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Partners in preparation and play: Mississippi early learning center + Pitsco

Published October 11, 2022

Additional Getting an Early Start with Growing Hands, Minds, and Hearts articles:

ABCs, 123s, stories, and play are the foundation of early-learning programs. Often the lessons and activities are hands on, allowing the littlest learners to feel, experience, and apply information. The inclusion of STEM/STEAM/STREAM learning experiences can be an integral expansion of their knowledge and skill acquisition. In fact, early learning and STEM/STEAM/STREAM? Well, the two go hand in hand.

“Hands-on STEM/STEAM/STREAM learning experiences are important in early childhood education as they help build vocabulary, communication, reflection, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills that help with executive functioning, all needed later in life to succeed later in the workplace,” says Gena Puckett, education and training specialist for the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning (GCSEL) at the University of Mississippi.

Puckett has an extensive background in early childhood education, having also worked as a teacher and director for a Head Start program and with Partners for Quality Child Care, Leaders In Literacy, and the Early Childhood Institute. She has held her current position at GCSEL since 2016.

The GCSEL at the University of Mississippi supports early childhood education across the state through a number of programs and efforts. Their research team and pre-K specialists provide information and guidance on, among other things, child development, education, and policy decisions, and they support the staff of the on-campus Willie Price Early Childhood Center, which serves 3- and 4-year-olds. Through professional development and classroom coaching, they work with the North Mississippi Education Consortium to provide professional development to area educators and with students across the state studying to become early childhood education teachers, strengthening their knowledge and skills so as to better prepare them for classroom teaching.

This effort of preparing incoming early-learning educators is where they have most recently connected with Pitsco Education.


At the 2022 Southern Early Childhood Association Conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Puckett met Pitsco Education Advisor Ronnie Thomas, who was showcasing products at the Pitsco booth alongside colleague and Early Learning Channel Manager Jake Rudisill. “Pitsco products seemed to be a great and fun way to bring STEM, STEAM, and STREAM into the classroom for children,” said Puckett. “I believe the children would love coding the robots and watching how what they coded made the robot move.” (It didn’t hurt that Thomas’s gregarious personality and excitement for Pitsco were also on display.)

Puckett invited Thomas to GCSEL to give an overview of Pitsco’s early-learning products. Thomas set up Pitsco’s line of Early-Learning Activity Bundles in different stations for Puckett and five of her colleagues.

“We enjoyed learning about other items that help children use critical-thinking, reflection, and problem-solving skills through some of the activities,” said Puckett, “and we discovered different ways students could communicate to someone how to move or complete a task. (Using musical instruments was a fun one!)”

The visit impressed the GCSEL staff so much they purchased a number of the early-learning products for use at the center and beyond. “We are currently putting the Pitsco products in our North Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Center to use during trainings,” Puckett explained. “We are also allowing teachers or parents to check the materials out to use in their classrooms or homes.” The center is using Bee-Bots®, Blue-Bots®, and KUBO for coding lessons and Kitt, activity bundles, and science items for STEM, STEAM, and STREAM activities.

And, they have plans to build upon this knowledge of new early-learning options. “We wanted others to learn about STEM, STEAM, STREAM products [in early learning] as well as products to help children have fun while learning coding, so asked Ronnie to come and be part of a two-day, hands-on conference we are putting together for childcare professionals around the state,” Puckett said. Thomas returned in July to participate in the conference and had an incredible time with “this awesome group of educators! I’m thrilled that Pitsco can be part of their early childhood education experiences.”

We couldn’t be more honored to be partners in play and preparation in Mississippi. We can’t wait to see what is ahead for the youth in these communities and the educators who are making every effort to prepare them for the lives and world their students will grow into.

“This is what education should be. This is what education should’ve always been.”

– Pat Taylor, headmaster, Jackson Academy, Jackson, Mississippi

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