PUBLISHED: Thursday, December 1, 2016

Steffen Saifer

Published: 2016

Image of the author Steffen Saifer and Issy

Steffen Saifer is your guide to solve the variety of modern problems child care providers face today. Expanding on his career across 40+ years, Saifer shares the evolution of his work, the inspiration for his bestselling book, and what his life looks like now, living in beautiful Spain.

Pictured left is Saifer with 3-year-old student Issy as they work together to solve the serious problem of how to get the ice cream out of the tube.

Read more about Saifer's work with children like Issy below, and learn more about his book Practical Solutions to Practically Every Problem, here.


A Brief History of (my) Time (apologies to Stephen Hawking)

In 1975, after a very short acting career, I decided to follow my interest and passion and work with young children. At the same time, by working in a child care setting, I could act on my political and social convictions helping to support working mothers and families. I got my first job in Baltimore as an assistant teacher in a YMCA sponsored center. It was compelling, challenging, and fun, so I decided to commit to the field and pursued a master's degree in ECE.

  Image of the author Steffen Saifer 

In 1979, after working at a campus child care and then a neighborhood center operated by the Salvation Army (a position funded through a federal job stimulation program called the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act or CETA), I moved to Portland, OR with my soon-to-be wife.

There I worked in a community college parent education/co-op preschool program in Vancouver, WA, for several years and later became the director of a Migrant Head Start program in Woodburn, OR. In 1986, I took a position as an education specialist with a regional Head Start training center housed at Portland State University. When I started the position, I was not fully funded and so I used my one free day each week to work on a book idea, which ultimately became Practical Solutions.

  Image of author Steffen Saiferon in Zambia 

During my 13 years at Portland State's Early Childhood Training Center, I earned my doctorate in educational leadership and began doing international work. From June to December 1994, I lived and worked in St. Petersburg, Russia, helping to implement the Step-By-Step preschool program funded by the Open Society Foundations. I continued to do international work sporadically over the years, even as I transitioned to a position as the director of the Child and Family Program at Education Northwest in 2000. In 2003, I revised and updated Practical Solutions to create the second edition of the book. Among my accomplishments there were obtaining an Early Reading First grant to implement Tools of the Mind in Oregon and co-authoring a book on culturally responsive, standards-based teaching published by Corwin Press in 2010. I left Education Northwest in 2011 to focus on international work. Among my clients were the World Bank and UNICEF, in addition to the Open Society Foundations. I helped to develop national early childhood curricula in The Gambia (West Africa) and the Republic of Georgia. I worked on the development and implementation of master's degree programs for early childhood leaders in Bangladesh and Russia. I was involved in a case study research project in Belarus and I provided support to early childhood programs in Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, among other Southern African countries. Pictured above is of some of my time in Zambia.

I am currently semi-retired and based in Spain. I no longer do consulting work that involves travel, but I continue to write. Redleaf Press will be publishing my next book in 2018 about helping young learners (4 to 8 years old) to develop higher order thinking skills. I have several other book ideas that I would like to pursue after that.


The Birth of Stars: My Son and Practical Solutions

In 1980, my son Jonah was born. The books about child development that I wanted to read were very different from those that I was familiar with from my early childhood studies. I wanted very practical, succinct, and reassuring information that would help me understand and deal effectively with specific issues such as sleeping (as in not sleeping), teething, how to encourage crawling (he was a late crawler), feeding ideas, travel tips, calming strategies, etc. Of course this was in the Year 10 BC (Before Connectivity) so wading through lots of useless, inaccurate, and biased information to find a little good info (aka "surfing the web") was not an option. Most parenting books were bad: too preachy, too self-righteous, too theoretical, too humorless, too obvious, and too conservative for me, part of the first generation of "hip" baby-boomer parents (or so we liked to think).

Image of the author Steffen Saifer's son, Jonah

However, I did find one author I liked a lot, Eda J. LeShan. In 1965 she wrote a book called, How to Survive Parenthood, and in 1967 she wrote one called, The Conspiracy Against Childhood, which unfortunately could have been written today. In 1970 she wrote, Natural Parenthood: Raising a Child Without a Script. But her biggest seller didn’t come until 1988, When Your Child Drives You Crazy (great title!), which I believe is still in print.

This is from her obituary in the New York Times (she died in 2002 at age 79):

Her message to harried parents was to ease off on the pressure, and sometimes allow children to just daydream. She thought that the discussion of love was central to sex education, and that spanking could only make the child feel as bad as the angry parent. She said every parent should have a sampler on the wall that says, ''I'm only human.'' Raising a child, she said, is like gardening, because each flower develops differently.

Eda LeShan's approach, style and philosophy were major inspirations for Practical Solutions. As a teacher of young children, I knew that we have similar needs as parents of young children: we are rushed for time, have huge responsibilities, feel underappreciated and unsupported, juggle multiple tasks at the same time, and we put children's needs ahead of our own. Ultimately, we want wise, practical ideas and help… and we want it fast! The light and energy from the Star Cluster known as LeShan fueled the birth of a Star called PSTPEP.

Take a sneak peek and learn more about Practical Solutions to Practically Every Problem

Image of the book Practical Solutions to Practically Every Problem

Black Holes

There was an issue when I was a teacher that, like a black hole, sucked up much of my time, energy, and spirit. It was one of the few negative aspects of what was otherwise delightful work. The issue was my ignorance about how to understand and help children with extreme behaviors. These children were typically not receiving services from behavioral mental health specialists and most had not even been diagnosed. A number of these children were seriously psychologically ill, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I could only see the problem as stemming from my own shortcomings; my inability to manage the children, let alone help them. In my experience there were more such children in the programs that served well-off, mostly white families than in the programs for low-income and minority families. If I only knew then what I know now! I would have taken much stronger action much sooner to get the children and families the kind of intensive help they needed and to get myself the information and support that I needed. I was largely left to my own devices, with no access to the history or background on these children and families. I had no specific training in mental health or special education and no support. Some children had social workers, but they never talked with me. Putting the child in a preschool program was just part of their family treatment plan. A box to check off.

Later in my career, with more education and experience, I actually enjoyed working with children with extreme behaviors because by then I could manage them, and I could help them. Also the circumstances were very different. I had information about the family and the child and had on-going communication with the parents (or guardians) as well as case workers and health specialists.

This was another motivation for writing Practical Solutions. I didn’t want other naïve teachers to have the same experiences that I had, and I wanted hurting children to get the services they needed as soon as possible. So, I really do hope that I addressed this issue directly, clearly, and thoroughly in the book.


Life on Earth

Image of the author Steffen Saifer's sample breakfast in Spain
Image of the author Steffen Saifer's in El Moraig

A typical day for me in Spain, particularly between May and November, involves breakfast on the veranda with fresh squeezed orange juice followed by a late morning bike ride, a swim/snorkel in the sea, and/or a bit of kayaking. Sometimes I'll meet a friend for a cappuccino. Then I answer emails and write for a few hours. Next is lunch (and sometimes a short siesta) and then I write for a few more hours before taking a break and having dinner. Will it be tapas? Paella? Grilled Salmon? Gazpacho as a starter and a glass of Sangria will go well with any of them. Because I'm a night owl, I will sometimes do some more work into the wee hours, but more often I will watch a movie or a soccer match, read, or chat online with family and friends. As you can tell, it's a horrible life but I am willing to selflessly endure it for the greater good!

Professionally I continue to be interested in issues related to the role of imaginary play in education and children's development; brain development; children's mental health; appropriate curriculum and assessment; the interplay of culture, development, education and behavior; and public policy related to young children and families. I still try to be an advocate for the right of every child to have a happy childhood. I hope to keep doing this and to keep writing until I make the leap to infinity and beyond!

Learn more and see a full list of titles by Steffen Saifer.