Professional Development

Jennifer Jansen

Facilitator for Early Childhood Projects

Jennifer Jansen

As the oldest of four children, Jennifer Jansen always knew she wanted to be a caregiver. Her Mom owned a home day-care, and by age ten Jennifer was often assisting and baby sitting for families on her own. She graduated from Marycrest College (Davenport, Iowa) with a Bachelor in Elementary Education while specializing in Early Childhood.

Jennifer also holds an endorsement in Early Childhood Special Education, and is pursuing her Master’s in Early Childhood through the University of Northern Iowa. During college she worked in an early childhood care center doing “everything—including custodial duties—except cook.”

She began her career as a preschool teacher at the Creative Learning Center in DeWitt, moving on to direct the child care program in North Scott schools. She coordinated the Parents as Teachers program, funded through Scott County Empowerment, for ten years and transitioned to Facilitator of Early Childhood Projects with the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency in 2008. With her present position, she provides professional development, mentors teachers, supports administrators, makes presentations and serves on the Early Childhood Leadership Network at the state level. She works with both public and private preschool programs across 21 school districts.


Video Interview


Interview Q&A

Why did you select the early childhood field?

Because of my early experience with home day care, I knew that I wanted to be in education. At first I started at the elementary level, but through my practical experiences I discovered I loved preschool and soon decided that was my niche.


What is your philosophy of teaching?

I believe in nurturing the whole child. It begins with forming positive relationships with children and continues into the opportunities for children to play. Play is children’s work. I don’t mean a free for all. The kind of play I’m talking about is “intentional” on the part of teachers and incorporates all areas of development as well as content learning. Teachers provide the materials and resources and guide children’s learning by asking open-ended questions. They encourage learning by providing an engaging environment that ties back to the early learning standards, the goals of the curriculum and the information from their assessment. A parent might not recognize that the teacher is guiding the classroom, and that’s why it’s important to teach parents the philosophy behind it.


Why is quality education so important in a child’s future?

There are approximately 2,000 days from a child’s birth to kindergarten. That’s all. Experience shows that nurturing environments with lots of stimulation make a huge impact on brain development. The quality of the experiences children have and exposure to them in those first years makes a tremendous impact on paving the way for their later success.


What does recent research say about early education?

There is a great deal of research that links the early childhood years to later success in school and in life. How can we impact all areas of a child’s development in developmentally appropriate ways? Teachers need to understand how what they do in the classroom is important. The research being done on “executive function,” for instance, looks at a child’s self-regulation and working memory. Children need to learn how to control their emotions and behaviors, complete tasks and be attentive in order to learn. Teachers can do very practical things to promote control like the “freeze song.” A simple activity can go a long way.


What should parents look for in an excellent preschool experience?

When I first started teaching, the teacher could pretty much make up what she wanted to do. Now we know so much more, and all states have early learning standards that outline what we want kids to know and be able to do from birth to 5. Parents should seek out programs that have a quality staff, research-based curriculum and philosophy centered on developmentally appropriate practices that support the whole child.


How can parents help prepare their children for preschool?

Learning really begins at birth. Talking to them, playing, reading—really being present with your child—all these experiences help build connections in the brain. And children learn from observation and experience. Even babies are watching adults very carefully and often imitating them in play by 16 months. Having them in your lap to hear a book, even if they don’t stay long, encourages closeness and the love of books.


How can the professionals in the field promote best practices?

What I hear from other teachers is that they feel the “push down” to get children ready for kindergarten earlier. Academics are important but social and emotional needs come first. If a child does not feel safe or is not able to interact with peers, he or she can’t focus on academics. We, as teachers, need to stay true to what we do and share with others how the developmentally appropriate experiences that we provide lay the foundation for later learning.


Why should someone consider the field as a profession?

It’s so rewarding. I love seeing those itty-bitty faces so eager for new experiences. Kids have such a natural curiosity about everything that sometimes gets crushed as they grow older. We have an awesome opportunity at this age because we’re laying the foundation for their success in school and in life.


What 3 important traits do you feel are most important for working with children and their parents?

Patience is certainly one of them. Another trait would be the ability to problem solve. Children bring all kinds of experiences to the classroom so a teacher must figure out how to meet the needs of all the children who are developmentally in different places. If an activity isn’t working, then the teacher needs to be flexible enough to change it. Even if she thinks it’s the best idea in the world, if the kids aren’t excited about it, she needs to find another approach.