Todd Hioki HeadshotTodd Hioki is a progressive, play-based educator for young children, birth through age 5. He designs spaces and materials that enhance relational curricula, exploratory learning, self regulation and executive function skills in early childhood. Mr. Hioki has delivered trainings to ECE teachers and administrators, from rural South Africa to urban schools, and local ECE programs. 

1. What led to you pursuing a career as an early childhood educator?

I was lucky to have parents that allowed me to explore many different paths. They wanted me to find something that I was truly interested in. My first year as an educator, I felt a deep connection to the work. Early childhood education is at the crossroad of so many different fields – psychology, development, social activism, public policy, biology – all that and you get to make play-doh, too! I felt that working with children fulfilled both my intellectual curiosity as well as my playful nature. 

2. How have your personal experiences informed your professional journey?

I have come to understand that the thing people value most in life are relationships. More than anything else, people want to be able to connect with others. What most people don’t realize is that building meaningful relationships is a skill and, furthermore, it’s a skill that starts the minute you are born.

3. In your role as an educator, especially during the pandemic, what have you observed that families are most often challenged with when it comes to interacting with and supporting their kids?

I think isolation is very difficult. The nuclear family unit is very important, but humans are meant to be part of communities. Moms and dads really struggle trying to be everything for their children during this challenging time. Parents, put in this unnatural situation, sometimes tend to blame themselves when their children are unhappy or exhibiting unusual amounts of challenging behaviors. It’s not the parents’ fault! It’s the consequence of being quarantined!

4. In your opinion, how can pretend play and exploration support a child’s understanding of challenging experiences they might face?

Pretend play not only supports challenging experiences, it provides the groundwork for all positive experiences. Play is life. That does not mean that everything we do is without challenge. It means that if we learn to play, and integrate play into our lives, then what we do is filled with personal meaning. We can overcome challenges because we have learned to deal with setbacks and because the goals we have chosen are worthy of pursuit. Furthermore, play teaches us how to form relationships. In play we learn to lead, follow, cooperate, create, destroy, re-build, re-negotiate– in ways that ultimately bring us closer together.

5. How are you hoping to support the Piper + Enza community?

I have a deep interest in the ways that story, play objects (toys), and parent coaching can work together to assist children during difficult times. Children have a remarkable ability to adjust to challenges if they are given ways to express their feelings and make sense of what is happening to them.

Todd Hioki is an Early Childhood Educator and a Piper + Enza expert contributor.