Maria Hernandez: Making a Magical Classroom, One Plastic Bottle at a Time

Some of our favorite moments at WECA involve meeting amazing providers who go above and beyond in their work. Maria Hernandez, owner of Green Planet’s Daycare in Milwaukee, is a prime example.

While on a shadow evaluation with Food Program area coordinator, Alice Gomez Palacio, Pam Polenz, Food Program Claims Director, knew she was about to see something spectacular.

Maria Hernandez, owner of Green Planet's Daycare

“As soon as I stepped foot onto her front yard, I was immediately struck by her unique creativity,” Pam shared. “She had these large metal structures in her front yard that caught my eye. I knew it was going to be an exciting visit.”

Inside was no exception. Sprouted in one part of the classroom stood a life-sized tree. What made it fascinating was that it was made entirely out of papier-mâché. Scattered along the walls hung colorful flowers made from plastic bottles and metal cans. A hungry caterpillar made from green plastic cups sat on top of bookshelf. A yellow clock hung on a wall transformed into the sun.

“Maria has talent,” Pam added. “It was so inspiring to see her ability to take ordinary objects and transform them into magical teaching tools. Her talent harvests a strong learning environment for the kids in her care; it’s amazing.”

We asked Maria, a WECA Food Program participant since 2013, to reflect on her passion of teaching children and her focus on recycling.

Why did you decide to start caring for children in your home?
My goal has always been to implement something different in my daycare on how to take care of our environment. This is why my program is called “Green Planet’s Day Care.” Each one of us can make a difference in our world by recycling.

My passion has always been to appreciate and value childhood as a unique and valuable stage in the life of a human. As a provider, I have a responsibility to offer children a safe, healthy and stimulating environment. I am committed to creating a work plan covering from daily routines to activities related to the areas and centers of the classroom. They go hand in hand, and together help transform a child entirety.

How did this idea of a focus on recycling originate?
The idea originated through my work in Mexico in a rural community where there was a shortage of resources and materials necessary for working with children. I always had to recycle materials and the children had the opportunity to also recycle materials to give them a new use in the classroom.

Where do you get your recycled materials?
I mostly get the recycled materials from the families in my program. We collect different recycling materials and I also recycle what we consume in my home.

IMG954291What are some favorite activities you do with children using recycled materials?
One of the favorite activities that children like is making “maracas” with bottles of water, and making flowers with egg cartons and rolls of paper. They also like to make “alebrijes,” which are typical of Mexico. By making their own art, children develop their creativity.

*Maracas are a pair of rattles made from gourds.

**Alebrijes are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical/mythicial creatures.

Do children in your care create things that are in your recycled art collection?
Yes! Older children helped put on the tree bark using newspaper and non-toxic paint. They also cut the flowers made of plastic bottles.

If other family child care providers would like to use your idea, how could they start?
First, invite families to learn how to collect diverse types of materials that our programs can consume day by day, like cardboard, plastic, paper, wrappers, cans, lids, etc. Teach both parents and children the importance of practicing the 3 “Rs” (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), and motivate them to learn new ways that “junk” can be re-used.

Why is it important for children to use recycled products?
My goal is to offer families the best quality experience while protecting our environment. I create awareness and teach children, from the early years, to recycle every day. It is important to guide children to be responsible for our planet as this will be their future responsibility.

Any ideas that you would like to share with other providers?
Besides recycling properly, it is important to motivate parents, families and children’s friends to work as a team cleaning our neighborhoods, often picking up the garbage from the streets. We can’t wait to do this only on Earth day; every day we need to create awareness of caring for and protecting our environment.

Also, it is essential to motivate children to plant gardens and teach them the process of planting vegetables, flowers and diverse types of plants that are not harmful to children. This will give them the opportunity to see the plants grow and to take care of them.

Any other messages to share?
It is very important that each provider engage parents to be part of a recycling project. We start from home, since we live in a multicultural country where we consume many types of products day by day. If we do not recycle, it will take many years for it all to decompose and our planet will continue to be harmed.

We would like to thank Maria for sharing her passion for recycling and incorporating it into her family child care center. If you are looking to boost your recycling efforts in your center, we have exciting news! Maria will be presenting at our 2018 WECA Conference in October.  Her workshop will be hands-on experience where you can create magical learning tools for your own center.

Tammy Dannhoff: Family Child Care Trailblazer

At WECA, we work to advance positive change for children by focusing on the professionals who provide child care for well over 70% of Wisconsin’s children. That’s why we’re thrilled to share news of one family child care provider who’s a trailblazer in women-owned businesses in Wisconsin.

Tammy Donnhoff, 2018 Trailblazer Awards for Women in Business

Tammy Dannhoff, owner of Kids Are Us Family Child Care and recipient of the 2018 Governor’s Trailblazer Award for Women in Business.

Recently, Tammy Dannhoff, owner of Kids Are Us Family Child Care in Oshkosh, was one of 17 recipients of the 2018 Governor’s Trailblazer Awards for Women in Business. Tammy received the Pioneer Award that honors owners of majority women-owned Wisconsin businesses that have been in continuous operations for more than 25 years. The award honors women who started and sustained their business when there were limited resources or role models to do so, and who continue to be successful today.

Tammy, WECA member, Food Program participant, and T.E.A.C.H. and REWARD recipient, nominated herself in hopes of bringing much needed recognition to the family child care profession.

“I nominated myself for the award with encouragement from Leah Zastoupil President of WI Family Child Care Association,” Tammy shared.  “First, I never thought I had a chance to get the award, but wanted to apply in hopes of bringing recognition to the family child care profession because it is mostly overlooked, and when there is news it is usually not positive. So, when I received the email in March that I was selected, I was beyond excited and honored.”

“It was a wonderful experience all the way around. It was a very humbling experience to be with all the award recipients and listen to Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Kleefisch talk about how important we all are. We as family child care providers don’t hear that enough.”

Family Child Care Provider, Tammy Donnhoff and Governor Scott Walker

Governor Scott Walker with Tammy Dannhoff during the award ceremony.

“After the Governor announced the awards, back in April, there was a lot of media contact and I feel it brought some much-needed positive publicity to the early childhood field, especially for family child care.  We are professionals and need to be recognized as that.”

“I am excited for her,” Suzette Warmus, WECA Food Program area coordinator said. “Tammy is an excellent child care provider, her home is a shining example of a safe, happy, learning center.  The fact that this award is outside of the child care world speaks volumes of her professionalism.”

“I want to thank WECA for T.E.A.C.H. and REWARD,” Tammy added. “If not for either of those programs, I would not be in business for as long as I have. Thank you for your commitment to providers and Wisconsin’s children.”

WECA recognizes the dedication providers like Tammy bring to our field. The work of educating and caring for our young children is both important and demanding. We’re proud and honored to be a part of Tammy’s family child care journey.

Technology Meets ECE – Don’t miss the 2018 WECA Conference!

The 2018 WECA Statewide Early Childhood Conference kicks off this year with a Parent-Provider event on Thursday evening, October 25th, featuring Lisa Guernsey.  Ms. Guernsey, Deputy Director of the Education Policy Program at New America, will speak from her works as an author of:  Screen Time: How Electronic Media Affects Your Young Child and Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens.

2018 WECA Annual Conference Save the Date

Following are two exciting days of engaging with new ideas and materials through workshops, exhibits, networking, and a keynote presentation by Ms. Guernsey.  Themes that we hope to explore this year include: Technology and ECE, Play-Based Learning, Reflective Practice, Workforce Supports and Well-Being, and Anti-Bias Early Education.

Save the date and keep updated on the WECA website. We hope to see you all there!

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.