Category Archives: STARS for KIDS NOW

The most important call you’ll ever make

Margaret MeadGuest-blogger and Director of 4C Kentucky Services Julie Witten shares her thoughts on the role of early childhood professionals in advocating for children.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead was on to something when she noted the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Despite this time of often sensationalized election coverage, it is important to remember what the democratic process—and the role of our elected officials—is really all about.

Elected officials are chosen by the people to represent the people and are answerable to those who elected them. You may think that your opinion or your voice doesn’t matter or can’t make a difference once someone is elected. In fact, quite the opposite is true. All elected officials offer a variety of ways (phone, email or in person) for you to contact them, but first you need to know what legislative district you live in. To find your legislator in Kentucky click here and in Ohio click here. This video shows just how easy it is to make a call to your legislator!

The Kentucky and Ohio state legislatures are in session now and representatives are making big decisions. So, this is a perfect time to contact your legislator about issues that are important to you.

What do you say? Is it important to you that families have access to child care assistance funding? Would you like to see additional incentives for providers in STARS for KIDS NOW in Kentucky or Step Up To Quality in Ohio? What supports would help your small business to thrive? If these or any other issues rise to the top of your list, contact your representative.

And, if you would like to see what statewide advocates for children and families are asking for, take a look at the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children or Groundwork Ohio.

Remember, it’s the duty of each elected official to listen to his or her constituents, the people who reside in his or her district. Each time you call or email, your exact words are registered on a green slip and the legislator reviews these each day.

Let your voice be heard. Your opinion matters!

The lasting impact of quality

Several years ago, my youngest daughter was identified as “gifted” according to the standardized tests that children take each school year. Once she received this identification, the teachers wrote an education plan to address her specific needs at the beginning of the year and then provided me with a summary of how her plan worked at the end of the year. This year, in particular, I was so impressed with what the teachers shared with me. The teachers identified my daughter as a leader in her group. They also used words like “complex problem solving skills noted,” “deductive and inductive reasoning skills exhibited,” “empathy and kindness expressed for classmates,” and “excellent work ethic” to describe her. I am such a proud mom. I know these are all skills that are going to last her a life time. But I will be honest, I wonder if these skills were evident because of her “gifted” identification or if her high quality preschool education prepared her with these life skills.

Quality early childhood education sets kids up for success in life!

My daughter was fortunate enough to attend a high quality-rated preschool program during the early years of Step Up To Quality. Her preschool teacher spent many hours preparing the classroom environment, getting to know the children and educating herself on best practices to meet the needs of those in her classroom. Abby was blessed and so was I to have someone so dedicated to the field and best interests of every child she encountered.

When I think back to Abby’s classroom environment, it was arranged so that many types of materials were available and accessible for her to interact with. The classroom belonged to the children and the teacher was there to support what she saw them doing by providing a safe place for them to be. Children in this classroom were able to take risks and share ideas because they were valued. Their learning styles were noticed and planned for. Endless time spent at the water table dumping and pouring allowed Abby to develop those initial problem solving skills. When Abby would get her shirt wet, her teacher never told her what to do to fix the problem but rather encouraged her to think for herself and asked difficult questions to allow Abby to solve her own problems. When Abby wanted everyday to be swim day in the summer, her teacher helped her create a picture calendar of events so that Abby (and the other children) could determine what would come before swim day and after swim day.  She didn’t give them the answers, yet provided them the tools to find the answers on their own. She trusted and believed in their capabilities—giving them the confidence to hold themselves in high regard as scientists and chefs and engineers or anything else they wanted to become.

My Abby has big goals. She hopes to be the first woman President of the United States. She wants to be a veterinarian and an author too. And I believe, because of the skills she learned early on, she can be any or all of those things. Most importantly, so does she.

Thanks Early Childhood Teachers, I am forever grateful for the next generation of dreamers and thinkers that you inspire.

What does “quality” mean for parents?

Greetings from a new mom! My husband and I were recently blessed to welcome our son into the world. It is everything and nothing like what I expected. One of the things I was expecting was to look for a child care program that would be able to meet my family’s needs. I wanted to share with you what types of things parents like us look for when selecting a program for our baby.

What does "quality" mean for parents?

When I sat down to write this blog, I had every intention of showcasing different lenses that parents might be looking through—my lens as an early childhood professional and my husband’s lens as someone with a completely different background. I created my top five list for what I look for in a child care program and kept it a secret as I asked him what his top five were. What happened next really surprised me. The two lists were nearly identical. What this proved to me was that parents are parents are parents, no matter what walk of life they come from and at the end of the day, wanting the best for their children is often going to look the same. So here is our list:

  1. Quality, professional, engaged staff in all classrooms. When my husband said “quality,” I had to ask him what that meant. I didn’t want to assume his version was the same as my own. He said that he wanted the staff to be professional and well-trained. My part was engaged staff. It’s important for them to be actively involved with the children in their care—from being down on the floor with the babies to playing board games with the school-agers. Both of us felt strongly that these qualities should be program-wide and not just in the age group our child was going into. Ideally, our son will be at the program through many classrooms and we want quality care to be a constant for him.
  2. Safe area and safe practices. Safety is important both inside and outside of the program. The facilities and location play large parts in that. But, it doesn’t end there. Safe practices are also huge. This includes emergency evacuation drills, close supervision of the children and positive guidance strategies, among many others.
  3. Meaningful, stimulating activities. We want our son to have a great experience in child care. What he does while he is there is going to mean a lot. Allowing him opportunities to play, explore and interact with his peers will develop skills he’ll need his whole life. This may mean putting the bouncy seat or flash cards away and getting out the blocks or bubbles.
  4. Cost of care. I wish this wasn’t one of our priorities. But, it is, just as it is for countless other parents. I was happy that on both of our lists, it was number 4, because that means that other things were more important to us than how much money we’ll be spending each week. We’re looking for a happy medium between dirt cheap and super expensive. Ultimately, though, we recognize that it’s hard to put a price on the important job of caregivers.
  5. Convenience and availability. This was my husband’s number 5. Naturally, we would want a program that was within a reasonable distance from our home, or is close to our work commute. And we have to understand that even if a program has everything that we want, they may not have the space to take our son. So, this definitely weighs into our decision making process.
  6. Step Up To Quality rating (or STARS for KIDS NOW in Kentucky). This was my number 5. And while I think it’s important, it’s not a deal-breaker. If I find a program that’s impressive, but doesn’t have a high number of stars, it is not going to disqualify them from my consideration. However, if we are deciding between two essentially equal programs, where one has a quality rating and one does not, it will be a big factor.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are so many other things that we, along with other parents, will be looking for in a child care program. Knowing what types of things parents have in mind when choosing a child care can help you reflect on the services and practices of your program. Is there anything you are proud to provide in your program? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. We still haven’t chosen yet, and we’re not alone in our search.

 

One at a Time

I have always suffered from the kind of allergies that warrant allergy shots, and left me dreading a bi-weekly trip to the allergy doctor. As I aged, I outgrew the allergies, and also the shots (yay!). Last fall I was retested and found a whole new set of allergies and sensitivities to certain foods. Recently, when I wasn’t feeling well, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for a good once over. She found my blood pressure to be higher than normal and asked how I was doing in managing the new allergies. Not so well. After a good discussion about what I should cut out of my diet, a course of vitamins, and a few other recommendations, I was given my marching orders. No wheat, gluten, peas, blueberries or soda pop. She wanted to see me back in three weeks. See you later pasta and bread!

I took this challenge one day at a time. I planned meals and grocery shopped. I took the recommended vitamins. I bypassed the coke machine in favor of water. I walked and did strength training several times a week. I felt better. I lost ten pounds. I feel good about the results, but even better because I think I can stick with it by taking it one day at a time.

This concept is also the focus for the Sixth Annual 4C Northern Kentucky Leadership Conference which will be held on May 4. Big things can become small things if taken one step at a time. What project or task have you been avoiding because it just seems “too big”?

Choosy Moms Choose Quality

Every few months I get together with a great group of girlfriends who have been through it all together – from first jobs and first dates to babies’ first steps and first days of school. Some of us have known each other since the preschool sandbox. One thing is for certain, we have supported each other over the years with advice and friendship that has withstood the test of time.

We got together this past Saturday night, and I had a chance to catch up with a friend who is a mother of two, a two year-old and a six month-old. She is a working mom and we have talked often about what she was looking for in a child care center. She made a change recently to a new child care center. I should tell you that my friends know about my work work in the field of early childhood education, and ask for my advice often, but I try not to overwhelm them with my philosophy or knowledge of child development and child care. I equip them with the best information available and then support them as they make their own choices.

I was delighted as my friend described what she noticed about the new child care center. She has noticed that there is ample room on the floor for her infant to crawl and use his developing muscles. She noticed that the teachers are on the floor playing and cuddling with the babies, showing the babies that they are important and loved. In her previous center, children were often in bouncy seats and high chairs, which limited their movement and interactions with their teachers. She is also very pleased that there is a primary caregiver for her children, meaning that within the larger group her baby has one teacher who is responsible for him all day. She knows that her children are learning because the teachers explain how her children learn through their everyday play experiences. She feels connected to that learning, because the teachers take the time to communicate the activities of the day. It feels good to my friend that her two year-old runs up to her primary caregiver each day and is welcomed with a hug and a smile. These are some of the big differences she notices between the old center and the new.

I am happy for my friend. I am delighted that she followed her instincts and used some of the information I have shared about what quality child care looks and feels like. The center she chose has earned the highest quality rating in the state, an indicator which has been linked to readiness for kindergarten and beyond.

I believe that all parents want what is best for their children, intending to give them the best start in life. In this case, a parent observed a true difference between the level of care and learning that is available at an un-rated center, and one that has earned the quality rating. Quality rating systems were devised to help parents chose the best child care for their child. I hope that someday all parents will use these easy to follow systems to chose quality rather than basing a choice on cost or location alone.

To show parents how to select a quality-rated child care program, visit 4C’s Web site.