Erikson Institute

Training & Events

Big Ideas in Early Learning

Big Ideas in Early Learning offers a one-of-a-kind experience, drawing together professionals from various disciplines in the field of early childhood education for a 3.5 day exploration of the Big Ideas that bring them together in their work.

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The Big Ideas in Early Learning summer institute is open to teachers of early childhood, teacher assistants, school/center administrators, and classroom coaches.

The event offers a one-of-a-kind experience, drawing together multiple disciplines in the field of early childhood education. Over four days, you will take part in intensive exploration with Erikson Institute experts, and each day, you will be introduced to a different Big Idea, an underlying concept that will be woven into each track. Together we’ll delve deep into:

  • The Language & Literacy Connection: Why writing and reading float on a sea of talk
  • Early Mathematics: Thinking about number, space, and shape
  • Collaborating with Colleagues and Families: Power of relationships

Each day, these separate tracks will gather to explore the connections between their discoveries, making classrooms more meaningful for young children and their teachers. Included as part of the institute are an opening reception the evening of Tuesday, July 7, and a fun group excursion in Chicago the evening of Wednesday, July 8. Breakfast and snacks will be served daily.

COVID-19 Updates

Is the event still happening?

Yes. We expect by July that travel restrictions and general warnings involving COVID-19 will have eased and it will be a wonderful summer to grow and learn at Erikson's campus in River North Chicago. We are monitoring closely the situation and will update if changes are made.

If COVID-19 prevents me from attending, will there be a refund?

Yes, as long as you cancel by June 15th. We previously posted on our website that all attendees can receive a refund minus a $50 charge anytime before June 1st. We are now waiving that $50 fee and changing it to June 15th. So anyone can get a 100% refund at any time before June 15th. You can register or hold on to your registration knowing that if things change for you or if we do need to cancel the event, you will get a full refund. After June 15th, there are no refunds but a registration can be transferred to a colleague up until 24 hours before the event.

Where can I get updated information about Erikson's COVID-19 response?

Erikson Institute has a regularly updated information page here, which includes a wealth of information as well as current closings due to concerns over the virus.

We will also update this Big Ideas in Early Learning event page.

Learning Tracks

When participants register, they will choose one learning track. They will meet with this track each day of the event. If a participant's desired track is marked as FULL, please choose another track. 

The Language and Literacy Connection (PreK-K)

Why writing and reading float on a sea of talk

To become successful readers and writers, all children need strong foundations in oral language and literacy. Through this track, led by Erikson’s Language and Literacy Partners (formerly New Schools Project), you will deepen your understanding of these critical skills while gaining practical knowledge and abilities to improve teaching and learning in your classroom.

• Recognize teaching strategies that exemplify speaking, listening, writing, and reading, providing motivation and incentive to help all children achieve their potential.
• Develop a framework for and specific skills in assessing development in children’s emerging writing and reading skills.
• Make connections across content areas and learning contexts to help children revisit, extend, and deepen conceptual understandings through skills like vocabulary development, comprehension, and expression of ideas in conversation, drawing, and writing.

Early Mathematics (PreK-K)

Thinking about number, space, and shape

Dig into tools and big ideas for teaching and learning about math in preschool and kindergarten. Each morning participants will explore the math of Counting/Cardinality, Spatial Thinking, and Shape. Afternoons will be spent delving into practical ways to make math come alive in classrooms though block play, daily routines, games, and books.

Taken from our long-running early math summer institute, Meaning-Making in Early Math Education (MEME), this track is led by members of Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative, authors of Big Ideas in Early Mathematics: What Teachers of Young Children Need to Know. This hands-on professional development opportunity will help make early math learning meaningful for both you and young children.

Collaborating with Colleagues and Families

Power of relationships

As educators, we are experts at reading the cues of children and responding. Reading the cues of adults—parents and even our own colleagues—can be more challenging!  We can find ourselves reacting in team meetings or in a parent conference instead of reflecting and responding. In this track, you will become skilled in the FAN (Facilitating Attuned Interactions), a conceptual model and practical tool for communication in relationships and reflective practice.  You will learn how to read the subtle and not so subtle cues of adults and use the FAN as an internal GPS to help you match your communication to where the parent or team member is and move toward collaborative problem solving.  You will learn how to strengthen relationships, repair miscommunications and use Mindful Self-Regulation to track and regulate your own reactions to stay calm and think clearly.  The FAN also provides reflective questions to structure parent conferences and group meetings and serves as a guide you can use for individual and team reflection after action.  

Wednesday Group Outing

Experience the “top tour in Chicago and one of the top ten tours in the U.S.” according to TripAdvisor users. The Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise is a must for out-of-towners and Chicagoans alike. CAF-certified volunteer tour guides—called docents—interpret more than 50 buildings along the Chicago River. You’ll find out how Chicago grew from a small settlement into one of the world’s largest cities in less than 100 years. In 90 minutes, get the real story on Chicago architecture and its history. The best part? This cruise is only $12 for each of our guests!


Who should attend?

Big Ideas in Early Learning is open to the public, and is designed specifically for educators working with young children or adults who work in an early education environment.

What does it cost?

The four-day Summer Institute will have an early bird registration of $850 before March 15, 2020 and regular registration of $925 after that. Registration will close on June 26, 2020 or when we hit full enrollment.

What does the cost include?

The fee includes all workshops and plenary sessions, breakfast each day, supplemental materials, and access to special online videos and materials after the event. Participants will receive materials relevant to their content area, which may include books and other items. Lunch will be served Friday, July 10, and a reception is held the first evening of the series, with catered food and beverages.

What do I need to bring?

Participants should bring:

  • Materials with which to take notes
  • Laptop and/or tablet (optional)

How do I get there and what hotel should I stay at?

All sessions will take place at Erikson Institute in Chicago, IL. You can visit the Location page of Erikson's website to get information about Hotel, Parking, and Directions. There are many hotels within blocks of Erikson Institute.

What will the schedule be?

A detailed schedule will be emailed to participants prior to the event. Generally sessions begin at 8:30AM and end at 4:00PM, with scheduled breaks and an extended lunch break each day. On the last day sessions end at 1:00PM.

Do you have group rates for registration?

Yes. If you would like to register more than three people to attend the event, please contact

Do you offer professional development credit for time spent at the Summer Institute?

We will provide a certificate of completion that states total contact hours. State requirements vary, so please feel free to contact us if you have further questions:

Is there a cancellation policy?

Yes. Refund requests must be made in writing to on or before June 15, 2020. After that date, there will be no refunds of registration fees but transfer of registration to a colleague can be arranged before July 6, 2020.

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