The Child1st Difference

A letter from our founder, Sarah K. Major, on how Child1st stands out from the rest.

How It All Started

The setting was Honduras in the early 60’s, and I was an earnest 8 -10-year-old. My parents laughed as they recalled the times I corralled groups of neighborhood kids to teach them Bible stories in our backyard. I can’t guarantee the kids got much out of those impromptu sessions, but I sure did like the children! For me it was like being able to play teacher.

In 9th grade, I remember being fascinated with the brain and with what makes people tick. I fancied myself as a brain surgeon, so at some point I rashly registered for a chemistry class, almost immediately regretting the decision. I was terrified I would fail, so rather than take the class and confirm that I couldn’t hack it, I groveled for special permission to drop it before day one. Of course, by abandoning chemistry, I was also abandoning my medical aspirations.
My interest in the brain went underground and I went to college and majored in art (big segway!) I briefly considered a double major in art and education, but about two mind-numbing weeks into Introduction to Education, I dropped the course. That appeared to eliminate that career path as well.

Many years, many jobs, and two half-grown kids later, my interest in minds resurfaced when I opened a childcare center. For me it was not enough to care for the children; I wanted to teach them too! It appeared that my teaching tendencies had resurfaced. So, doing what was familiar to me, I led “circle time” each morning. I taught basic preschool stuff like numbers, letters, counting, nursery rhymes, etc. I started noticing that in spite of daily repetitions, some of my bright young ones were unable to retain anything much!

Hmmm. This caught my attention and I began to obsess about it.

My presuppositions evolved into: 1. The brain is made to learn, and 2. If I teach correctly, the kids should all be able to learn and remember. I remember right about where I was standing when I chose to embrace that second core belief. I took a deep breath and decided to “go there” no matter what that meant. (Like the possibility of a big, huge white light pointing right at me if a student of mine failed!)

Next, all that thinking consolidated into one question. “How can it be that bright children fail?” This became the burning question I hoped to answer in graduate school. Of all the courses I took, the one I couldn’t wait to dive into was Remedial Reading. At last I would find some answers!

What I found, much to my chagrin, was that the class focused on testing and identifying potential disabilities, none of which answered my initial question of why bright children struggle in school. Because I wasn’t finding the answer in my studies, I focused on my students, trying to learn from them what they were missing. By this time, it was late 1990’s and I was teaching kindergarten. Interestingly enough my teaching and my studying began to coalesce into a powerful teaching moment … for me!

That group of kindergartners taught me far more than I learned in grad school. I studied them minutely during the day, and then at night I would read the experts who write education theory in order to find explanations for what I was seeing my kids do. When they surprised me with what they remembered, I always asked them, “How did you remember that?” I was absolutely devoted to the ideal that all of them were going to thrive – so I tried many techniques each time one of them seemed to bog down. And the children were my allies in discovering what worked the most for them.

It was during this final year in graduate school that the idea solidified that if a child was not learning, my teaching style and materials had to change to accommodate them. This was no longer a theory to test out or a premise to adopt, but rather the belief that would drive everything I did from that point on.

That year, spring testing revealed that the reading levels for my kindergarteners began at grade 2. The highest reader was reading on a grade 4 level. Her mom cried, by the way, because while she loved it that her 6-year-old could read on a 4th grade level, she was freaked out about finding appropriate books for her daughter to read.

In the years that followed, each encounter with a child was a learning moment for me. When working with children who seemingly couldn’t learn, I persistently tried one solution after another until I had a collection of tried and true elements to incorporate into my resources design. What was amazing and gratifying to me was the role my art played in all this. It was as though all the disparate experiences of my life combined to bring me to this point; to make me ready for the task I had taken up.

Working as a Title 1 director for grades K-8 gave me the opportunity to really study the struggling child in a broad cross-section. I found that no matter the age, the gaps in learning (missing skills) seemed to be consistent for failing students, and so it followed that the remedies would also be consistent from child to child. Over the next few years, I designed various learning resources for teaching sounds and letters, numbers and counting, words and sound spellings and computation that I tested with my students with astonishing outcomes. The difference these teaching elements made for children who had been failing in the regular classroom was as dramatic as flipping a switch, turning the room from dark to light.

What I concluded was that there are certain elements that can be incorporated in the design of resources for teaching anything that will make learning possible for any child no matter their natural wiring and learning needs.

In 2006, I took the leap and retired from teaching to devote myself full time to refining the teaching tools I had been using and to founding Child1st Publications. What started as a fledgling one-person operation in my home has grown, thanks to the internet and word of mouth, to reaching customers in every state in the USA, and in over one hundred countries in the world. Child1st has grown steadily, proving the fact that thousands of children, whether beginners, or those labeled with a variety of disabilities, benefit from having access to resources that speak to their own way of learning. And giving a child what makes sense to their brain will ignite in them a love for learning!

Let’s join together in inspiring our children to Love Learning!

Sarah K. Major
Founder, Product Designer