Defending the early Years

About Us

Who We Are

Denisha at 2018 NAEYC 2

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.

2018 DEY Team

Our mission is to work for just, equitable, and quality early childhood education and care for every young child. We inform educators, administrators, and parents about how children develop and learn best. We advocate for 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.


Denisha N Jones
Denisha Jones, Ph.D., J.D.

Executive Director

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.

Zoe Kim
Zoe Kim, MS.ED.

Project Coordinator

Zoe has her M.S.Ed. from Sarah Lawrence College where she focused her work on children’s agency and race-conscious equitable education.

Woman with curly hair and glasses, specializing in early childhood education, smiling in front of a leafy background.
Sierra Roussos

Volunteer Research Coordinator

Sierra Roussos is a dedicated leader and educator known for fostering collaborative environments and promoting capacity building. As an early childhood educator, she advocates for children’s rights and equity, creating nurturing and inclusive spaces, increasing children’s access to play and autonomy, and fighting for evidence-based, student-centered, developmentally appropriate practice in all educational spaces. Committed to continuous learning, she seeks professional and personal growth opportunities for herself and those she mentors, supporting the path towards reaching our full potential. In this pursuit, Sierra is currently working towards a Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership at Marian University. She is excited to join the DEY team as the Volunteer Research Coordinator and support the efforts and expansion of the DEY Advocacy Campaign.

A smiling woman with glasses, specializing in early childhood education, against a plain background.
Alden Parker


Alden is a current graduate student in Child Development at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. From her experience working with children and families both in hospital settings and as an educator, she holds a strong passion for protecting the sacredness of early childhood through economic equality, the value of play, and neurodiverse-affirming practices.

DEY Board of Directors

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D.

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.

A smiling woman with curly hair, deeply involved in early childhood education, wearing glasses, earrings, and a necklace outdoors.
Diane Levin, Ph.D.

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.

Geralyn M. Bywater, M.Ed.

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. 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 advocating for and advocating for 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.

Blakely Bundy, DEY's Co-Director
Blakely Bundy, M.ED.

Secretary of the Board

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).

Collage of professional headshots with names and job titles, representing a diverse group of early childhood education specialists.
Suzanne Axelsson**
Heather Bernt-Santy**
Samuel Broaden (he/they)**
Takiema Bunche**
Erika Christakis
William Crain
Rixa Evershed**
Dale C. Farran**
Carol Garboden-Murray**
Laleña Garcia**
Michelle Gunderson
“Teacher Tom” Hobson**
Group of diverse professionals defending the early years with their names and occupations or roles displayed beneath their portraits.
Nadia Jaboneta**
Susan Linn, ED.D.
Melinda Marshall**
Kisa Marx**
Peter Rawitsch**
Kisha Reid**
Rukia Rogers**
Ruth Rodriguez-Fay
Kaliris Y. Salas-Ramirez**
James St. Clair
Judith Van Hoorn
Dodah Yirusha**

** New Advisor

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

Sherry Cleary, Executive Director, New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, The City University of New York, NY

Doris Pronin Fromberg, Professor of Education, Hofstra University, NY

Deborah Meier, author and activist, NY

Edgar Klugman*, Professor Emeritus Wheelock College & Co-Founder of Playing for Keeps, Boston, MA

* Deceased