Who We Are
Defending the Early Years (DEY) is a non-profit organization working for a just, equitable, and quality early childhood education for every young child. DEY advocates for strong economic and social safety nets for all children because equitable education can only occur when society meets children’s basic needs for whole health and well-being.
Founded in 2012 by experts in the field of early childhood education, Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Dr. Diane Levin, and steered by a National Advisory Board, DEY advocates for active, developmentally appropriate, play-based approaches to learning.
DEY provides educators, parents and advocates with resources—from mini-documentaries and grants to position statements, reports, and opinion pieces; advises on early education policies and legislation; presents at conferences and events; stands with allies on issues and trends; and rallies the ECE community to influence change.
Our mission is to work for a just, equitable, and quality early childhood education for every young child, by informing educators, administrators, and parents about how children develop and learn best and advocating for the active, playful, experiential approaches to learning informed by child development theory and evidence-based research.
- All children experience nurturing and developmentally appropriate educational practices and discover the joy of learning;
- Early childhood education encompasses interactive, relational, playful learning experiences grounded in the knowledge base of the field of child development;
- Early childhood education aims to meet the needs of each child according to the timetable and learning differences of each learner;
- Early childhood education serves as a protective factor for children experiencing trauma, toxic stress, racism, and other systems of oppression;
- Policymakers base education policies on the knowledge of the field of early childhood education and listen to the voices of teachers; and
- Childhood is forever protected.
- To advocate at the grassroots, local, state, regional, and federal levels for education policies based on child development theory and research
- To mobilize the early childhood community to speak up for age-appropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices that are based on research.
- To promote appropriate practices in early childhood classrooms and to support educators in counteracting policies and practices that undermine whole child health and optimal learning.
Executive Director and Director of Communication and Outreach
Educator, Research, Advocate, Attorney
Denisha joined the DEY Advisory Board in 2014 and worked as the Director of Early Childhood Organizing and Co-Director before becoming the Executive Director. She has a B.S. in Early Childhood Education and Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of the District of Columbia, a PhD. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana University, and a J.D. from the University of the District of Columbia. Denisha is a part-time faculty member at Sarah Lawrence College and Howard University. Previously, Denisha worked at Trinity Washington University, first in the College of Arts and Sciences as an assistant professor and program chair for undergraduate elementary and early childhood programs and, most recently, in the School of Education as director of teacher education and assistant professor..
Director of Communications and Outreach
Founder and Head of School at Discovery Early Learning Center and Founder of Play Empowers, Poolesville, MD
Kisha Reid is the owner and director of Discovery Early Learning Center: A Place for Childhood, a wonderful authentic early years program in Poolesville, Maryland. She has been in the early childhood field for 28 years and continues to actively work in the classroom with children 0-6 years old. Her passion for authentic childhood has led her to found an advocacy group called Play Empowers which focuses on promoting developmentally appropriate play-based education for young children.
In her work as an early childhood advocate, Kisha has collaborated with Defending The Early Years to film mini documentaries, FairPlay (formerly Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood), and Explorations Early Learning to promote play in early childhood. She now sits on the board of Defending The Early Years and someday hopes to open a school for elementary-aged children.
Along with her daily work in the classroom, Lakisha also hosts The Defending The Early Years Podcast, presents keynote presentations, mentors and consults directly with programs, and hosts her annual teacher retreat conference, PEP Rally.
DEY Board of Directors
DEY’s Co-Founder, Senior Advisor, and President of the Board
Professor Emerita at Lesley University, Cambridge, MA
Nancy is professor emerita at Lesley University where she was a teacher educator in child development for more than 30 years. Nancy has written many books and articles on children’s play, their social and emotional development, and the effects of media and technology on young children. She is a critic of current education reforms that promote standardized tests and the privatization of schools. Nancy has received many awards for her leadership and advocacy in peace and early childhood education. In 2012, she co-founded Defending the Early Years, a nonprofit advocating for equitable, quality early education for every young child.
DEY’s Co-Founder, Senior Advisor, and Secretary of the Board
Professor of Applied Develomental Psychology, Wheelock College at Boston University, Boston, MA
Diane is internationally recognized expert helping professionals, parents and policymakers understand and respond to the impact of various societal forces-such as violence and sexualization, and media and commercial culture-on children’s development, learning and behavior. She is a founder of 3 advocacy organizations: TRUCE—Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment–which helps professionals help parents deal with the impact of media and promote quality play; Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which works to end the commercial exploitation of children; and, Defending the Early Years, which advocates for appropriate early childhood practice that counteracts inappropriate aspects of many recent school reform mandates. Levin is a Professor of Early Childhood Education at Wheelock College at Boston University. Her 9th book, Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age came out in August 2013.
Treasurer of the Board
Geralyn M. Bywater, MEd, has 30 years of experience in early childhood education. She is a founding teacher at the Mission Hill PK-8 School – a teacher-led, democratic Boston Public School. Her current role at Mission Hill School is Co-Teacher Leader. Geralyn was Director and then Co-Director of Defending the Early Years from 2012- June 2020. Over the years Geralyn has come to believe that teachers of young children play a critical role in being advocates and activists in the fight to keep the “child” in early childhood. She contributed to Rethinking Elementary Education and Rethinking Media and Pop Culture, both published by Rethinking Schools and was the founder of Empowered by Play.
Director Emeritus and Senior Advisor to The Alliance for Early Childhood, North Shore of Chicago, IL
Blakely became Co-Director of DEY in January 2016. Previously, she was the Executive Director of The Alliance for Early Childhood, a community collaboration organization based on the North Shore of Chicago, for 25 years. Blakely holds a BA from Wheaton (MA) College and an M.Ed. from National-Louis University. She has been a preschool and kindergarten teacher in Vermont and Illinois. She was actively involved with Chicago Metro AEYC for over 20 years, chairing its Accreditation Project which facilitated the achievement of NAEYC accreditation for schools and centers located in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago. She served as its President from 2003-05. Currently, Blakely is a member of the Executive Committee for the Chicago Children’s Museum and chairs its Education, Exhibits, and Community Committee and is on the steering committee of TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment).
National Advisory Board
- Erika Christakis, Early Childhood Educator and Author, Norwich, VT
- Sherry Cleary, Executive Director, New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, The City University of New York, NY
- Bill Crain, Professor of Psychology, City College of New York, NY
- Stephanie Feeney, Professor Emerita, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Portland, OR
- Doris Pronin Fromberg, Professor of Education, Hofstra University, NY
- Ayla Gavins, Former Principal, Mission Hill School, Boston, MA
- Michelle Gunderson, Former first grade teacher, Nettlehorst School, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, IL
- Edgar Klugman, Professor Emeritus Wheelock College & Co-Founder of Playing for Keeps, Boston, MA
- Susan Linn, Lecturer in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Research Associate, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brookline, MA
- Deborah Meier, author and activist, NY
- Ruth Rodriguez-Fay, Save Our Schools and United Opt Out, Boston, MA
- James St. Clair, former kindergarten teacher, Cambridge, MA
- Judith Van Hoorn, Professor Emerita, University of the Pacific, El Cerito, CA
Members of the Founding National Advisory Board
- Constance Kamii, Former Professor of Early Childhood Education, University of Alabama at Birmingham, AL
- Lilian Katz, Professor Emerita & Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting, University of Illinois, IL
- Maurice Sykes, Executive Director, Early Childhood Leadership Institute, University of the District of Columbia, Washington, DC