The 2023 Early Years Exchange at TAS

By Ariel K. '24, Spring 2023 Communications Intern

The Early Years Exchange (EYE) is a sweeping program that was hosted by Taipei American School from February 25 to March 12 for the 2023 school year. The program's mission is to gather early years educators (educator who works with children between ages 3-8) together so they can learn, share, and inspire one another. The EYE is centered on the principle that the best professional development often comes from sharing with other educators who have similar passions. This year's theme focuses on social and emotional learning, wellness, and DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice).  

The Early Years Exchange gathered many speakers from around the world to further develop the skills of being young children's educators.  

While EYE produced 11 English presentations this year, it also developed 9 different presentations that were entirely given in Mandarin. These asynchronous portions of the conference teach early years educators about the key themes of SELEL, Wellness, and DEIJ, the Mandarin strand, a wellness section, and program showcases as well.  

Parts of the program materials were made available in Mandarin thanks to the Upper School Mandarin classes who worked to translate the slides and resources for Mandarin-language attendees. This was a huge undertaking, and the students showed their skills in creating work in Mandarin while contributing to this great professional development opportunity.

Another event that was ran in during the EYE was a “Job Alike,” a session during which educators in similar roles meet for a facilitated discussion around a specific topic. It aims to provide participants with the opportunity to learn from one another and discuss their different settings.  

One of the sessions that sparked considerable interest was the “Job Alike” on empathy, which covered a range of topics related to empathy in early years education. The presentation was given by homeroom teachers in Amman: Nadia El Shakankri who also owns a blog called Awesome Pre-school, along with Wafa'a Madanat, the founder of Kids Hands On.   

Early Years Exchange Presenters
Early Years Exchange on Empathy

The presentation started by guiding the educators to figure out the difference between sympathy and empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and feel how one feels while sympathy is when you understand another's emotions, but not necessarily feel them. 

Nadia and Wafa'a pointed out that children at age five or under struggle to develop empathy. They recognized that empathy is a complex skill and classrooms often meet more sympathy than empathy, but they still stress the importance of education on empathy. While empathy will develop naturally as children get older, providing young children with opportunities to develop their empathy is a skill that educators can learn and practice.  is a possible skill to develop.   

Empathy can be taught through lessons that focus on non-verbal cues, reading facial expressions from emotion cards, puppets, or role-play to re-enact different situations.   

Early Years Exchange Zones

To understand these kinds of lessons, Nadia and Wafa’a asked participants to figure out what to do in the scenario of a child who is crying because they miss their mom. They showed that it is important to acknowledge a child's feelings, which could be done by saying, "I also miss my mom,” or "I understand how you are feeling.” By doing so, educators validate the child's feelings and encourage them to continue to speak up about their feelings. At times, if a child is uncomfortable sharing their feelings, educators can guide them to a chart, which allows them to point out their emotions without first saying them. It is important to guide children to verbalize their feelings. Below is the image of the chart.  

The goal is for children to move toward the green zone when they are struggling with emotions. At the same time, it is important to recognize that the first step in learning empathy is to have the skills of recognizing one's feelings. 

Nadia and Wafa'a also share that storybooks are great ways to help children of early age to build empathy.   

Early Years Exchange Zones of Regulation

The picture above is the list of books that induces empathy. Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson talks about a giant who shares clothes with animals in need and in return animals who received help brought him gifts and letters to express their gratitude for the giant's empathy. Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud was also strongly encouraged. Monica Jultta, an educator from ACS London, who attended the presentation, pointed out that she "absolutely loves 'Have You Filled a Bucket Today?',” saying that in her classroom, “we have hearts that we use to fill our class buckets. Students can name someone who has filled their bucket, we write their name on a heart. It is very visual, and they enjoy looking at it.”

Congratulations to the Early Years Exchange organizers and participants on another fantastic conference and professional development experience for educators at TAS and around the world!