The Bureau of Education and Research, a CLASS Pre-K Affiliate Trainer for Teachstone, and author of Push Past It! A Positive Approach to Challenging Classroom Behaviors and Elevating Equity: Advice for Navigating Challenging Conversations in Early Childhood Education.

A former neuro-developmental specialist, Angela has specialized training in  neuroscience and is a internationally recognized speaker. She has been featured on Chicago’s WGN Channel 9  Moring News, WGN Channel 9 Midday Fix, WTTW’s Chicago Matters, Chicago Public Radio’s Chicago Matters, Chicago Parent and Chicago Baby Magazine. On a personal note Angela and her husband of 30 almost years have 4 children aged 28-18.

Vincent Rodriguez is a 2018-19 Teach Plus Illinois Early Childhood Educator Fellow. Vincent is the Diverse Learners Coordinator at Christopher House in Chicago, where he works with staff and children who need support. Vincent is part of the Simple Solutions educational team of presenters. He graduated from DePaul University with a BA in Early Childhood Education/Early Learning.

Our Sponsors:

Take a walk down memory lane and explore themes and speakers from past Symposia below!

Slide 1
Image is not available
Slide 2
Image is not available
Slide 3
Image is not available
Slide 4
Image is not available
Slide 5
Image is not available
Slide 6
Image is not available
Slide 7
Image is not available
Slide 8
Image is not available
Slide 9
Image is not available
Slide 10
Image is not available
Slide 11
Image is not available
Slide 12
Image is not available
Slide 13
Image is not available
Slide 14
Image is not available
Slide 15
Image is not available
Slide 16
Image is not available
Slide 17
Image is not available
Slide 18
Image is not available
Slide 19
Image is not available
Slide 20
Image is not available
previous arrowprevious arrow
next arrownext arrow

Looking for More Information?

Head to our Contact Us page and fill out our contact form and someone from our team will get back to you. We look forward to hearing from you!