Critically Acclaimed Author, Alison Gopnik and Early Childhood Program Expert, Patricia Hunter McGrath to Speak at Early Childhood Conference

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Conference is the brainchild of the Children’s Center at Caltech, the Children and Families Commission of Orange County and the academic support organization THINK Together and will focus on teaching science, technology, engineering and math to infants and toddlers.

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An early childhood conference on STEM education at the Orange County Hilton will feature two keynote speakers who advocate teaching science, technology, engineering and math to infants and toddlers.

Keynote speakers include Alison Gopnik, author of bestselling and critically acclaimed book "The Scientist in the Crib" and "The Philosophical Baby; What children’s minds tell us about love, truth and the meaning of life" and Patricia Hunter McGrath, early childhood program expert and contributing author of the book "In the Spirit of the Atelier" as well as "Insights and Inspiration from Reggio Emilia."

The Children and Families Commission of Orange County, the Children’s Center at Caltech and THINK Together have partnered to present this event with the goal of arming early childhood practitioners with the proper tools to teach complicated subjects to young children.

Event organizers want to give STEM instruction an equal footing with literacy and language arts, which are more commonly taught at this age level.

"Literacy gets such a big place in early learning," said Susan Wood, the executive director of the Children’s Center at Caltech. "It’s essential they learn the language of science and math during that same period. The brain is developing so fast from 0-5. We want to take advantage of this tremendous brain development."

Wood noted that the nation faces a shortage of mathematicians, scientists and engineers now and in the future and this conference is designed to answer that need that will be so critical to industry.

Wood, who has run the groundbreaking center at Caltech for the last 14 years, says that starting STEM education in infancy is not too early.

"Children are natural explorers," Wood said. "Babies demonstrate that in many ways. For example, when a baby throws a bowl off a high chair, they do it to see what the effect will be. We need to develop these tools of the mind and keep alive their sense of wonder."

The Children and Families Commission of Orange County serves 16,000 children countywide through its Early Literacy and Math Program managed by THINK Together. The program is designed for underserved children in centers and clinics who otherwise would not have access to early childhood learning.

"Partnering with the Children’s Center at Caltech to bring their knowledge and expertise to Orange County is an exciting opportunity for early childhood educators. They are looking for high quality training and support to bring STEM concepts into the classroom and this partnership is a big step forward," said Christina Altmayer, Executive Director of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County.

"Experiences in early math and science enhances a child’s overall development and is critical to helping every child be ready for success in school."

The STEM conference will span three days beginning with a panel discussion by educators in the STEM fields as well as business leaders on Thursday Feb. 6 at 5 p.m. followed by workshops on Friday and Saturday and a tour of the Discovery Science Center.

Speakers at the event will include Al Mijares, the superintendent of Orange County’s Department of Education. Mijares, who will give the opening address, is a former Santa Ana Unified superintendent with 34 years of experience in education.

Friday’s Keynote Speaker will be Patricia Hunter McGrath, the executive director of the Branches Atelier in Culver City. Over the past 15 years, she has developed an innovative early childhood program inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach. She also speaks at conferences throughout the United States and abroad.

Saturday’s Keynote Speaker Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. Gopnik is also the author of "Scientist in the Crib," which details how children at young ages can grasp scientific concepts.

Additional sponsors and supporters of the conference include the Children’s Home Society of California, the Orange County Business Council, the OC STEM Initiative, the Discovery Science Center, the Orange County Department of Education, and the Samueli Foundation.

Wood said she is heartened by the support this event has received from business leaders in Orange County and she expects this conference to be the first of many to come and a model for other regions.

"It’s impressive that these organizations are working together to address the nation’s concerns for better education in the areas of STEM," she said. "We know the seeds planted today will bear the fruit that will shape the future."

About the Children’s Center at Caltech

The Children’s Center at Caltech is a non-profit organization providing quality early education and care for infants, toddlers and preschool age children for Caltech, JPL and the Pasadena communities. Caring, nurturing educators staff this outstanding program. The Center is committed to ongoing research and professional growth to support child, staff, and parenting development. The Center provides leadership in an early childhood setting for other colleges and universities. Every effort is made to build and nurture relationships of mutual respect among the children, parents, and early childhood professionals. For more information, go to the center’s website at

About the Children and Families Commission of Orange County

The Children and Families Commission of Orange County oversees the allocation of funds from Proposition 10, which added a 50-cent tax on tobacco products sold in California. In fiscal year 2012/13 alone, the Commission allocated more than $31 million to fund 161 programs that served more than 196,000 young children. Funds help pay for pediatric primary and specialty health care, children’s dental, homeless prevention, early education, and child development programs for children from the prenatal stage to age 5 and their families. The Commission’s goal is to ensure all children are healthy and ready to learn when they enter school. For more information, please visit

About THINK Together

THINK Together is a nonprofit education organization that partners with schools and school districts to provide support systems, mostly for low-income students, in order to close the achievement gap. It has grown into the state’s largest provider of Extended Learning Time programs (early literacy, after-school, summer learning, etc.), currently serving more than 100,000 students at more than 442 locations across 41 school districts from San Diego to Sacramento. Partnering with school administrators and teachers, its academic programs and dedicated team of 3,000 employees are helping students statewide. THINK is an acronym: Teaching, Helping, Inspiring & Nurturing Kids. For more information, call (888) 485-THINK or visit

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Kathleen Sanchez
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