Finding Your “Center” in Your Center (or Family Child Care Home)

Finding Your “Center” in Your Center (or Family Child Care Home)

mandala-1875416_960_720by Peggy Haack, T.E.A.C.H. Outreach Coordinator

“I can keep going.” Have you ever used these words as your mantra during an especially long, chaotic, challenging or heartbreaking day with children? Here’s the truth: our jobs can be hard, and yet children and families count on us to be at our best… always! So we need strategies. Wishing our mantra to be true is one such strategy, and there are others. Here are two strategies that relieve stress by helping teachers “find their center”.

Zen Dens
Samantha Anderson and Rosemarie James are teacher-coaches at the Head Start of the Menominee Nation Early Childhood Program. Recently they participated in a training called Trauma Smart to help them help children who are dealing with strong feelings, especially those feelings that arise when children experience trauma. In the training, they were reminded of the importance of self-care as they watched a video by Soul Pancake Entitled “Zen Dens.” Back in their program, they wanted to create a similar area where teachers could re-center and capture the feeling that was embodied on the faces of everyone in the video as they left the Den.

Zen-Garden

Lisa Lyons, head start teacher taking  a zen den break.

Samantha has this to say: “Early childhood teachers often have to handle situations that have variables not controlled by themselves. Crying babies, children with special needs, daily pressures of a classroom… these can raise the stress level of our teachers. Teachers need a way to help release the stress and renew calm in themselves. Calm teachers create calm classrooms enabling a more productive atmosphere.” Together Samantha and Rosemarie created their own “Zen Den.” The teachers have given some very positive feedback about the space and what taking their break now means to them.

Watch the video on Zen Dens and then imagine what such a space might look like in your program, what fits your workspace and style, what sensory inputs would feel just right to help a teacher reclaim her “center” and feeling of well-being. If you want to learn more about Trauma Smart, in this video you will hear teachers talk about the importance of managing their own strong feelings in order to help the children.

Mindfulness Meditation
Emily Hagenmaier is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker whose work has largely focused on parents, helping them manage change and make the adjustments needed to raise children who thrive. Emily has also worked with and on behalf of caregivers. She recognizes that early childhood educators share with parents the very basic goal of supporting children’s social and emotional well-being each and every day. And like parents, we experience how stress can work against our best efforts.

Emily Hagenmaier
Emily Hagenmaier, LCSW, Ginko Tree Counseling, Madison

“Before you can attune to the child’s experience, you need to be attuned to yourself. Then you are able to be a model of compassion and self-regulation for our children. We can’t ask children to do what we can’t do ourselves. That means being in touch with our own feelings and not minimizing them. Have you ever said to a distressed child, “You’re OK” when really you were thinking, “I need you to be OK because I’m not OK with what you’re expressing”?

One strategy that Emily teaches is “mindfulness,” a practice which helps you focus your attention and awareness, and relate to yourself and the children in your care with less judgment and more kindness. She describes this as giving yourself permission to feel what is already there. In this way we take care of ourselves and we suffer less.

Emily offers the following – an audio recording of a mindfulness meditation – as a gift to all caregivers of young children. Allow yourself a few moments to listen, to breathe, and to feel. And then you’ll be better prepared to share your gifts with the children.

A Self-Care Plan
This article from Child Care Information Exchange may provide just what you need to intentionally create your own self-care plan, beginning with this quote by Lauren Quinn, teacher and author: “Take care of yourself.  Your students need you to do this.  Put on your oxygen mask first so your teaching can be a gift of yourself to your students.  They need your mind, body, and soul to be nurtured.  You can’t give to them what you don’t have.”

 

Getting out the door and loving Winter with kids

Getting out the door and loving Winter with kids

winter-1By Emily Sonnemann, family childcare provider 

“Snow pants first!” the children all shout as they excitedly run towards their cubbies and begin to toss six sets of coats, hats, mittens, boots and snow pants into a big heap. As the giant heap of gear begins to sort itself out I can hear them encouraging each other, gently reminding about the best order in which to put on their winter gear – snow pants first, next … boots or your coat, a hat and at last your mittens.  “Can you start my zipper?” the first one yells.  Yep!” I reply as I take boots off the youngest child’s hands and place snow pants out for her to try. There are lots of grunts, furrowed brows, concentrating faces, insistent cries of “Can you help me please?!” and “Never mind! I got it! I did it! Look! I got my zipper all by myself!” This can be a good 20- minute plus exercise in figuring things out, working through frustrations, practicing patience, helping and encouraging others and themselves. It is exhausting and it is invigorating. The process gets a little easier each time and here’s the good news: it always ends with success and the rewards of getting outside.  They are a determined, resilient and eager bunch! “Good job everybody!” I cheer as I scramble to get my own winter gear on before someone gets undressed. “Snow pants first!” they shout back at me. The smiles and joy and laughter and adventures that lay on the other side of the door – those are the reasons why we go outside in the winter!

Getting out the door really is the biggest obstacle to loving winter with kids.  Once you’re out the door on a snowy morning it’s like a giant playground made of chilly white play dough. The possibilities are endless and with six little imaginations, we have hours of entertainment at our fingertips no matter the conditions.  We like to build snow forts and snow people. winter2croppedWe go sledding on the neighborhood hill. We make frozen ice shapes with old bundt pans and ice globes by filling punching balloons. We paint snow with water and food coloring. We shovel the neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways. We keep the bird feeder full, follow animal footprints in the snow, look for evidence of the neighborhood beaver, monitor the changing seasons and the changing conditions of the Yahara River and Lake Monona. We make and eat snow ice cream. We use sticks to write letters and make designs in the snow. We ice skate at the local outdoor ice rink or any patch of ice we can find. We look for any crunchy ice to stomp on and for fluffy snowballs to toss. Every day is different and new! Learning and – most importantly – joy abounds in the great outdoors, even in winter. So, bundle yourself up, get outside with kids and find your own adventure! The possibilities are endless, fun is around every corner – just follow those little boot prints into the magical world of winter play!

Tips for Parents: 

  • winter-4croppedSee the whole process as worthwhile. Getting out in winter time can feel overwhelming. It’s cold, slippery, wet…  It’s often easier to find excuses rather than taking on the battle of dressing little ones. It’s a process worth taking the time to engage in. There are a number of skills that your child builds competence in just with the process of learning to get dressed for the weather.
  • Invest in warm winter gear, especially mittens that stay dry inside.  There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices.  Dress in layers.  Winter gear doesn’t have to be expensive; hand-me-downs abound since gear usually only fits for one season. Look for waterproof things and mittens with extra-long cuffs that can tuck into coat sleeves.  Don’t forget about yourself! Find winter gear for yourself so you don’t get cold before the kids are done playing!
  • Impart a love of nature and the great outdoors.  Speak positively about the possibilities and fun of winter.  Before you know it, even the most hesitant will be deep in the snow and smiling ear to ear.
  • Learn a winter sport together as a family! Try cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating or biking. It can be a lot of fun to learn something new together!
  • Check local parks, state parks and natural areas for winter events such as candle lit hikes and skiing or other winter programing. Offerings are typically family friendly, educational and loads of fun.

Emily is now in her fourth year of owning and running her family child care business.  She lives and plays with her husband and two children on Madison’s near East side.  

 

Little Changes Make a Healthy Difference: How one provider transformed her center and herself

Little Changes Make a Healthy Difference: How one provider transformed her center and herself

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Kim Bjorklund

Good nutrition and strong physical activity habits are essential for us all! For Kim Bjorklund, owner of Safe Haven Child Care Center, these became a life-changing journey.  After examining her program’s monthly menu with a local dietitian, Kim identified areas that needed to change.

It started when she noticed herself and the children in her care could benefit from better nutrition and healthy eating habits. “A parent told me her little guy could eat Alfredo sauce and noodles all day long. Her little guy was not little, at nine months, he was almost wearing a size 3T. I had 50 pounds to lose too.”

Kim, who has been a WECA Food Program provider since 2002, set out to be a good example for the children in her care by talking the talk. The result, more than 40 pounds lost to date.  “With only a few slight changes to my diet and walking every day, I lost weight! I could not have done this without the guidance from Sarah and her Child Physical Activity and Nutrition class.”

fp-cacfp-meal-pattern-changes-10-2017Here are Kim’s top five strategies for healthy kids and a healthy you!

  1. Eliminate fruit juice. Juice is loaded with sugar, and filled with empty calories. Instead, kids enjoy fruit-infused water or milk.
  2. Switch to whole-wheat pasta and brown rice. Both contain more fiber, protein, and other healthy nutrients.
  3. Eliminate sweets after meals and for snacks. If you must, focus on a smaller serving size or serve fruit.
  4. Make outside play is a high-priority. “I make an effort to get outside more often to play games that promote large motor skills.”
  5. Plant a garden at your center. “We had pumpkins, beans, peas, onion, squash, radish, celery, tomatoes and one huge sunflower this year! The fresh produce ready to eat and learning experience for the children is a win-win for everyone.” Studies show that kids who are involved in planting, working in and harvesting a garden tend to eat the food they helped grow!

“My number one piece of advice is to be a good role model,” Kim shared. “Take care of yourself too. We are isolated with children all day, so it is easy for our weight to get out of hand. Little changes make a difference.”

Need more tips that can help transform your childcare programs into a healthy and vibrant one?  Our Healthy Bites Overview webinar provides an overview on developing a strong nutrition policy, the updated CACFP meal pattern requirements and information about YoungStar nutrition requirements. Watch it today!

Teacher turnover in child care stresses young children

Recently our organization released a study on the child care workforce in Wisconsin. Funded by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, the University of Wisconsin-Madison – COWS and the UW-Survey Center – conducted the research.

The findings point to growing financial stress on child care teachers, and suggest adverse effects on the young children in their care.  For example, due to poverty-level wages, more than a third of child care teachers leave their jobs every year, disrupting the quality of care children need in their most formative years.

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90865864If our goal is to ensure high quality care for children, this high rate of turnover is unacceptable.  Research confirms that young children require established relationships with trusting adults in order to thrive.  A disproportionate percentage of child care teaching staff leave within the first two years of employment.  Wages make a difference when it comes to turnover; lower paying child care programs have higher turnover of staff.

Existing solutions
For over 15 years, two federally-funded programs administered by WECA have had a positive impact on the wages, education, retention and turnover of early childhood education teachers: 1) the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program and 2) the REWARD Stipend Program.

T.E.A.C.H. is a comprehensive scholarship program available to those already working in the child care field and pays most of the costs of pursuing higher education credits in Early Childhood Education. Scholarship recipients receive a financial bonus from T.E.A.C.H. and a bonus or raise from their employer upon completion of their contract. They are required to then stay in the field a set length of time, thus raising the educational bar and improving teacher retention.  REWARD aims to keep well-educated individuals in their jobs by providing monetary rewards based on one’s education level and career longevity. Notably, the turnover rate of T.E.A.C.H. and REWARD participants is significantly less than the child care workforce as a whole.

Moving forward
While T.E.A.C.H. and REWARD are vital solutions we know they don’t solve the entire problem. The release of the report and our insights and recommendations form the base of outreach WECA is doing statewide to engage multiple stakeholders in finding an enduring solution.

Stay tuned for more on this topic!

Jeanette A. Paulson
Director of Workforce Initiatives
Wisconsin Early Childhood Association

Highly educated… undercompensated

It has been my privilege to serve Wisconsin Early Childhood Association for the past 14 years. Our organization works to promote the critical importance of the child care profession and strengthen investments in the teachers who provide vital care and education to children from over 72% of Wisconsin’s families each day.

Child care professionals struggle against common misperceptions of their work.  Over time, I have heard variations on the following theme: “Child care providers are really just babysitters, aren’t they? Therefore, their compensation seems right in line, yes?”

Well, no.

In early July Wisconsin Early Childhood Association released a comprehensive study of early childhood teachers in Wisconsin. (Our last study was in 2010). The findings will make for some very different conversations.

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Take for example the education level of child care teachers. More than half – 52% – have an Associate degree or higher. This is more than the Wisconsin workforce in general in which 42% hold an Associate degree or higher.2  The education level of child care teachers has a considerable effect on the quality of teaching and on outcomes for our youngest children. Higher education at even greater levels for the early childhood profession is essential.
College graduateYet, there’s an unexplained pay gap. Wisconsinites with an Associate degree who work in fields other than early care and education can expect to earn $18/hour on average. However, degree-holders in early care and education can expect pay which averages $10/hour.  Annualized, child care teachers earn $17,000 less than other Wisconsinites with an Associates degree. The gap grows wider when comparing those in the field who hold a Bachelor’s degree  – $12/hour – versus those who hold that degree and work in another field – $22.80/hour. Annually, the child care teacher with the Bachelor’s degree earns fully $22,500 LESS.

Often I hear, “Well child care teachers don’t go into the field for money. They do the work because they love children.”  It’s a perception not unique to Wisconsin. A recent article in the New York Times described a conversation between a child care provider in New Mexico and a legislator she visited at the state Capitol to lobby for education funding:

“She remembered meeting with a senator who told her, ‘You don’t get into this for the money; you’re paid in love.’ ‘Really?’ she replied. ‘When my landlord comes, can I just give him a hug?’

  1. COWS, State of Working Wisconsin 2014 http://www.cows.org

Ruth Schmidt is Executive Director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association and a registered lobbyist.

The Five Whys

The Five Whys

Stephanie Harrison

Stephanie Harrison, CEO, Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. Executive Member Wisconsin Partners

In health care, we recognize the vital importance of early childhood education on long-term health and well-being. As we seek to eliminate health disparities and ensure that everyone in Wisconsin achieves their highest health potential, we must pay attention to brain development in our infants and toddlers if we are going to create long-lasting change in the health of the population.

One strategy is to include early childhood education in our quality improvement processes. For example, one of the tools we use is “The Five Whys” – a technique from the Six Sigma framework. When facing a systemic problem, asking “why” five different times assists in getting to the root cause.

Here’s an example of the technique:

1. Why is our county doing so poorly in the County Health Rankings?

Because a high percentage of people are living in poverty.

2. Why are a high percentage of people living in poverty?

Because the high school graduation rate is low and young people can’t access living-wage jobs that fit the education they have.

3. Why is the high school graduation rate low?

Because a significant number of students need remedial education services and struggle with  emotional and social difficulties that make completing school difficult.

4.Why do a significant number of students need remedial education and struggle with  emotional and social difficulties?

Because they did not get a firm foundation in these skills between infancy and age five  –  when their brains are undergoing the most significant development.

5. Why didn’t they get a firm foundation in these skills in their early education?

Because their families couldn’t afford high-quality early education.

The connection of health status to early childhood
The UW Population Health Institute  has shown that much of our health is actually about our behaviors and social and economic factors, like education and employment. As we ask why even more, we can trace things like poor health, smoking, substance abuse, graduation from high school, and employment back to the foundations for language, vocabulary, and socialization that are built in early childhood. In fact, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University notes that disparities start to show up around 18 months of age.  This is particularly evident in vocabulary. In response, many community health centers in Wisconsin participate in the Reach Out and Read program as a way of getting health care providers to urge parents to read regularly to their kids – thereby providing a more language-rich environment for their children.

If we are serious about making our state a healthier place, we need to pay more attention to the education that our children are receiving at home and at childcare centers in their earliest days and years.

By Stephanie Harrison, CEO, Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. Executive Member Wisconsin Partners

Investing in America’s Children

Investing in America’s Children

In April the Economic Policy Institute released a comprehensive report on child care in America – as an economic driver, a foundation for young children’s later success, and a source of financial stress both for parents seeking childcare and the workforce that provides it. The report is rich with infographics and gives a state-by-state view of the costs. Wisconsin’s data prompted a piece by Wisconsin Public Radio. In it WECA Executive Director Ruth Schmidt points out that despite high costs for families, early childhood teachers in Wisconsin earn an average of about $10 an hour. With an annual average income of $20,080, – 36%- of the childcare workforce relies on public assistance to meet the financial needs of their own families.Childcare-is-out-of-reach
If childcare costs are so high, why aren’t childcare teachers paid better? Part of the answer has to do with child-to-staff ratios. For example, by law one Wisconsin infant teacher can only care for a maximum of four children under the age of two. Meeting infants’ social, cognitive and basic needs requires a great deal of individual attention. Facility operating costs, equipment and supplies, the ever-increasing cost of rent and property, and the cost of complying with various governmental regulations contribute to the high cost. Ms. Schmidt says the onus can’t be on parents, businesses or government individually to come up with a solution, but rather “there has to be some sort of a tri-part approach.”