Early Childhood as a Career Path: Is Love All You Need?
What do I do if a parent’s check bounces? How do I handle temper tantrums? How do I keep the children in my care safe and healthy during the pandemic? How do I create a budget? What are my main expenses? How do I self-care? Why won’t toddlers put their shoes on without throwing a fit? How do I know if I am the right person for this field? Who do I talk to when I’m confused, stressed, or wish to learn about other early childhood professional opportunities?
These are all normal questions that new childcare providers may ask. The Dawson County Early Childhood Professional Learning Series has answers.
Another stressor occurs when early-career early childhood professionals aren’t prepared for these issues. Like many professions, early childhood education and care is exciting, energetic, and challenging. Those who pursue this path often follow their love for children and families.
According to Mindy Young, the Series Trainer, when you’re beginning an early childhood care and education program, contrary to the song lyrics, all you need isn’t love, though that is a good place to start. You also need handbooks, policies, marketing, and business acumen.
The Lexington Communities for Kids team kicked off the Dawson County Early Childhood Professional Learning Series with these proactive goals in mind. The community had identified an ongoing need for more quality childcare providers. Together, the team then identified the most crucial opportunities and outcomes for the course’s attendees.
The Series was designed to arm early childhood care and education providers with as much professional knowledge as possible so they would feel equipped to succeed. The class only costs $20 per person, features an orientation, guest speakers who share early childhood and higher education opportunities, and DHHS licensing information. These courses include “Safe with You,” 20 hours of business classes, and four Early Learning Guidelines trainings at six hours apiece.
Aside from preparing providers for the field, the course streamlines the many administrative requirements.
Mindy echoes these ambitions. “I am hoping that this Professional Series can instill a sense of being professionals so that attendees can see themselves as professionals. [This field] is not a job; you chose this career,” said Mindy.
When asked about her greatest hopes for current attendees, Mindy said, “I hope they will become ambassadors and leaders of their field.”
Mindy said that she is well familiar with the initial struggles of opening a childcare program.
“There are so many classes, red tape, and paperwork; it can make people hesitant. Hopefully, [through this course] professionals can share their own experiences and walk [providers] through the process.”
When it comes to childcare, the song may remain the same, but the words are different: love helps, and business acumen is paramount. The course offers participants the opportunity to learn about the financial aspect of childcare – and Mindy reiterates, childcare is indeed, a business.
“Early childhood people go into [this profession] with a love for kiddos. We want to be able to give them a business background – it IS a business and must operate as such. You need handbooks, policies, and documents in place,” she said.
Quality Childcare: It Affects Us for Generations to Come
Mindy’s passion for quality care isn’t only rooted in her years of professional experience, but a personal one as well. As wisdom is passed down through generations, when Mindy’s daughter moved back to town, Mindy and her daughter experienced the struggles of the next generation’s lack of quality childcare.
When Mindy’s daughter moved back, she had her master’s degree in hand. She also had a child in tow, which presented a challenge. Mindy’s daughter was unable to work because she couldn’t find quality childcare. Mindy said that her granddaughter had to show up as a drop-in while she was confined to a two-year waiting list.
Alyson Young, the Lexington Communities for Kids Coordinator, knows this challenge well, too. As Mindy’s daughter, she was that person who lacked access to quality childcare. This challenge fueled her and her mother’s drive to be a part of C4K’s idea to create the series of professional development opportunities for early childhood professionals.
In addition to sharing this knowledge as a mother-daughter-duo, Alyson and her mother have handed down common wisdom: the right early care provider and the right training can make a huge difference. As they embark on this Professional series, they can impart this knowledge to our next generation of early care providers.
Alyson harbors big plans for the course. She said she envisions the series eventually expanding. In addition, she has high expectations for the program’s outcomes.
Alyson said the class focuses on professionalism, which includes attire, structured activities, and early childhood development.
“[Providers] are shaping minds at a young age,” said Alyson. Alyson is among those parents who after her initial struggle, went on to witness the incredible results of quality care. “My daughter knows the days of the week, months, and Pledge of Allegiance. She’d never be where she is without a good provider,” said Alyson.
In addition to her dedication to the business and professional aspects, Alyson said she’d recommend that providers undergo Pyramid Model training through Rooted in Relationships. She said that her daughter’s provider implements some effective techniques which borrow from the Pyramid Model. Among those most successful tactics include a Safe Space: a special room with pillows and toys where children can go when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
“I’ve done trainings through the Department of Education,” said Alyson. “I’d encourage all providers to do that, too.”
Both Alyson and Mindy concur – one of the class’s most important aspects is its introduction to children’s social-emotional development.
Alyson said using sign language for infants and toddlers, which will be covered in the course, is a great example of understanding and managing infants’ and toddlers’ emotions. “When you have a [toddler who throws] a fit, they can’t verbalize what is wrong,” Alyson said that through using basic signing, toddlers can learn to signal what they need.
“These different tools can show [attendees] where the [kids] are because lecturing won’t do any good, but comforting and giving them time will work wonders,” she said.
Mindy added that early childhood development is particularly important because so many conflicts and tantrums stem from an adult’s misunderstanding of which behaviors are developmentally appropriate for a child at each stage.
“Until [providers] get the child’s developmental sequence, they’re overwhelmed, they aren’t sure which activities to plan, they’re frustrated; the kiddos are frustrated. This can lead to tantrums and [providers] may not stay in the field,” she said.
Mindy said the good news is, it’s perfectly normal for toddlers to resist putting on their shoes. The course can help participants prepare for this familiar battle and many others, and create a quality, engaging experience. When asked what she’d want to hand down to the next generation of providers, Mindy’s answer was simple.
“I want childcare providers to have it all,” said Mindy. “I want them to have the confidence to ask questions, use tools, say I AM an expert, I AM available for my communities. This series is the foundation for providers to keep building and applying their tools.”
Alyson agreed. “As with any professional field, you do all you can to expand your knowledge, to learn and broaden what you’re doing. You need that true passion,” she said.
Mindy also looks forward to the courses creating an awareness of the agile, important role providers play in their families’ lives.
“In this field, you wear different hats,” said Mindy. “You’re a child development expert. You potty-train. You encounter tantrums. You WILL be the one who parents come to when life comes crashing down.”
Mentorship, Mentees, and the Importance of Secondhand Wisdom
Alexandra Dillon, the Professional Series’ Training Partnership Coordinator, views hand-me-down knowledge as a precious artifact, particularly when passed from mentor to mentee.
“Education is one aspect of the Series,” said Alexandra. “We are intentional. We want these individuals to connect with other Early Childhood professionals.”
Alexandra said that when meaningful mentorships are established, mentees can address one burning question that is equally important to that of addressing late payments or tackling tantrums: Am I the right person for the job?
The second session of the series addresses this question by hosting a range of Early Childhood professionals who share their sacrifices and rewards. The guest speakers’ backgrounds range from an Early Childhood Instructor at Central Community College, a DHHS Childcare Licensing Specialist, a Childcare Center Owner and Director, Family Child Care Home provider, Public School Preschool Administrator, and TEACH Coordinator, and more.
Alexandra said the right mentor can help an early-career professional explore this question and the possibilities.
“This field is A LOT more than liking kids,” said Alexandra. As with any career, Alexandra maintains that establishing a mentorship early on is crucial to success.
“Young professionals need to understand that if this career path isn’t right, they can still move into a different one,” she said. “Mentors become the safe people you can be vulnerable with about your hopes and dreams. They provide coaching and guidance as to whether you can obtain those dreams. They introduce you to other professionals, or to a variety of other opportunities; you can explore the field in more depth.”
When asked what hand-me-down wisdom she’d want for those who care for her children’s children, Alexandra said, “I’d want all parents to be at peace knowing that their child is in a quality environment with a provider who’s enjoying the work while being safe and intellectually engaging. I’d want them to have peace-of-mind,” she said.
Alexandra sees the course as handing down another form of wisdom to new professionals. If the participant does decide to pursue this career path, Alexandra would want to pass down the following vision:
“I’d want you to say, ‘I’m going to like this – CONFIRMATION.’ I’d want you to say, ‘I can do this,’ – MOTIVATION, and I’d want you to say, ‘There will always be more to learn,’ – CONFIDENCE that you’re never done!”