Updates on T.E.A.C.H. and REWARD

TEACH_Wisconsin_Blue copyWe have good news:  For over a year now, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Wisconsin Scholarship Program has been operating with a Waiting List.  Demand continues to exceed available funding, but by making some program changes we’re gradually diminishing this list.  We’ve gone from over 500 applicants waiting, to less than 150.  Most applicants will now wait no longer than a semester and we are already beginning to award for summer classes.  Help us spread the word: T.E.A.C.H. is still the best deal in town for making your education affordable!

REWARD Logo draftsMore good news: The REWARD Stipend Program – designed to encourage retention by providing financial incentives to those who achieve educational advances and stay in the field — eliminated it’s Waiting List.  As Race to the Top funding came to a close in December 2017, DCF provided REWARD a one-time-only award of additional funding.  Nearly $1 million went out of our office and into the pockets of early childhood educators to close out 2017!   It was this award that freed up some of our T.E.A.C.H./REWARD state budget funding to reduce the waiting list for scholarships.  So if you’re eligible, don’t miss out; it’s a great time to apply!

More information about applying for T.E.A.C.H. and REWARD can be found on the WECA website: www.wisconsinearlychildhood.org/programs/

Talking to Parents about the Value of Playing with Loose Parts

Wisconsin Early Childhood Association had some excellent workshop sessions and engagement in our Play Space at our Fall 2017 conference on the topic of “loose parts”.  To extend your learning, we’d like to introduce you to blogger Lakisha Reid and her site, Play Empowers.  She has some valuable insights to offer early childhood professionals and parents!  What follows is her blog post on loose parts play.

Let Loose!
By: Lakisha Reid

Bits and Pieces of Loose and Lost parts are all the rage right now at Discovery Early Learning Center.  Treasure hunting is what the children are calling it and it’s filled with imagination, detailed storylines, and loose parts as props to extend the narrative.

Let Loose: Loose PartsI have only noticed this way of play since I let go of providing invitations and displays of loose parts in themed baskets, trays or whatever way I was presenting the materials.

Loose parts are just that, LOOSE and they are found in all shapes, sizes holding a wealth of possibilities in every corner nook and cranny of our indoor and outdoor classroom.

Finding, collecting and gathering these materials is chalk full of whole child learning. When children hunt for materials they are mobile, actively engaged and working towards a goal, they assess materials for their value in their play. A game of shipwreck calls for loose parts that hold a certain set of characteristics while a game of house has a different loose parts agenda.

They use their large and small muscles to transport and collect materials building on to their script as they go. This sparks language and takes children into a sort of heightened state of imaginative play where they are embedded into the script in such a way that it feels so real.

Let Loose: Loose PartsThey sort, classify, and count materials, they think critically about the alternate uses for open-ended materials and extend their ability to play symbolically, holding fast to their ideas and points of view.

This process of collecting or “treasure hunting” seems to be vital to the building of their play. It’s like they build up to a climax where their reach that zone, the zone where they all buy into the storyline, they are fully in character and what seemed hard or challenging is now the possible, what seemed above their physical and developmental potential becomes second nature.

It takes time, it takes space, and it takes adults who do not feel the urge to over organize.

We can provide a pretty array of loose parts for children to play with and explore, or we can design spaces using the loose parts concept in all areas of the space allowing children to explore parts that are truly LOOSE.

So what does this mean? 

  • Allow children to mix and move materials from one area to another
  • Allow materials to travel from inside to outside
  • Provide creative tools for transporting (bags, boxes, buckets, baskets)
  • Don’t feel the need to arrange or display loose parts perfectly.
  • Let loose parts at play stay at play (no sorting at the end of each night)
  • Provide loose parts with a variety of properties ( size, shape, weight, purpose etc)
  • Replace closed-ended toys with open-ended loose parts.

The benefits outweigh the mess! 

  • Language development  While at play with loose parts children have to share their ideas, the uses and purpose of each part and how it works in their play scenario. They have to build the play script part by part as new materials are collected and introduced to the play.
  • Mathematical concepts As children gather a variety of loose parts they are having real life experience with “stuff”. This naturally supports sorting, counting, classifying by characteristics such as size, color, shape or purpose. Children embed mathematical ideas and data gathered from the hands-on experience with these materials.
  • Scientific concepts Large loose parts require creative ways of transporting. This often beckons scientific thinking, simple machine creation, and testing of ideas and theories. concepts such as gravity, balance, weight vs strength, textures and more!
  • Physical development Loose parts play is PHYSICAL running, digging, lugging, balancing, and sorting.   Children are active and a-buz as they collect and play with large and small loose parts.
  • Connection Loose parts seem to generate a hive mind type of play, a play where children are all collecting, piling, scripting and engaging in the same developing play scenario. This type of play develops a sense of connection and almost an unspoken agreement to keep the play alive. Large parts require many children to work together, share ideas and set plans as a group. After reaching their goal they rejoice as a group allowing their collective success to pull them closer as play partners.
  • Meeting natural urges in play Children’s natural urge to collect, connect, position, contain and transport are met through loose parts play.
  • Social concepts When children play with loose parts they are met with the task of sharing their ideas, contributing to the narrative and accepting the points of view and contributions of others. They have to compromise and negotiate.
  • Imaginative play Loose parts provide endless possibilities. Children play symbolically as blocks become telephones and boxes serve as spaceships. Loose parts come alive when met with the imagination of a child.

LOOSE PARTS IDEAS LIST: 

Shells are a perfect loose part for children.Here I have compiled a short list of loose parts to get you started! The possibilities are endless!

Natural Loose Parts 

Rocks
Bricks
Logs
Leaves
Sticks
Large branches
Dirt/sand/water
Shells
Pine cones
Bones
Corn
Corn cobs
Tree cookies
Small and large logs
Bamboo cutoffs
Seagrass
Mulch
Hay bales
Nuts
Seed pods
Sea glass

Sorting balls.Other Loose Parts 

Blocks
Wooden bits
Marbles
Tires
Large pieces of lumber
Buttons
Tubes
PVC pipes
Bottles, cups, jars, buckets
Boxes
Shoes
Rope
Balls
Bowls
Hose cut offs
Dominos
Board game parts
Bike parts
Keys

So let loose with LOOSE PARTS PLAY and watch as your children develop as players and people. 

Lakisha Reid is the owner and educator at Discovery Early Learning Center, co-host of Dirty Playologist Podcast, Keeping it Real with Kisha Podcast, and founder of Play Empowers.

Let’s Eat, Family-Style: 4 Benefits Beyond a Healthy Meal

Let’s Eat, Family-Style: 4 Benefits Beyond a Healthy Meal

Agape Family Services Child Care Center

Children enjoy a family-style meal with Betty-Anne at Agape Family Services Childcare Center.

by Jennifer Hilgendorf, WECA Digital Marketing Manager

It’s lunch time at Agape Family Services Childcare Center in Sheboygan and children are getting ready to share a meal. Toddlers buckle themselves into their seats, 3-year olds start setting the table with real silverware, plates and cups, while owner and provider, Betty-Anne White, places their meal on the table. As the children pass the various dishes of food to their neighbors (yes, even those under the age of 2), the room is filled with excited chatter on what is being served. Once everyone has food they’ve chosen, together, they feast.

Serving family-style meals reap many rewards in not only a child’s nutrition, but also in their development. “I serve family style because it’s my desire to have children master foundational social skills before they enter school,” shared Betty-Anne. She is right. There are many valuable benefits in serving family style that go beyond having a nutritious meal.

_MG_0839-13Motor Skills: From balancing serving dishes, passing the pears, pouring the milk and scooping the grilled chicken- each task allows children to practice fine motor skills.

Language Skills: While serving different foods, children learn new words like jicama, quinoa, and kabobs. Don’t forget the wonderful conversations shared at the table while eating. Family-style dining provides a wonderful opportunity to sharpen language skills.

Social Skills: Nothing says practicing patience when a two-year old is waiting for her turn to serve herself peach slices. Practicing good table manners, saying please and thank you, are subtle moments that benefit children’s social skills.

Math Skills: Just how many homemade fish sticks does Dominic have? Let’s count! Eliza is responsible for getting one big spoon and two small spoons for serving. Which spoons did she choose and why? You can discover great math moments right there at the table.

Ready to switch to family-style dining? Follow Betty-Anne’s journey through her Facebook page and check out these simple tips on family-style dining from the USDA.

photo credit: Kith and Kin Photo

Educators for Social and Racial Justice: Creating classrooms where all children thrive

Kinder lernen lesen mit Erzieherinby Nar Doumbya, T.E.A.C.H. Counselor

In early education, it is widely accepted that children learn in the context of a healthy responsive relationship with their caregivers. Rightfully so, those of us who’ve been in early education classrooms can attest to the importance of relationship in learning and psycho-social development during and beyond the early years.

Yet, relationships do not always come naturally, especially when we serve children and families whose racial, cultural or linguistic backgrounds differ from our own. When it comes to engaging in racial and social justice discussions and learning, early educators often agree that it can be challenging even when we have seemingly good relationships with children and their families. Besides the many feelings (e.g., guilt, fear, shame, among others) these topics invoke, I often hear educators say that they do not know where or when to start, what’s developmentally appropriate or individually responsive. This despite decades of research that shows the importance of talking to children about race and identity.1 Our collective confusion and reticence show just how difficult this task can be. Nevertheless, it is something we can learn.

What is Deep Culture?
As a former childcare teacher and administrator, I believe my success with engaging children and families stemmed from the genuinely respectful and responsive relationships I strived to develop. To me, relationships are catalysts for families to more easily let us into their deep culture. That is to say, who they are beyond race. Deep culture relationships take us beyond the more superficial moments of intake, drop-off, pick-up and ritual events such as the annual family night. Through authentic connections, we come to understand families’ goals for their children, their hopes and dreams, their strengths and challenges. In so doing, we expand and enrich our understanding of the children in our care.

Standards exist – but we’re called to go further
In Wisconsin, licensing standards, the quality rating and improvement system, and Head Start performance standards all uphold the crucial role cultural identity and relationship play in learning and development. Consequently, educators routinely receive training in cultural awareness, curiosity, or competence, culturally-responsive child guidance, and parent engagement. Often, such training focuses on culture more superficially by emphasizing externally visible aspects such as attire, artifacts, or holiday customs.

We seldom delve into issues of equity and social justice because we may rightfully feel that we don’t yet have the competence or resources to address them. While there may be social and racial justice policies and procedures in place at the system and center levels, teachers are daily confronted with opportunities for ensuring that every child is provided with an environment that mirrors how much they are valued in the classroom community. An environment that conveys the message “I see you and value what you bring to our classroom community.”

Take time and practice – with support – at the WECA Conference
Developing and strengthening the ability to have conversations about race and social identities and becoming an equitable educator takes time and practice. That’s why we are calling all educators who embrace social and racial justice work to attend this year’s WECA Conference.

Our social and racial justice track will offer space for critical self-reflection, support you in promoting equitable learning environment, and provide you with the tact and know-how to engage in social action

You won’t want to miss Prof. Janean Dilworth-Bart, PhD., from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Janean-Dilworth-Bart

Janean Dilworth-Bart, PhD., University of Wisconsin-Madison

She will challenge us to reflect on our own identities and personal experiences with school and our childhood communities and how that influences our roles in relationship with children and families today. We will examine the impact of class, race, and culture on building authentic relationships and how we apply these concepts to support and care for all children and families. Her session will challenge our assumptions, engage us in important conversations, and provide us with tools and resources to better understand our roles in shaping the future of children in the context of the world today.

While at the conference plan to visit our interactive display designed for gathering ideas, and incorporating the concepts of diversity, culture, and peace into your program. Come expand your knowledge, connect with other professionals, and leave with a renewed passion to provide an equitable learning environment all children!

Reference
1. Winkler, E. N. (2009). Children are not colorblind: How young children learn race (Vol. 3). Pace.

A New Approach to the Rural Child Care Crisis

A New Approach to the Rural Child Care Crisis

by Michele Engh, Chair, Kickapoo Collaboration, and Director of Faith Formation, Westby Coon Prairie Lutheran Church

kaboompics_Child reading a bookWisconsin’s working families are in trouble, because Wisconsin’s child care industry is in trouble.  When parents can’t find or can’t afford child care, that’s a problem for them and their employers.  When we reformed welfare in the 1990’s, child care was recognized as an essential work support and crucial to economic development.  Economists have been clamoring ever since for a greater public investment in early education.  More recently they’ve been joined by neuroscientists who look beyond today’s workforce needs to the children themselves who will be tomorrow’s workforce.  Public policy has a lot of catching up to do; what we generally hear is some variation on “there’s just no money to fix the problem.”  This then has become the narrative we’ve adopted:  Resources are scarce, so just make do.

But here’s what “making do” looks like:  child care providers, especially those with the required qualifications, are leaving their jobs to work at local convenience stores where the pay is better; child care programs are closing, sometimes one room at a time, despite the need for more child care slots; quality of care is sacrificed because family providers are choosing to be unregulated in order to retain their clientele who can’t afford to have the cost of regulations moved into their pocketbooks;  communities who want to retain their young families and offer family-supporting jobs are losing the fight; and those within the child care field are sparring over meager resources rather than coalescing around a coherent political strategy.  This problem is universal, but is most evident today in our rural and small town communities, some of whom are experiencing what’s being called a “child care desert” – no available child care because no back-up plan exists when a local child care programs closes and the nearest alternative is many miles away.

Startup Stock PhotosBut at least one local community is working hard to create a new narrative.  Rather than accepting the story of scarcity, they are looking to the abundance of local talent and expertise, unwavering community pride, and generosity of citizens.  Meet the Kickapoo Collaboration Core Team.  Initiated in February 2014 as a grassroots community partnership, the team began meeting under the umbrella of Wisconsin Partners, a group of statewide associations. Wisconsin Partners believes in breaking down silos by building relationships among citizens to pave the way to work collaboratively on areas of shared concern.  Here’s the good news. Because of its impact on workforce and economic development, child care in the Kickapoo Valley is a shared concern among area schools, churches, local government, non-profit and business leaders alike.

The Kickapoo Valley encompasses communities as large as 4000 and as small as 400.  Yet interests as diverse as those of large employers like Organic Valley and Vernon Memorial Hospital join with those of a local cheese shop retailer, banker, auto shop owner, school teachers, and ministers.  They sit at the same table strategizing on how to best address their community’s need for quality child care.   The strategies they are discussing—like providing incentives for providers to become regulated, developing shared services among child care programs, leveraging community connections and resources, purchasing of child care slots for employees, and more – may not totally solve the problem, but they go a long way towards ensuring safe and healthy environments for the children, more productive employees, and community stability and wellness.

We will still need broader public investment, but perhaps this approach is what creates the political will to get there.  If more communities around Wisconsin embraced this collaborative approach, we would change the narrative about scarcity to a new one that highlights the abundance of creativity to make change happen that benefits us all.

Jane Miller-Cleworth: A Vibrant Life with Children

Jane Miller-Cleworth: A Vibrant Life with Children

JaneMillerCAfter a long and enjoyable 32 years with WECA, Jane Miller-Cleworth will be retiring in September at the bright age of 88.

“I have had the privilege of knowing Jane for the past 15 years,” said Ruth Schmidt, WECA Executive Director.  “Jane has always brought the best balance of consummate professional, committed colleague and absolutely lovely person to her work .  WECA greatly appreciates Jane’s years of service to family child care providers and the children they serve.  We extend our heartfelt thanks to Jane and wish her all the best in retirement.”

Jane’s child care story began in 1973, when she and her partner Betty Cleworth saw the need for a preschool in their home town of Wisconsin Rapids. Jane attended child care classes at Mid-State Technical College and opened a childcare program in their church basement. “The center was mostly a nursery school with extended hours for childcare.” Jane explained.  It was licensed for 25 years and was moved into a home when the church rectory had to be torn down.  That group center, named B & J Learning Center, operated for more than 12 years. They sold their group center in 1991, and it still operates today-serving more than 150 children.

In addition to her group center, she and Betty started the Wood County Child Care Council, a support group for child care workers that is still operating today.

In 1987, Jane started her work at WECA. When asked why she decided to work for WECA, her answer was simple. “As far as I was concerned WECA was it!” she shared.  “I was already in Child Care but in a different capacity.  I enjoy working with people, and I felt my experiences could help others.” As a Food Program area coordinator, Jane served many Wisconsin counties, including Adams, Waushara, Portage and Wood. Her work helped hundreds of family child care providers maintain a healthy and nutritional meal program for kids in their care.

What makes Jane’s history amazing is she accomplished all of this even though at one point she was a single mother of nine children, six of them boys! Now, her children have spread their wings far and wide!  “Three settled in Wisconsin and one in Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, Arizona, and Minnesota respectively, with one as far away as Saipan,” she shared.  “They work in healthcare, fitness, architecture, engineering, construction, teaching and state government.”

We will greatly miss Jane as she embarks on her new adventures in retirement. “I’m not sure what exactly I plan to do but it definitely will involve volunteer work,” she said. Something tells us she has plenty of places to visit as well.

What it Means to Teach Infants and Toddlers

What it Means to Teach Infants and Toddlers

by Carla-Littel-Hildebrand, T.E.A.C.H. Counselor

Have you tried to explain to others outside the early education field what it means to “teach” infants and toddlers? As a fellow teacher, I know we fight against the “babysitter” label and claims that we are not really teaching.

iStock_000019609330XLargeBut the research and our own experiences tell us differently. Teachers of infants and toddlers develop responsive care routines, build a trusting relationship with the child and family, design safe, engaging environments, and create developmentally appropriate experiences that expand learning. Young children require these experiences for healthy brain development.

“The vulnerable baby is dependent on relationships with adults for physical survival, emotional security, a safe base for learning, help with self-regulation, modeling and mentoring social behavior, and information and exchanges about the workings of the world and rules for living.”1

It is truly an awesome, and fast-moving responsibility. Have you ever taken a long weekend or vacation and upon your return, the children in your care have made significant advances in one or more developmental domains? As an Early Head Start Teacher, this is one of my fondest memories. The child that didn’t walk is now trying a few steps.  Another can roll over and yet another child is beginning to use the “baby signs” you have been diligently modeling.

As a reflective caregiver, you observe these milestones and assess the needed environmental changes, create opportunities to scaffold on new learning, and assess the social emotional needs of the children as they embark on skill acquisition.

“If caregivers are mindful of how a child’s whole experience-particularly the emotional tenor-influences the developing brain – they can provide caring relationships that help the child feel secure and open to an engaging world of exploration and learning throughout the early years.”

Teaching infants and toddlers requires a flexibility that is unique, with caregiving taking on the nature of a “dance” – with the teacher encouraging each infant to try out more complex steps so as to master new compositions, beats, and tempos.3

Training with an Infant /Toddler focus

It can be difficult to find training that specifically addresses the needs and concerns of Infant Toddler Teachers. Not at the WECA Conference! WECA has heard your voice and is offering a range of workshops November 10-11, 2017 at Chula Vista.

Pam Bennett and Cheryl Heiman will start us off with an inspirational Early Ed Talk followed by an innovative workshop, “Bebe Café.” We’ll come together for a facilitated conversation, sharing our wisdom, expertise, challenges, concerns, and passions in a collective learning experience.  Don’t miss out on this exceptional opportunity to learn with colleagues and dive deeper into the issues that are most relevant to you as an early childhood teacher.

To find out more and to register go to: http://wisconsinearlychildhood.org/conference/

Citations:
  1. Lally, J., & Mangione, P. (2017, May). Caring Relationships, The Heart of Early Brain Development. NAYEC, 17-23.
  2. Raikes, H. H., & Pope Edwards, C. (2009). Extending the Dance in Infant & Toddler Caregiving. Bear, DE: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.
  3. Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs (C. Copple, Ed.). Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Additional Infant and Toddler Resources: