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.

Flowers made from plastic bottlesAny 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.

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/

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
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)

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.