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:

Do We Need Bachelor’s Degrees in ECE?   			Our Response to a Controversial Question

Do We Need Bachelor’s Degrees in ECE? Our Response to a Controversial Question

Author: Peggy Haack, T.E.A.C.H. Outreach Coordinator


WECA is dedicated to enhancing the educational qualifications of our workforce and improving wages and working conditions in our field.  For decades, the dominant thinking has been that as we raise the level of professionalism (i.e. the skill and knowledge base of the workforce), better wages would follow.  As dictated by new research, the job of early care and education has become more complex and the demand for education more insistent.  We have watched educational levels improve, while there has been only incremental change in compensation. Rather than thinking one can solve the other, we need to consider the two as distinct problems that need to be addressed simultaneously.  Today is the time to once again wrestle with this dilemma.  -Peggy Haack, T.E.A.C.H. Outreach Coordinator

Women graduating from college

In 2015 the Institute of Medicine (IOM)1 and National Research Council (NRC), based on the science of early brain development, recommended that all lead educators working with children from birth through age eight have at minimum a bachelor’s degree with specialized early childhood knowledge and competencies.  Just two years later, New America, an organization “committed to renewing American politics, prosperity and purpose in the Digital Age,” in a report entitled Rethinking Credential Requirements in Early Education, suggests that bachelor’s degrees are in fact not the way to go.

Two opposing views coming from two very different perspectives – neuroscience vs. the current labor market.  What is one to think?  From our reading of these reports, it may depend on whose lens you look through.

If we look at this problem through the lens of a child – the way early childhood educators are prone to do – it is obvious that what is happening in these early years is so important that young children deserve nothing less than our best.  A highly skilled professional with a well-rounded education – like that required of all other educators – is fundamental.

If we look at this problem through the lens of a family struggling to pay for high quality child care, we can only see a failing free market system in which the true cost of child care cannot reasonably be assumed by the purchaser.  Until high quality child care is recognized as the public good that  it is, families will seek low-cost alternatives and low wages will continue to subsidize whatever program they are offered.  This is a difficult environment in which to promote higher education.

If we look at this problem through the lens of professionals who are operating programs, we are confronted with the immediacy of the problem.  A growing teacher shortage is the result of demanding more of teaching staff than they have the skills to give, or investing in the high cost of educating their staff and then not being able to provide the financial incentives that encourages them to stay.

students

In our view there has to be some both/and thinking around this dilemma.  We must continue to support a bachelor’s degree pathway in early education because highly qualified teachers are more likely to provide high quality programs for young children.  A bachelor’s degree does more than focus on specific skills needed in the classroom; it creates a learner who is engaged with the world, ready to bring her curiosity and love of learning to the children.  We must also be open to innovative approaches that support on-the-job skill building, because today’s children can’t wait until we land on a solution, and programs need retention strategies right now to continue operating.

The New America report makes some important points, particularly in regards to the difficulties of building public support for early education in our current climate.  The distinctions they point to between public education and early childhood as it relates to collective power to negotiate better working conditions also resonates with us. However, the author does not seem to fully grasp the fundamental differences in the way young children versus older children learn.  These differences impact K-12 teachers’ perceptions of our work and transitions from early care to elementary education.

WECA’s vision is that all children through age eight are engaged in play-based learning, geared to their developmental needs and supported by strong relationships with teachers who reflect the diversity of the children in their care.  In our vision, there are multiple educational pathways for early childhood teachers to take, each of which could lead to a Bachelor’s degree or beyond if one chooses.  It is our mission to address the barriers they may face along their path.

Currently WECA operates a T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Program.  Over nearly 20 years of operation, we have learned that many scholarship recipients are inspired to pursue education even after achieving their original goals.  Many earning a Bachelor’s degrees did not start with that goal in mind.  Imagine the loss if we had taken that option away and had not encouraged them to reach their full potential.  Some of the barriers to education that the Apprenticeship Program described in the New America report – paid release time, personal supports/mentoring, and incremental wage hikes, for example – are also addressed by the scholarship program.  And just as there is an economic burden that T.E.A.C.H. shares with students and their sponsoring child care programs, the Apprenticeship Program carries the same or similar burdens.  Supporting mentors and engaging teachers in a reflective process are critical aspects of any learning opportunity and they do not come without a cost to programs, as the reader may have been led to believe.

T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® WISCONSIN points proudly to our successes in improving wages, reducing turnover, providing educational opportunities to typically under-represented groups, influencing colleges to be more responsive to our non-traditional workforce, and celebrating the graduation of individuals with both Associate and Bachelor’s degrees.  Of course, there is more work that we must do.  What we must not do is accept that today’s story cannot change and that resources don’t exist to ameliorate the problem.  We believe that there is not so much a scarcity of resources as a scarcity of political will to write a new story for young children, their families, and the early childhood educators who care for them.

Footnotes

1. IOM is now referred to as the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)

The Power of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

The Power of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

By Jeanne Labana, WECA Training Coordinator and Master Trainer

IMG_1716Gina Flynn’s classroom at St Robert’s school is alive with activity!   Groups of children have gathered plastic eggs, play dough, measuring tools and Unifix cubes.  One group is rolling the eggs, discussing the way they roll with respect to their shape.  Another group is creating patterns and counting.   Yet another group is stacking the eggs, trying to get height, unsuccessfully. The stacking group spies the play dough and tape and think they might be good binding agents.  They find they need too much play dough to stack very high.  Switching to tape is more difficult and needs more hands but the eggs are now higher. Soon the other groups have also started stacking, formulating plans for how to structure the stack for the best results.  Amid the thoughtful sharing of ideas, attempts and giggles the groups begin to compare the height and width of their projects with the measuring tools.  Meaningful learning is happening, thanks to STEAM.

The STEAM approach captures a child’s natural curiosity and fosters higher-level thinking through planning, reasoning, hypothesizing, predicting, theorizing, etc. For young children this is a vital stage of development.  Research reveals that young children learn most successfully when they are the center of a learning experience that includes physical, linguistic, social-emotional, and knowledge-rich components. When children are active creators of their learning with adults as their guides or facilitators they become excited and engaged.

In teaching, Gina Flynn prioritizes STEAM. In the egg project alone, children are developing skills with counting, adding, subtracting, 3-D design, and physical manipulation of materials. They are also growing their capacities to problem-solve, imagine, listen, work together with others, and persist when faced with difficulty. They are growing their social-emotional skills.

This year, WECA’s Annual Conference features a learning track on STEAM. Save Friday, November 10 and Saturday November 11 – when Gina Flynn and other experts will be sharing theory and practice on STEAM. There will be hands-on examples of activities for you to use – whether you teach infants, toddlers, preschoolers, or kindergartners.   Come!  Let’s learn together! See you at the conference!

WECA Staff Spotlight: Alice Gomez-Palacio

WECA Staff Spotlight: Alice Gomez-Palacio

Alice Gomez-Palacio, has been working as a WECA Food Program Area Coordinator for almost 15 years.  Alice brings a unique commitment to supporting family child care providers. Apart from her weekly job responsibilities, Alice goes that extra mile to personally meet with Spanish-speaking providers to train them on the Food Program’s online claiming system.

Alice

Alice Gomez-Palacio (L) teaching the Food Program’s online claiming system.

“I felt there was a need for the one-on-one training,” Alice says. “I am a visual learner, and noticed that some providers were embarrassed to ask for help. The majority of the providers I serve are Hispanic, and due to the language barrier, there is a need for visual assistance for the on-line program,” she adds

We applaud Alice for her solid work and dedication to the providers she serves. She eliminates the fear providers feel about learning new technology. “Providers have told me that they’re scared to go on-line because they will make mistakes,” Alice shared. “But as soon as they have done the training, they are amazed how simple it was. They tell me ‘Gosh Alice, I should have done this a long time ago!’”

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Learn more about CACFP.Net and WECA’s Food Program

Alice also provides continuous assistance whenever needed. “I assure them that I will be there to assist them with any questions. Providers are pleased when they know they are saving money by claiming online,” she adds.

All of us at the Food Program are pleased to have Alice leading the way to excellent service.

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.