Abby Hughes, a first-year student in the MEd in Early Childhood Education program at Pitt Education, teaches preschool at Tender Care Learning Center in the Shadyside area of Pittsburgh. In this Q&A, she discusses working during the pandemic, trading life in rural Wyoming for the city, and her passion for incorporating music into the classroom. Her quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
What path led you to the Early Childhood Education program at Pitt Education?
Hughes: I originally intended to teach high school or middle school choir, but then I began to think more about how important music is for every single age group. Two years ago, I got a job at a preschool and loved it! I decided to take that passion and learn more about it with an MEd in Early Childhood Education. This is a fun program; I love it. I’m so lucky that my school just happened to be in the city I live in. I’m like, I’m going to a school where Fred Rogers did work. That’s amazing.
How did your passion for music develop?
Hughes: I grew up in a very musical family. My grandma was the accompanist for our choir at school. My dad played a little bit of piano. Everyone in my house was always singing or doing something musical! Music has always been an important outlet for relieving stress. Most of all, I love how music is a universal language.
How do you incorporate music in your preschool classroom?
Hughes: We sing all day long at my preschool. It’s so important for my students to experience the joys of music in their lives. I let them pick songs, so we sing a lot from Frozen. I also use a “good morning” song to help them talk about their feelings and to open up that socio-emotional component. If they don’t want to talk about their feelings that day, they can choose the “jumping song,” which helps them get some of their physical energy out.
Hughes’ preschool classroom is brimming with bright colors and art projects.
How has what you’ve learned at Pitt Education helped you in your work at the preschool?
Hughes: Every day, I am using something I learned in my program. For example, in one of my classes, I learned about Elkonin boxes, which help children to develop phonemic awareness. I used it with the kids at my preschool and they really connected with the activity. I love to see the things I’m doing at Pitt influencing the lives of children.
Hughes says uses Elkonin boxes to help preschool children develop phonemic awareness, an activity she learned about in her Reading and Writing Methods class.
Tell us about your background before coming to Pitt Education.
Hughes: I grew up in a remote area in the state of Wyoming, just south of Jackson Hole. It was a tiny l town of only 1,000 people; I graduated in a class of 50 people. When I graduated, all I wanted was to go to a big city. So, I found one of the biggest cities in the country, Columbus, Ohio, and I went there for college. Then I came to Pittsburgh, started working at the preschool, and enrolled in Pitt Education.
Hughes hometown in Wyoming.
How has the pandemic affected your work at the preschool?
Hughes: Our school has adjusted to the regulations and precautions. We aren’t able to use sensory materials in the same ways because we can’t have them all sharing germs in a big sandbox, for example. We’ve adapted by providing individual sensory, like giving each child their own Tupperware container of sand. I also consider the emotional element of the pandemic. There’s a lot of big feelings for children during this time, and I help them to process their feelings.
The Pitt School of Education’s MEd in Early Childhood Education is currently accepting applications. Apply here.