No Such Thing as a Bad Preschooler: Dalia Avello on Senate Bill 236 and the Dangers of Misrepresentation in Early Childhood

No Such Thing as a Bad Preschooler: Dalia Avello on Senate Bill 236 and the Dangers of Misrepresentation in Early Childhood

Dalia Avello, MA, IMH-E, serves on the board of Directors of the Oregon Montessori Association. She trained as a psychologist, is a certified Montessori teacher, has expertise in the education and international development fields, and has the Endorsement® certification at the mentor level in infant mental health – policy. She has led her career internationally, but has called Oregon home since 2014. 


There is No Such Thing as a Bad Preschooler

During this legislative session, and after witnessing the misrepresentation of children overtly discussed in such an important public forum, I was compelled to testify in support of Senate Bill 236. The language used during public testimony and by elected officials during the legislative hearings was disheartening to hear. It is both inaccurate and dangerous to depict preschool children as conniving and aggressive beings.

Although SB 236 is designed around support for providers, it will ultimately protect children. 

Being part of the only country in the world that has not ratified the Convention on Children’s Rights, Oregon now has the opportunity to demonstrate that it is not afraid of acting to solve an issue that is long overdue. 

During my testimony, I considered it necessary to state for the record, that when we are using the word “children,” we are talking about toddlers and little children—children who have been alive less than 1,800 days, whose physical and socioemotional development is highly dependent on the adults in their lives, and whose brains have more than 20 years left to fully mature.

During the hearings, I identified four troubling themes:

1) The representation of children experiencing behavioral issues as “bad and violent.” 

These “out of control” children bully, target, taunt, hit, bite and are overall mean to others. From a developmental perspective, I can tell you with confidence that there is no such thing as a bad preschooler. Children will typically have antisocial behaviors. They will act up if they are frustrated, angry or in pain. Just like adults, children that have suffered trauma, or are experiencing distress, need a way to express the pain they feel. Because they are little, they will express this in the only way they can. We should expect children to have these antisocial behaviors in the same way that we should expect adults to have grown out of them. Instead of referring to preschoolers as “bad and violent,” I propose we talk instead about children with behaviors that are expressing a need for help, support or love.

2) The idea that in spite of providers’ noble intentions and vast experience, they do not have the capacity to serve these “bad children.”

The implication is that expulsion and suspension are the only way of protecting the rest of the students, as well as their own wellbeing. I question the professional tools these providers use daily in their work. A child who is suspended or expelled due to limited self-regulation skills, tells me that the caregivers don’t have the experience and training needed to be helpful and nurturing in that situation. The strategies we use with children who don’t have distressing behaviors are not the same ones we turn to when we have a child who does, and is expressing a cry for help.  This change is part of a process, and requires time, which is why SB 236 establishes a coaching relationship and not a one time training. Childcare providers wanting to be successful with all their students need the practice and support included in this bill to get them there.

3) The argument that children with disabilities, or with externalizing behaviors that are derived from neurodiversity, have needs that some providers could not fulfill.

It was argued that this gap between needs and means was a valid reason to exclude them. Not only are these situations illegal under the ADA, but also part of a vicious cycle. In this cycle, rejected children learn that they are “damaged goods”. The providers want to send children to another program that “will serve them better,” even though such a program may not exist or be accessible to that family. Their classmates then learn that children who struggle are not deserving, while being robbed of the opportunity to learn compassion and tolerance.And thus, adult professionals and young Oregonians alike cannot learn that neurodiversity has positive elements, and that we need all kinds of brains to move the world forward.

4) In spite of comments asserting that preschool suspension and expulsion are behavioral and not racial problems, the numbers don’t lie.

I know this is an uncomfortable topic to bring up here in Oregon, but avoiding it and pretending won’t make it go away. The more you deflect and gingerly walk around an issue, the more evident it becomes for those around you.

These misleading representations of children cannot hide the fact that SB 236 considers support for all providers, even those who think it’s easier to avoid than to work through a problem. It develops a system, provides useful information, clarifies key terms, and gives everyone 5 years to practice these new skills and strategies—a greater and longer opportunity to improve than what adults have given some little children to heal. 

I hope that the way that we speak about and treat babies and young children will change; this bill brings possibilities for both children and teachers to blossom together.


Senate Bill 236 would reduce/eliminate suspension and expulsion in early care and education programs. With leadership from Black Child Development-PDX, this bill is part of the Early Childhood Coalition’s (ECC) 2021 legislative agenda.


Recognizing 16 Years of Service

Recognizing 16 Years of Service

On behalf of the Board of Directors at Children’s Institute, I wish to share the news that after 16 years, Swati Adarkar, Co-Founder, President and CEO will step down from her role at the end of this year. Swati has been a visionary and innovative leader who built a top-notch nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of children and families in Oregon. We are deeply grateful for her leadership over the years and we have much to celebrate and build on in terms of her accomplishments.

Under her tenure, we have seen public investments in Oregon’s early childhood programs and services grow significantly. Those include substantial investments in Oregon Pre-kindergarten, the creation of Preschool Promise and the Kindergarten Partnership and Innovation Fund, and passage of the Student Success Act in 2019 which allocates $200 million annually to birth to five programs.

Perhaps most importantly, Swati led the effort to launch Early Works, a 10-year initiative that began in 2010 at Earl Boyles Elementary School in Multnomah County and then at Yoncalla Elementary School in Douglas County. Early Works was recognized as a national model by the U.S. Department of Education in 2016. Early Works has helped many of us see what’s possible when early childhood programs, services, and family engagement are an integral part of a child’s educational experience. What we’ve learned through Early Works has helped us shape state early childhood policy and expand our impact with innovative programs like Early School Success — a recent Children’s Institute initiative that engages educators and families to improve early learning. Children’s Institute’s newest initiative focuses on health equity and ensuring young children insured by Medicaid receive critical early health and developmental services before kindergarten.

As we look to 2021, Swati has graciously offered to support the organization’s transition and serve as a resource for the organization. In the short term, we have named Karen Twain as the Interim Executive Director. Karen has most recently served as CI’s Director of Programs and brings a great deal of experience as an education leader having held significant leadership roles in the Tigard-Tualatin School District for 33 years.

The Children’s Institute Board of Directors is in the process of initiating a national search for the next leader of the organization. During this time of transition, we count on your continued support and we hope you can join us in wishing Swati success in her work ahead and thanking her for her significant contributions to Oregon’s young children and families.

John Tapogna
Board Chair
Children’s Institute

A Preschool Watering Hole, Evaporated

A Preschool Watering Hole, Evaporated

Teresa Ashford

Home-based Preschool Provider, College Educator, Aspen Academy - Bend, OR

Re-printed with permission from Teresa Ashford who blogs about life as a preschool director and much, much more at

In yet another Zoom call this week, we (child care providers and early childhood educators around the state) spent time discussing the rules and regulations for child care providers in Oregon amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we can no longer allow children to use sensory tables and sandboxes, it was suggested that we provide each child with their own sensory tub. The meeting’s host shared that “children like it better anyway, because they don’t have to share materials.”

They may ‘like’ it better, but is it ideal for young children’s development? Children ‘like’ a lot of things, however, our role as early childhood educators is to engage in best practice.

While we never require children to share, we do witness and support negotiation, collaboration, and the concept that one’s peer may not yet be finished with a toy.

We know that social-emotional development is promoted through sensory play. Sensory play inspires:

 …children to work together to construct a sand village, wash a baby doll in water, or chase a giant bubble as it sails through the air. The fact that play with these materials can calm a child who is agitated or upset has been well documented. When children play with sand and water they often express their thoughts and feelings.  (Dodge, Colker, & Heroman, 2008, p. 403)

Two children's hands playing in a sensory table

Two children’s hands playing in a sensory table. Photo courtesy of Aspen Academy.


 A central aspect of many quality preschool programs is sensory play, or play opportunities offered primarily for the tactile experience. Play is the natural learning style of the young child (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). Quality play often takes place at sand and water tables, also known as discovery or sensory tables. We have observed that this “watering hole” of the preschool brings combinations of children together who might not otherwise interact with each other. The discovery tables provide rich opportunities for children to expand and practice their emotional development and are easily tailored to a variety of interests and developmental levels. Emotional development occurs through play as children explore, discover, negotiate, question, analyze, and synthesize the world around them (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Trister Dodge, Colker, & Heroman, 2002). Sensory play, traditionally centered around sand⁄water⁄discovery tables, is a dynamic type of play. This informal and unstructured play setting never offers the same experience twice, but provides numerous ‘‘teachable moments’’ to augment emotional development. . . Because of these benefits it appears that sensory play provides numerous opportunities for coaching, teaching, enhancing emotional recognition, and teaching or encouraging control of impulsive and aggressive behavior. (Maynard, Adams, Lazo-Flores, & Warnock, 2009, p. 26)

Children are hands-on, sensory learners. I shout this Piagetian concept from the rafters in parent conferences and in my college classrooms. They learn by exploring, moving, and physically engaging with their environments. And perhaps this concept is on my mind more so this week as my college students are reading a section on ‘sand and water’ play. 

I understand that developmentally appropriate practice must be sacrificed in the midst of staying alive during the coronavirus pandemic. Our lives are more important… But what will be the long-term outcomes on children’s development? 

There are children in my program and around the world who so desperately need these sensory experiences. These are the children who spend all morning at the sensory table running their hands through rice, pouring water, spreading shaving cream, compressing kinetic sand, and mixing mud. These same children spend all of their outside-time in the sandbox; digging, pouring, and covering their entire bodies with sand. As a result of this play, these children become more emotionally regulated. They are engaging in what they need. 

Children dig in a pit of bark chips

Yes, children can have single-use, single-child sensory tubs, but I struggle to imagine what that looks like with ten children in my home. I struggle to see how one’s whole body could be a part of that experience. I also know that children can have sensory experiences at home with their families. I know this… But it is not the same. Many parents have shared over the years how grateful they are for our program’s sensory table, as folks don’t want that kind of ‘mess’ at home. Anyone who’s spent time using a kebab skewer to dig Oobleck (cornstarch and water) and kinetic sand out of the gaps in the hardwood floors would understand! Families are also unable to replicate the learning that comes from collaborating with one’s peers.

There are no easy answers and I wish there were. These are the issues I lay awake in bed thinking about at 5 a.m. How can I still offer a model preschool program to families where limitations affect what I consider to be best practice?

“If it hasn’t been in the hand and body, it can’t be in the brain.” – Bev Bos



Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (1997). Developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood programs. Washington, D.C. NAEYC.

Dodge, D. T., Colker, L. J., & Heroman, C. (2002). The creative curriculum for preschool (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Teaching Strategies

Dodge, D. T., Colker, L. J., & Heroman, C. (2008). The creative curriculum for preschool: College edition. Washington, D.C.: Teaching Strategies

Maynard, C. N., Adams, R. A., Lazo-Flores, T., & Warnock, K. (2009). An examination of the effects of teacher intervention during sensory play on the emotional development of preschoolers. Family & Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 38 (1), 26 – 35. DOI: 10.1111/j.1552-3934.2009.00003.x

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at or click the button below to submit your story through our form. 

Homeless Student Liaison Provides Books, Meals, Stability

Homeless Student Liaison Provides Books, Meals, Stability

Juliana Marez, as told to Ashley Walker

Coordinator, Roseburg School District Title VI Indian Education, McKinney-Vento Liaison

I’ve been really trying hard to keep in touch with my families, making 18-20 calls a day. I’m also a member of Altrusa International, which is a nonprofit organization focused on community service. One of the things we have is a program that provides books to children; Mary Marshall is our literacy chairman, and helped me get a donation of a thousand books! So when I’m calling families and talking to students, I’m asking their reading levels and reading interests, and I’m matching that with books I have access to through the program.

What I’m finding is that there are a whole lot more kids doubling up, their families moving in together because their parents have lost jobs or houses, or because child care is closed. So I can deliver several books to one home and you’ve got cousins and everyone all there and able to share.

I also got a tremendous donation of school supplies before all of this happened. So what I’m doing is sanitizing all of that, dividing it into Ziplock bags. I’ve sanitized a thousand books!

I also had a pastor give me grocery gift cards. I’ve got some craft kits and things. So I’m making care packages and I’m going to deliver them like pizzas! I think it will be really fun, and a real boon to parents, helping them promote family literacy. Marta Queant who works for our Head Start program will come with me, to help deliver to Spanish-speaking families.

I’ve always done food security bags for all the district’s homeless students, and now, that’s even more important. I’m working with the district’s nutrition specialist, and we’re providing meals for every child now, while schools are closed. We’re using the buses; bus drivers are just driving their normal routes, and we’ve dropped off 6,000 breakfasts and lunches so far! I’m grateful to my superintendent, Jarod Cordon, and my direct supervisor, Rick Burton, who believe in taking a healthy risk and have allowed me to do these things.

Stack of books

Juliana Marez is coordinating book and school supply drop-offs to her students in the Roseburg School District.

We’re connecting with people by phone. The populations that I work with are not always easy to track down. I had three new kids move into shelters with their families this week, so I’m calling shelter directors and coordinating things, like how to drop off the Chromebooks the district ordered for the students who needed them to be able to access online learning.

Any kid that needs a cell phone can also get one. That’s coordinated through the self sufficiency program at the state, where they also go for SNAP and those things.

One of my next steps is to connect with the Cow Creek Tribe here in Roseburg, and find out how I can partner with any programs they’re doing. I’ve been sharing lots of resources for my Native kids. Indigenous artists, poets, and musicians are doing a lot of free shows on the internet, and a lot of tribes are putting their language classes online. There are great opportunities for cultural education right now.

I worry about some of the kids getting enough fresh air and sunshine since all our parks and trails are closed. I wish there was some way we could agree and coordinate access for those who don’t have any outside space. It helps with everything; I have concerns about mental health and relapse in some of our families. 

Connection is so important right now. We have students and families struggling, and we want them to know we’re thinking about them.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at or click the button below to submit your story through our form. 

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