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.


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.”


Early Education Fares Well in the 2011 Federal Budget

The original House version of the Federal 2011 budget would have cut $1 billion, or 15%, of the national Head Start budget, and would have cut the child care budget by $39 million. Fortunately, early care and education got a significant victory in the final compromise package worked out by the House, Senate and President Obama.

In this final budget version, Head Start got an increase of $340 million more than the 2010 budget, enough to maintain the children currently enrolled, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant got a $100 million increase! For Wisconsin, The 2011 budget package will provide an estimated $4.3 million for Head Start, and $1.3 million for child care– more than the 2010 budget level.

In tough financial times, it is crucial to invest in programs that bring back positive social and economic returns to society, saving money in the long-term. Investments in early education programs will do just that (see a recent analysis by Child Trends, an independent, nonpartisan research center) and we are happy that the federal governments has recognized this during the current budget process. We are hopeful that investments in early education programs will continue, despite difficult decisions that will need to be made for future federal budgets.

Today is the Day to Call-in for Kids!

Watch the video above and follow the instructions in our previous blog post to call your legislators! Help us ensure that federal funding for early education does not get cut.

Call-in for kids: November 15, 2010

Congress is back in Washington on Monday, November 15 and has limited time to do some important work: ensure that funding is not cut for child care and Head Start before the end of the year.

Without sufficient funding, as many as to 300,000 children could be dropped from child care and Head Start. Your support could ensure that these children continue to receive care. Also, encourage Congress to create the Early Learning Challenge Fund to encourage states to do even better for young children and families.

Congress is considering appropriations bills that could go backwards in spending for child care and Head Start, and would lose the Early Learning Challenge Fund. Help us tell Congress to move forward and adequately fund the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start, and the Early Learning Challenge Fund.

What can you do?
Call Congress on Monday, November 15!
• Call 1-888-460-0813
• The first person to answer the phone will be an operator who will ask how you want to be connected. Tell the operator the name of your Member of Congress. (Not sure? Look it up here or use
• Once you are connected to the office of your Member of Congress, a staff person will answer the phone. Tell the staff person:
• My name is (name) and I am calling from (city, state). I am a constituent and a (your role: parent, family child care provider, early education advocate, etc.).
• Please make sure that continued funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Head Start is NOT REDUCED in the appropriations bill and that the Early Learning Challenge Fund is included. Funding cuts could drop as many as 300,000 children from child care and Head Start, and the Early Learning Challenge Fund can help states improve the quality of care offered.
• We are counting on you here in Wisconsin. Thank you.

This Mother’s Day, Mom Says “Invest in Young Children!”

Every day, mothers invest their time, attention, and love in young children. This year on Mother’s Day, in recognition of this investment, contact Congress and ask them to make a similar investment to promote the well-being of young children across the nation!

Earlier this year, President Obama released his budget request for fiscal year 2011. In it, he proposed significant funding increases (a $6.12 billion increase over last year!) for programs that impact children including important increases in funding for child care, Head Start, and child nutrition programs. These programs serve our most disadvantaged children, enable parents to get and keep a job, and promote good nutrition early in life. Click here to read more about the President’s request for funding.

In honor of mothers who go the extra mile for children, take a moment to send an email to your Congress representatives today and urge them to fully fund the President’s request for 2011. Ask them to provide:

• a $1.6 billion increase for the Child Care & Development Block Grant,
• a $989 million increase for Head Start and Early Head Start, and
• a $1 billion increase for child nutrition programs.

Click here to email your representatives in Congress today. Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Honoring the life of Senator Kennedy

This week, as we mourn with the nation and say goodbye to Senator Ted Kennedy, we remember his work as an advocate and champion for young children and early educators. Early in his career, Senator Kennedy was instrumental in implementing legislation that provided access to health, education, and nutrition services for low-income women, infants, and children. Through the years, he continued to work on expanding services to disadvantaged families and children with disabilities. He helped establish a child care program for the Department of Defense, was instrumental in creating and expanding the Head Start and Even Start programs, sponsored the Family and Medical Leave Act, and helped to enact the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Senator Kennedy continuously made efforts to inform other policy makers (and citizens) about the importance of high quality early care and education by placing an emphasis on access, workforce development, curriculum, resources, and standards. His commitment to this discussion is demonstrated in his own words: “The next great frontier of our commitment to reform should be early childhood education. The politics are complicated but the goal is simple. Every child should start school ready to learn (remarks made at the National Press Club, January 16, 2002).”

You can read more about Senator Ted Kennedy and his legislative history here.

Early Head Start Expansion Grant Webinar

The federal government has made $619 million available to expand Early Head Start services through competitive grants (see earlier blog entry for more information and a link to the federal application). Applying for these grants is a complex and time consuming process. WECA, with financial assistance from the Department of Children & Families, will be hosting a free, informational webinar to help you navigate the process. Join us next Tuesday, May 26th from 8:30-10 am.

What you will learn:
• Early Head Start background information
• Fundamentals of the federal grant writing process
• How to get further training and technical assistance throughout the process

Don’t miss out … REGISTER HERE. Once you register, you will receive an email with instructions for logging in on webinar day. We hope you will join us to learn more about this exciting opportunity!