Mega Conference puts focus on early childhood

To tunes like "Elephants Have Wrinkles" and "Dancer in the Middle," more than 300 early childhood professionals and parents rose to their feet to sing, move and dance Thursday morning at the Early Childhood Mega Conference in Bemidji.

To tunes like "Elephants Have Wrinkles" and "Dancer in the Middle," more than 300 early childhood professionals and parents rose to their feet to sing, move and dance Thursday morning at the Early Childhood Mega Conference in Bemidji.

While waving their arms and singing along with performing duo and keynote presenters Colleen and Uncle Squaty, the conference attendees learned ways to engage young children through music, movement and dance.

"Do you use singing to say hello in the morning?" asked Colleen Hannafin, who is part of the duo with Brian "Uncle Squaty" Schellinger, during the presentation. "It's a great way to start your day."

With a round of children's songs from rock to folk to rap, the early childhood professionals and parents had an upbeat start to the two-day conference at Bemidji State University.

Hosted by BSU's Child Development Training Program, the annual conference provides a marketplace of ideas for early childhood professionals and parents from across the state, as well as a forum to address issues vital to those who serve young children and families.


Conference coordinator Cherry Brouwer, who also coordinates BSU's Center for Professional Development, said the conference aims to rejuvenate early childhood professionals toward the end of the school year. She said it is also a good networking opportunity.

During the two days, participants have the opportunity to visit several exhibits and attend a wide variety of workshops, ranging from "Fabulous Five Senses: My 5 Senses" to "Fetal Alcohol: A Unique Challenge."

"We have seven different sessions that involve anywhere from 10 to 12 workshops," Brouwer said.

One of the workshop leaders, Todd Otis, spoke during the opening session of the conference about early childhood funding. He is the president of Ready 4 K, a Minnesota school readiness advocacy group.

"He gave us some good insight as to what's happening at the Legislature," Brouwer said.

After the opening session, Colleen and Uncle Squaty presented "Sing-A-Move-A-Dance."

The duo from Eau Claire, Wis., has been performing, teaching, writing and recording music and movement songs for more than 16 years together. They perform concerts and give workshops across the Midwest.

Hannafin said she hopes the "Sing-A-Move-A-Dance" presentation will encourage early childhood professionals to use music of all styles in their classrooms throughout the day.


Schellinger added that he wants early childhood professionals to take with them the joy of learning through music. He said one of the things he has learned while doing shows for children is not to perform for them, but with them.

Katie Maki, a BSU junior majoring in early childhood education, said she enjoyed the keynote presentation.

"It was great -- great ideas," noted Maki, who is attending the conference to get more information and ideas for her classroom after she graduates.

Jill Simonson of Two Harbors, Minn., who is also attending the conference, has a daughter in Head Start and is a member of the parent council for the Arrowhead Head Start.

"I have a passion for my daughter and Head Start kids," said Simonson, noting that she plans to share the knowledge she gains at the conference with the parent council.

She added that she is attending the conference to learn new early childhood tips and because she is interested in the legislative process as it relates to the transition between early childhood to grade school.

Child Development Training Program Director Dan Gartrell, who helped start the conference 29 years ago, said he is pleased with how far across the state the conference reaches. He noted that the goal is to help early childhood professionals be the very best they can be for children and their families.

Joyce Duffney, early childhood service director for Mahube Head Start in Detroit Lakes, said she has attended about 28 of the 29 Early Childhood Mega Conferences at BSU. This year, she brought along 45 other staff members from Mahube Head Start, which covers Hubbard, Mahnomen and Becker counties.


"It's a great training program for our staff," she said. "It's always a great conference."

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