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Cristina Gillanders

Associate Professor, Early Childhood Education


My story:

When I was a young girl and I was living in Argentina, my grandparents gave me a small blackboard for my birthday. Every day I would come from my bilingual school and repeat everything that the teacher had said, teaching invisible children. My mother could tell everything that had happened in school that day from my dramatic play. From early on, I knew I was interested in working with children and teachers. After moving back to Venezuela as a teenager, I volunteered in a school for children with disabilities. My cousins and I prepared a puppet show for the children with a different storyline every week! Once I graduated from high school, I did my undergraduate in Psychology with an emphasis on School and Educational Psychology. After college, I began working in an early childhood program for children from 18 months to 5 year-olds as a director. I quickly realized that there was a lot to be learned, and travelled to the United States to continue my graduate studies in Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As I was completing my doctorate, I decided to live permanently in the United States. I saw the need to learn more about the educational system in the U.S., and about children that, like myself, immigrated with their families to countries different to their own. I was lucky to work for a couple of years as a bilingual early childhood teacher in a suburb of Chicago with Latino dual language learners. Afterwards, I moved to North Carolina, where I worked for several years as a researcher at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina to study issues related to early childhood education, particularly on the learning and teaching of young dual language learners and families that come from minority backgrounds.

My students at CU Denver:

One of the gifts of working with young children is seeing how they are able to inspire us with their overwhelming curiosity about the world. In my classes, I take advantage of this gift, and look for ways to enhance this same sense of wonder in my students. I am thrilled when students marvel at the human capacity of learning complex ideas and forms of representation from a young age. In class, we also explore children’s environments outside of school. What kinds of experiences do children have in their homes and communities? How can we take advantage of these experiences to enhance their learning? Rather than concentrating on what the child needs to learn, we investigate the accomplishments children make in early years of their life and the importance of using this as a basis for planning instruction. We explore this further by finding similarities and differences between our experiences and those of the children we teach. We regularly discuss in class and in different assignments how personal experiences and our own families’ beliefs have affected our views about the families of the children we teach. We investigate where our own ideas about teaching and learning originated. What messages about raising children we have heard from our families? Are there paths for development and learning different from the ones we have experienced? What is the role of the school in privileging some paths of development and not others? How do our personal experiences and beliefs contribute to perpetuate or disrupt these inequalities?

My hope is that my students will feel passionate about their work with young children, are curious about their learning and development, and see themselves as leaders, innovators in the field and advocates for the rights of children and their families.

Classes I teach:

  • Development and Education of Infants and Toddlers ECED 4070/ECED 5110
  • Language and Literacy in Young Children ECED 5080
  • Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Methods and Techniques ECED 4102

My research interests:

  • Teaching and learning of young dual language learners
  • Minority parents beliefs and practices
  • Home-school partnerships
  • Early childhood teachers learning and development

My hobbies:

I used to be a ballet dancer, and I continue to enjoy dancing and doing Zumba. I love gardening and taking hikes in beautiful places with my family. I am inspired by the beauty of nature and the work of artists.

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