In honor of Valentine’s Day, Child Care Services Association (CCSA) is celebrating “Love a Preschool Teacher Week!” Join us in loving a preschool teacher in your life, and take a look at Erica Booker’s story below of how teaching reaches further than just the classroom.
Written by Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at CCSA
Becoming a Gigi
Guess what? I finally became a grandmother! Over the past three years, I have had the honor of becoming a grandmother (or Gigi, as my oldest granddaughter Mila calls me) to three little girls. I used to wonder why my friends never seemed to have time for me anymore after they had grandchildren. I actually found myself feeling sorry for some of them because they were always consumed with babysitting when I wanted to go do fun things on weekends. Now, I understand. “Mila adventures” occur on my weekends now, and I love every minute of them. I find myself doing things such as going to the kiddie splash pad, brushing billy goats, riding carousels, planting flowers, visiting playgrounds, shopping for shoes and other weekend girly things. We have gone through so many things, such as potty training, sleep issues, screen time limits, visits to petting farms and zoos, being gentle with animals, learning to walk dogs, etc.
Not Now, Gigi, I’m Busy Writing My Dissertation!
As a former preschool teacher many years ago, I was fascinated with language development. As I worked with young children, I tended to focus on language skills, and obviously do the same with my grandchildren. My oldest daughter is trying to finish her Ph.D. and is on the last leg of completing her dissertation. She called me the other day and told me Mila’s teacher had just called saying that Mila had been standing over a whiteboard. The teacher asked Mila why she was standing up to write. Mila’s reply was, “I am working on my dissertation.” I have heard Mila say that she was working on her dissertation many times and didn’t even think about it being different because this dissertation is something we talk about frequently in our family.
As a result of being a Gigi, I have a renewed appreciation of what we do at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for parents, young children and early care and education professionals. I am keenly aware of child care deserts for infants and toddlers, the cost of child care and the navigation systems that parents use to unravel the mystery of child care for their young children. I have visited and observed child care programs as a Gigi and talked with teachers about their days and how things work in their programs. I am amazed at how much they are accomplishing. I see new things that Mila learns at her preschool every week and am in total awe of her development, but most of all those language skills.
Mila really doesn’t know what a dissertation is, but she does know that it involves writing. No one actually prompted Mila to say the word but obviously has heard it numerous times at home, and it just comes naturally.
As I watch my younger grandchildren learning language skills, I am reminded of what we need to do even with young infants. We respond to their crying at first because we want to understand what they are trying to tell us. This takes practice, but if you really pay attention, you will understand. When they begin babbling, we imitate their sounds and help them learn new ones.
Recently, I listened to my younger granddaughters as they were learning to make sounds and navigate through the house by crawling or walking around wobbling from side to side. One of them kept repeating the “B” and “M” sounds that she had just learned, and her mother would imitate her attempts. They had great games going back and forth, and truly there was a lot of glee and bonding! Finally, she started saying “momma” by the end of the week, and this week she has learned to follow directions and kiss her momma when prompted.
Young children, as we all know, do repeat what they hear and imitate what they see. Conversations with parents aid in language development and nurtures learning. Talk at home is a powerful tool in the development of language and communication skills. Talking with babies and young children in natural tones and modeling the words that we want them to adopt is extremely important. Instead of teaching Mila the word “dissertation,” we used the word many times while we were around her. It is meaningful to her. Hopefully one day, she will write a real “dissertation” as she explores her own world!
When around young children, it is important to relax and talk to them. Children are listening and understand much more than we sometimes give them credit for. Making them perform their new language skills can sometimes make them clam up, so be careful that you are not asking for performances.
Remember that play and language development go hand-in-hand. A great deal of language is developed through pretend play. Give them lots of opportunities to talk, sing and read books. Reading books with rhyming words and sounds, or singing songs are great ways to develop language skills.
Sometimes language skills emerge over a long period of time and sometimes they emerge overnight. All children are different and develop at their own pace. The conversations we have with children nurture their development and learning. Our talk at home and in preschool settings is a powerful tool in the development of young children.
5 Power Tools to Help Develop Your Skills in Expanding Language
Here are a few ideas for helping young children develop language skills:
- Talk naturally in your authentic voice;
- Tell stories, sing, read books, ask questions;
- Sometimes just be silly with songs, books, and words;
- When they point at a ball, expand on it and make a sentence out of the word they used or object they pointed out; and
- Add colors, prepositions or numbers of objects in everyday language (i.e. “We are going to climb up 7 brown steps now”). Numbers, prepositions, colors and words used will all become a natural part of their vocabulary.
They are soaking it all in and learn so much from you. Your words are truly powerful! Model the language that you want them to use and you can create learning opportunities wherever you go or whatever you are doing with children. Enjoy them. They grow up too fast!
By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager, and Colleen Burns, CCSA Summer 2019 Communications Intern, UNC-Chapel Hill
Yolandra Powell appreciates Child Care Services Association’s (CCSA) Professional Development Program, because “I take back as many resources [and] materials as I can. If there are any books that the training suggests, I try to get those books too and use [them] as a resource within my program.”
As the owner and director of Abundant Love Christian Child Care Center in Durham since 2011, Yolandra especially appreciates CCSA’s professional development for the “business side of child care.”
She’s been in the child care industry since 1994, and has earned her associate and bachelor’s degrees, but her training and education have not ended there. Yolandra continues to improve both herself and the employees of her child care center through CCSA’s Professional Development Program.
What is CCSA’s Professional Development Program?
CCSA “works to increase access to the highest quality professional development for the early education workforce in the Triangle and across North Carolina,” says Linda Chappel, senior vice president of Triangle Area Child Care Resource and Referral Services at CCSA.
The purpose of CCSA’s Professional Development Program is to improve the quality of early care and education in family child care homes, centers and preschools by:
- increasing teacher education and training,
- improving developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood settings and
- increasing accessibility and affordability of professional development required to maintain licensure and certification.
This helps create the very best environment for children to grow, develop and enter school ready to learn. Children’s brains develop more in the first three years of life than any other time, making the education of their teachers vital.
A Teacher’s Education Affects Child Development
Numerous research studies have shown a strong connection between the education level of early childhood teachers and the quality of child care. Because they are such a vital part of the child care system, CCSA provides training for early childhood professionals, supporting their continued professional development.
“Early educators’ professional development is important since they must complete on-going training hours every year,” said Lydia Toney, technical assistant specialist/training and support coordinator at CCSA. North Carolina also requires initial and annual on-going training as part of early educators’ professional development.
In fiscal year 2018, more than 2,500 early childhood providers attended CCSA’s professional development opportunities in the Triangle.
Professional Development Opportunities
CCSA offers a variety of professional development opportunities to early childhood educators at a low cost, including workshops, seminars, online classes and continuing education courses.
“They’re very informative and allow us to be able to enhance our program,” Yolandra said. “We’ve also taken advantage of a lot of the telephone trainings…But it’s really easy, and…beneficial to [my staff]…We’re always looking for new ways and learning new things to better and help our program.”
For further professional development opportunities, Yolandra said, “It’s always good to be able to go to CCSA’s training calendar. I just print it out and allow [my staff] to pick out the training that they want to do within that particular quarter.”
The professional development calendar includes CCSA’s professional development opportunities and opportunities offered by other organizations.
Professional Development Feedback
CCSA offers surveys to participants at the end of each workshop to gather information about what they learned. Yolandra has found these surveys to be a great addition to the workshops offered. “[CCSA] should continue to do those surveys…[because feedback helps] to continue to offer good training for [child care] programs,” she said.
One of the many workshops CCSA offers is the Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) workshop, where licensed facilities are required to attend the workshop and then complete an EPR plan.
“It is a bit detailed and participants [at one particular EPR workshop] were…anxious and nervous because of what they heard about the workshop,” Lydia said. “I had a participant thank me for the examples and scenarios that were shared throughout the workshop. She shared that it helped in making the experience relatable and removed the fear that she had coming into the workshop.”
Teachers are Ready to Help Children Develop and Succeed
Yolandra also understands the importance of ensuring her child care program and staff are ready to help children develop and succeed.
“I do the accreditation training through CCSA, any developmental classes that I feel will help my program, any of the infant-toddler classes,” she said. “I’ve taken the training [at CCSA] for the business side of child care. I take advantage of all the food program [CACFP] training that’s offered there as well.”
Written by Colleen Burns, Summer 2019 Communications Intern from UNC Chapel Hill
Rachel Feuer is a mother of two with her younger son, Sam, in child care in Chapel Hill. As any mother of a four-year-old would, Rachel expects her son to talk about the toys he played with or the new friends he made that day at his child care center. But one of his comments stands out among the rest.
Sam raves about the food served at his child care center. “My son has asked me many times to make Robert’s soup or Robert’s salad dressing or Robert’s chicken or Robert’s greens,” Rachel says. “He has asked me many times why we can’t just have Robert’s food at home, and was disappointed to find out that we can’t just order it. Recently, he has started asking for Robert’s recipes daily, and wondering why Robert doesn’t have a cookbook.”
Robert isn’t a cook at Sam’s child care center, though. Robert Cates has been a manager of the Meal Services program at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for 20 years. He manages the kitchen in Orange County at the University United Methodist Church in downtown Chapel Hill and generates menus for all three of CCSA’s Meal Services kitchens. He also works closely with CCSA’s Meal Services program senior manager, Lisa Menna, who manages all three kitchens, to ensure meals meet the nutritional needs of the children by collaborating with dietitians and nutritionists as well as sourcing meat, produce and other products from local farmers.
What is the CCSA Meal Services?
In operation for almost 30 years, CCSA’s Meal Services program began out of the kitchen at the University United Methodist Church in Orange County. It expanded with the construction of the Jim and Carolyn Hunt Child Care Resource Center in Durham County, and in 2017-18’s fiscal year, the program served 1,300 children daily in 24 centers.
The Meal Services program provides two nutritious meals plus one nutritious snack per day to children enrolled in participating child care centers in Durham, Orange and Wake County. These scratch-made meals meet or exceed all USDA requirements for child care and are compliant with the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). CCSA serves as a food sponsor for CACFP, a federal program that sets standards for nutritious meals for children ages birth-12 years, and subsidizes the cost of food for child care programs, targeting children whose families qualify for free and reduced lunch.
Rachel says, “CCSA makes it possible for smaller child care settings to provide excellent food for kids and teachers. At the small [child care center] my son attends, there is no space or budget to hire someone to cook meals.” This is the case for many child care centers.
By purchasing food in bulk, the Meal Services program allows child care centers to purchase nutritional meals and snacks at cost, without having to maintain expensive kitchens. It also allows directors to focus more of their attention on quality child care instead of on shopping, menu planning and cooking.
“It’s also an educational process,” says Robert. Trying new foods can be an adjustment for some children, “but the child care centers we’ve been serving for a long time…know how to ease kids into it and help them to appreciate the variety and appreciate things that they’ve never seen before,” Robert explained.
In order to be eligible for Meal Services, child care centers must have at least 3 stars or earn at least a 3-star rating within one year of implementing Meal Services, and participating centers are also required to enroll in the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program. Meals also must be served family style at the table as meals are not individually packaged, so that children can eat together in a positive setting.
Why is the CCSA Meal Services Needed?
Many families in North Carolina face the dual challenge of food insecurity and early childhood obesity. Child care centers play a central role in the development of early eating habits. On average, children receive more than 50 percent of their daily caloric intake at child care. Therefore, the importance of these meals cannot be understated. Nutrition and quality must be prioritized.
Rachel is a psychologist who has worked with many clients who have struggled with healthy eating. “Early childhood is the time when children are developing lifelong eating habits. If they become accustomed to eating lots of preparations of healthy vegetables, proteins, legumes and whole grains, they will be at an advantage for their entire life,” says Rachel.
Meal Services focuses on creating meals that are made using local products and in-season fruits and vegetables.
Robert says, “We buy from Farmer Foodshare, which is a local food hub in Durham, and they source from all over North Carolina. They get apples from the mountains and produce from down east. And then we also source…from farmers in Orange, Durham and Chatham counties.”
The program ensures children have balanced menus that include one poultry, one beef, one seafood and two vegetarian lunches per week.
“We have so many items on our [menu] list…There is quite a bit of variety and it always depends on…what’s available seasonally…We follow the meal patterns of the child care center food programs, and we also meet with nutritionists to make sure we are going above and beyond in terms of the nutritional needs for the children,” Robert shared.
Monthly newsletters let families learn more about what their child is eating and learning about in the child care setting. They even include tips and recipes so that parents like Rachel can try to incorporate these healthy foods at home. Rachel says, “CCSA strikes a healthy balance of wholesome food that (according to my kids) tastes excellent.”
Robert shared, “We’re looking to hopefully expand what we’re doing into Chatham County. There are groups working around the state to replicate our model in rural areas around North Carolina. So, it’s a slow process, but people think what we’re doing is worth trying to duplicate in other areas.”