Young Children are Scientists and Explorers

Young Children are Scientists and Explorers

     A central belief of Early Childhood Education Ethiopia is concerned with providing children the space, time, and encouragement to exercise their imagination. Children are interested and invested in their surroundings. They explore, test, challenge, and discover all the wonders in their immediate environment at first, and use these early experiences to build, venture out and gain advanced knowledge systems from a structured learning environment in primary grades. While play remains the most effective tool for all the domains of development, the environment which includes, teachers, peers, and other adults influence how children engage in imaginative play. Children’s involvement with the natural world is unique, they find everyday items overlooked by adults to build, mix, make noise and create. A worm slithering on the ground leaving prints from its movement ignites the young mind to ask, how can a small animal leave such a trail behind? 

Children at Shimmbit preschool  program in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
     Allowing, encouraging, and celebrating children’s use of their outside environment to explore, is the beginning of the scientific inquiry. Sticks become small infrastructure, representing a bridge they crossed or saw in a book, lending themselves for future aspirations. Looking at ants marching in a uniformed line serves as the genesis for railway or structural engineers. Collaboration, listening to what friends say and how they add to the product, including finding out what makes the design work or break, allows children to test how things operate in their world. Learning is a continuous attempt of trials and errors. A hands-on experience where the child is actively contributing to her or his learning serves as the most productive medium for retaining knowledge. 

Group of children playing with sticks found in the yard

What can teachers, parents, and community members do?

Learning happens everywhere, every day, and every minute for the growing child. As previously mentioned interacting with nature, spending time outside, and allowing children to explore the environment serves as the building blocks for lifelong learning. Parents interested in children’s creations add immeasurable value to children’s curiosity and learning. Invite children to explain their thinking, and share how you played as a child, emphasizing its similarity of differences. Join them in their play without judging or minimizing their efforts. Teachers, and fellow children’s interests, add to it and become learners of students’ patterns of inquiry and exploration. Show genuine joy in their play by engaging, observing, and integrating it into the curriculum. 

“Creativity is Intelligence Having Fun” Albert Einstein


First Community Preschool Project: 

Want to Teach Early Learners Math in Ethiopia?

Want to Teach Early Learners Math in Ethiopia?




Play Gebeta!


Teachers at Shimbit Preschool Program (KG) Playing with Gebeta


Gebeta for Beginning Math

Gebeta is referred to as one of the oldest board games in the world. This pastime favorite was once played in all corners of Ethiopia and enjoyed by all ages because of its simplicity, accessibility, and dynamic nature to change the momentum away from the lead simply by where a pebble lands. But Gebeta has other benefits for children. Gebeta teaches children how to count, wait for their turn, and apply hand-eye coordination, an important life skill for writing, painting, eating and most everything else in later life. During Gebeta play children learn number sequence, forecast future landing spots, and engage in procedural thinking, including managing their emotions in the outcome they lose the game. Gebeta is also culturally relevant to who the child is and enables her or him to find many pathways of understanding what Gebea is and means through his/her parents, and community members while promoting connection to the larger societal wealth that comes with using one’s own resources. 



 Building on Children’s Interest

Curiosity leads to engaged learning. When children find materials they can access and easily conceptualize, they draw from their existing knowledge to integrate more complex and higher-level thinking. Gebeta gives children early learning math skills which leads to questions about engineering like, how does the pebble fit in the groove, why does the sound change as each pebble is dropped, and why are there only 12 holes? The answer is found in Ethiopia’s history, innovation, and all from playing one of the oldest board games.

Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous early education starts with using indigenous materials. Children are curious when teachers show interest and engagement like those at the Shimbit KG program in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. When teachers are invested in what children are learning, how they are learning, and find ways to make it more meaningful for the child, education becomes attainable allowing children to translate experience into knowledge that benefits the child first and foremost. Teachers are including Gebeta for many reasons but primarily to teach through play. To provide children with early conceptual skills related to counting, sorting, organizing, and again through playing. 




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Teacher Training Series

Teacher Training Series

Kenubish Jenberu KG-1 Preschool Teacher

I was reluctant to do lesson plans, I felt it was so burdensome because we were never trained or supported on the process, but now I am excited and not afraid to do it” Kenubish Jenberu (March 2022).  Kenubish represents a large number of early education professionals with years of experience in the preschool classroom that is unmatched, profoundly instructive and an asset to the learning environment. Kenubish uses songs, repetitions, and deep care for who children are to teach her students. Children learn best when first and foremost, the teacher is fully invested in who they are and uses their background knowledge to build their heart before expanding the mind. 

Kenubish is one of the  KG1 or preschool teachers at Shimbit Elementary School in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, where Early Childhood Education Ethiopia launched its first phase, project alpha. The true mark of a teacher is their willingness to always learn, that a classroom is a place where knowledge freely flows from child to teacher and teacher to child. During the third session of training where there was a practical lesson planning exercise and group work provided by ECEE, Kenubish presented her lesson plan, fully informed by the environment, children’s interests, and her strength as a teacher. We can only improve children’s early education when we also invest in the knowledge-base of teachers. We look forward to learning from teachers like kenubish, while we provide training and professional development. 

Strengthening the Teacher’s Role

At the beginning of the year,  Early Childhood Education Ethiopia began providing training on various topics and subjects. Our continued focus and commitment to Shimbit  Elementary School KG program provided the platform for collaborative lesson planning training with teachers. Our discussion started by engaging all stakeholders which included teachers, school administrators, trainers, support staff, area district supervisors, and representatives from the local education bureau. The candid conversation on the challenges related to resources, compensation, gaps in training, education opportunities, private vs public early education center, o-class, absence of teaching manuals, the readiness-focused curriculum designed for output rather comprehension was informative on many levels. 

Starting with the existing methods employed by the program to advise lesson plans, we discussed ways to enhance the learning. Central to lesson planning is understanding children’s interests, likes, and wants through observation. Teachers were able to use their outside learning environment, critically reflect on the current methods of lesson planning and integrate the strategies introduced by ECEE on how to design lesson plans that are child-focused and begin with what is around them. 

Building on Existing Asset

Teachers bring to the classroom a wealth of knowledge most of it gained from experience. Training approaches that are built leveraging this knowledge often yield a meaningful result. The KG teachers at Shimbit  Elementary school, are now employing a variety of modalities to deliver lessons. We encouraged teachers to observe as much as possible, apply what was assigned to them, and implement the Early Childhood Education Ethiopia lesson planning methods, they brainstormed, embraced, shared with peers and they look forward to learning more. 

Pictures from ECEE’s Lesson Planning Training

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Development and Learning

Development and Learning


Children learn and understand their world using their senses. They manipulate experiences gathered as they interact with their surroundings (home, siblings, church, school) into information that will help them assimilate new concepts and accommodate complex ideas. Because there are variances in the depth and breadth of experiences children are offered, their knowledge or comprehension of how things function is diverse. Often, when children of the same age group are provided curricular activities such as spelling, basic arithmetic, and science projects, we see a range in the way they explain and express their thoughts over the new information. This is due to early experiences that influence strategies children use to comprehend new or advanced ideas resulting in the scientific explanation found in neurodiversity theory.  Neurodiversity is displayed in children’s disposition which includes their emotional expression, information processing, comfort in physical proximity with others, social interaction, sensory preference, and much more. We mustn’t define neurodiversity as a deficit or delay but rather as strength and a tool for instructors especially in the pre-primary (early childhood programs), to use with adjusting instruction to be more student-centered rather than test or outcome-oriented. 

We need to celebrate children’s diverse abilities, create programs and learning opportunities that connect the child to their environment, and move away from a one size fits all method. Neurodiversity enriches early education programs, assists children with deep imaginative capabilities to have a space in a classroom that appreciates their valuable contribution and provides a sense of belonging.

Board Member News

Dr. Jyotsna Pattnaik was awarded the ORSP multidisciplinary research grant along with three other faculty members from CSULB. The project titled “Improving STEM Education by Integrating Geospatial Technologies into K-8 Mathematics Curriculum”, is a research project with experts from Early Childhood Education, Mathematics Education, and Geospatial Science. The study will be applied in the Los Angeles area schools, adding to the emerging body of research related to science and math in the pre-primary-elementary education paradigm. We are proud that our very own Dr. Pattnaik is leading in STEM-related research that will impact the future here and around the world.

Dr. Charles Slater received the Outstanding Faculty Award, for his wide contributions in the area of Research, Creativity, and Scholarly Activity. Dr. Slater has supervised student dissertations with research projects focused on Social Justice, Equity, International Research to name a few. His experience and expertise is a valuable asset in guiding students throughout their doctoral dissertation journey and post scholarship engagement. Congratulations to Dr. Pattnaik and Dr. Slater!

Updates from Early Childhood Education EthiopiaUpdates from Early Childhood Education Ethiopia

Shortly after our organization set out to implement phase one- Project Alpha- in Ethiopia, the world shut down due to  COVID-19. As we were all adjusting to our new normal, the death of George Floyd set out a historical precedence that ignited a global demonstration of the ongoing injustice Black people face here in the U.S and worldwide. In June,  Ethiopia also experienced civil disturbance after a young musician-activist was killed causing unrest throughout the country. As we re-evaluate the way forward and renew our commitment to the mission and vision of Early Childhood Education Ethiopia, we are more clear, determined, and focused on attaining the goals set in our projects. We know the way forward is through children; this is the driving force behind what we do.

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CED alumna, Dr. Hawani Negussie’s (MA, Early Childhood Education ’06; Ed.D, Educational Leadership, Elementary & Secondary Education ’14) non-profit Early Childhood Education Ethiopia was founded after her dissertation research led her to Ethiopia.

Dr. Negussie’s research examined how indigenous and cultural practices were being integrated in early childhood education programs in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Abeba. “Once I started spending time in the classrooms…I realized early childhood education in Ethiopia faced several barriers, hindering the potential and challenging the current early education infrastructure.” That first-hand experience inspired Dr. Negussie to act. Thinking how she could positively impact Ethiopia’s educational field, Dr. Negussie, “came back with this urge to be useful, effective and wanting to give back to my country which has given me so much.”

Hawani Negussie
Dr. Hawani Negussie

Part of Early Childhood Education Ethiopia’s work partners with schools to create new or bolster already existing childhood-education programs. Through a “strength-based approach” Early Childhood Education Ethiopia reinforces school programs via teacher training and promoting best practices through the lens of a student learning outcome.            

“Currently, more than 50% of eligible preschool children in Ethiopia are not attending school due to lack of facilities, overcrowding, chronic illness, distance to school, and much more. We want to address these challenges by creating age appropriate and culturally relevant early education programs not only in the city where the concentration of preschools are, but in rural areas where the need is extremely high.”

Adopting the PK-16 approach allows for a comprehensive and holistic strategy that follows the student from early childhood through early adulthood. This PK-16 strategy directly links back to Dr. Negussie’s time as a student in the College of Education where she studied under Dr. Jyostna PattnaikDr. Charles Slater, and Dr. Xin Li, who now serve as Board Members or Advisors to Early Childhood Education Ethiopia. “The educational approach at the College of Education is both highly rigorous in terms of course content but [is] also practice oriented. That is what I most valued during my tenure here, my education was directly linked into the work I assumed, during and post-graduation,” shared Dr. Negussie. “If I have to narrow down what prepared me to [do] the work we plan to do with the organization, I would have to say the PK-16 approach has been foundational to my study here.”

The Magical First Year

The Magical First Year




     Children have a way of reminding us to slow down, sit on the floor, play a show and run corner to corner for no other reason but to capture joy and laughter. But the adult world is busy, regimented, filled with deadlines which doesn’t allow for aimless fun. Children look at the world in a simple, unfiltered lens, fully living in the moment- not wanting more or desiring less.

     A milestone that is fascinating in children’s development is watching the first year of life unfold. An infant that begins on her/his back with needing so much care and assistance, transforms into an independent little being with hopes to rule the world starting with the household first. When we watch infants develop, the changes we see every few months are results of both nature and nurture. A child turning over from supine to prone, sitting, crawling, walking…… Children are telling us, they are becoming.

     They use their voice to communicate, squeal and laugh. Sometimes, they are startled by their own screams and search their surrounding to see who did it. Often, they look at the caregiver nearby to figure out who the culprit was causing this unplanned stir. They are intense in their pursuit for answers, staring down anyone nearby, communicating without saying a coherent word but insisting so much has happened. And the brave souls they are, they will do it again and again, using our response as a guide to trust and navigate the environment they are becoming increasingly familiar with every day. And in these small interactions, communication is taking place, developmental skills are being mastered and they are engineering their entrance into the second year of life. As much as we believe we are raising our children, subtly, without our active knowledge, infants are raising us into the parents we become. This relationship starts early and continues for the rest of our lives. The dance between parents/caregivers and infants is one of the most beautiful exchanges to watch. This bond serves as the foundation for attachment which translates into social-emotional development. Early connections matter as it sets the structure for learning in later grades. 

     This may seem far-reaching and one may ask how can experiences that happened in the first year of life influence learning and emotional health of children in later years well into adulthood? The short answer- the remarkable brain and its facility to record every interaction a human being experiences, especially in the first few years of life, and using the information gathered to code and set up the framework to operate from, in the years to come. 

     Raising children begins with love, interaction, care, laughter, emotional support and play, lots and lots of play. The first year of life is determinant to how the domains of development progress. What we do matters, and the first 12 months of life are profoundly magical for this reason.