When Mindy Young first began teaching the Dawson County Early Childhood Professional Learning Series, her intentions were clear.
“I want childcare providers to have it all,” she said. “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.”
As with any field, early childhood is vast and as ever-changing as little humans themselves. Mindy’s intent for her newest group of students has remained unchanging. Yet, the realizations that early childhood professionals come to are often striking.
Many professionals, especially those who work in early childhood education and care, but also teachers of every age tend to shoulder a tremendous amount of responsibility. You walk into a classroom, make decisions, then hope that you did the right things. The truth is, no matter how skilled, every talented professional will occasionally feel alone or overwhelmed. These are the moments when the Early Childhood Professional Learning Series can help.
For Arlie Herrick, the new director of Learning Adventures Child Care Center-Lexington, her initial feelings of fear were followed by an unexpected one: relief.
“I was really nervous,” said Arlie about attending the courses. “When you’re doing a series, it’s almost overwhelming. But when you sit down and do it, it’s very informative, and it helps a ton.”
“At first, it was all very intimidating,” said Arlie. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t do enough with my kids.’”
Little did Arlie know, however, that whereas she’d learn some new strategies, that she can carry her greatest lesson with her for years to come. Arlie learned, through the series, that she knows a lot. And she does a whole lot, too.
“In the beginning, you don’t realize how much you know. But in the end, you say, ‘I DO know that. I DO do this. This isn’t different than what I do,” she said.
“The course opens your eyes to the capabilities you have, and helps you put your thoughts into lessons and activities you’re already implementing!” she said.
Arlie said she especially appreciated the way Mindy broke down the various units into accessible portions. Arlie then said she received another surprise: she’s built and established relationships with a diverse variety of Nebraska childcare providers.
“I got to know everyone,” she said. “It’s the childcare world from all over in Nebraska! In-home, infant and toddler teachers, directors, we ALL bond as a group!”
Arlie has recently assumed her new role as the manager of Learning Adventures Child Care Center-Lexington. Although Arlie is experienced at childcare, she continues to view the field through a continuously versatile and engaged lens.
As Arlie attended the course, she noticed some of her other strategies being emphasized. This time around, however, Arlie said she’s delighted to bring conscious attention to her talents which already came organically. One of the things that Arlie was delighted to see that the course covered, which she already does, is giving the children in her care off-the-cuff math and color lessons.
“It’s just the everyday things you do, like a child brings you three Legos, and you say, ‘You have three! Orange, blue, and green!’ I never gave that a second thought, and those things ALL count. They count as math lessons! I didn’t realize how much I did it,” said Arlie.
Dee Coble, who also teaches at Learning Adventures Child Care Center-Lexington, echoed Arlie’s impression. She, too, attends the course and appreciates that the classes have refreshed her memory and added some new insights.
“Some things are new, or I’ve forgotten them,” she said. “Different childcare centers do different things. A lot I recall, but I’m in a new learning space. The program refreshes my memory in case I forgot, or something has changed.”
After the course attendees reviewed the early childhood math modules, they moved on to Language and Literacy. Again, Arlie was pleasantly surprised.
“I know reading books to children is important, but I didn’t know HOW important,” she said. “Now, I realize how much of an impact I’m making!”
For Dee, books have always been an essential part of her classroom, where she primarily works with 18-month through two-year-olds.
“We use a lot of books,” Dee said. “Two-year-old kids love to look at the pictures and interact, so I have books about the potty, how to treat friends, and social-emotional development,” she said.
As Arlie delved deeper into the social-emotional portion of the course, she said that she learned a few new strategies to add to her early childhood toolkit.
Arlie said that she’s undergone Rooted in Relationships training, which provided her with many strategies to decrease challenging behaviors. That said, she was able to take some new methods back from the course into the classroom.
“I changed my approach with a couple of children who sometimes have some difficulty expressing their feelings,” she said. “My approach has always been a loving one, but it became even more compassionate.”
Arlie said that through the course, she was able to strengthen her already robust and loving approach by providing one-on-one time with certain children who experience challenging emotions.
“I now take more time out with specific kids who are upset,” said Arlie. “I spend a lot more one-on-one time and try to relate to them. For example, one child is upset and misses her mom. I’ll say, ‘My daughter is at the other Learning Adventures Child Care Center in Gothenburg, and I miss her, too.’”
Arlie said her preexisting skills and the course have continued to promote this sense of relatability as she communicates with the children in her class. Moreover, Arlie has also enjoyed a sense of emotional freedom with herself, too.
Dee literally takes a ground-up approach with behavioral challenges. “I get on the floor with them and show them soft touches,” she said. “Then, I have them show me, what are soft touches?”
Dee said that when you’re working with toddlers, that showing your desired behavior is paramount. “You have to show them [the ideal behavior], otherwise they won’t know,” she said.
“In our center, even in the one-year-old-room, we demonstrate [soft touches]. Then we hold their hand. We even do that with the babies.”
For Dee, one intrinsic trait that was reaffirmed by the series included her sense of empathy.
“You have to be at their level, even if you’re just having a regular conversation. You have to literally sit down with them,” she said.
Although Dee primarily cares for the younger children, she ensures that she builds relationships with all the children in the center.
“I interact with ALL kids in the whole childcare center,” she said. “They develop trust and bond with me.”
Arlie said that in relating to the children, she’s become more honest with her own feelings.
“I don’t bandage my emotions,” said Arlie. “They need to get out. The children deserve the right to speak because if they don’t feel listened to, that creates behaviors later on.”
Meanwhile, Arlie continues to vary her strategies and approaches, thanks to the course, her strong foundation, and her renewed sense of confidence.
“Some children you can redirect,” she said. “Some need a little extra time. I’ll sit, play, and talk, or if they’re too little, I’ll cuddle,” she said.
Some of these newfound and existing strategies have been especially helpful during drop-off in the morning.
“Drop-off is hard,” said Arlie. “When the children come in, I try to read their behavior with their parents to see if they’ll be upset. If that’s the case, I’ll say, ‘Look at this new toy! Would you like to play with it? Come show me.’ That way, I redirect them, they think, ‘I’m not alone.’ And they can feel that way.”
As far as other behavioral methods go, Arlie has many more. For one thing, she offers words of wisdom. In rare instances of behaviors such as biting, she has found yet another way to mitigate the behavior.
“As far as biting goes, we do not use the word,” she said. “Because if you say it, it can happen! The children hear the word, and it sticks in their head.”
Arlie said that rather than calling attention to challenging behaviors, she calls out and praises positive ones.
“If a child is running, I’ll say, ‘Oh, thank you, for using your walking feet!’” she said. “I point out the desired behavior.”
Dee agrees that positive reinforcement is extremely effective.
“If one child says, ‘thank you,’ I give encouragement and praise, so they’ll feel confident, even if they say it wrong,” she said.
Dee, too, is no stranger to childcare. With ten years’ worth of experience under her belt, Dee not only has learned from the Series but also her students.
“A lot of what I’ve learned is that each child is different. You have to be quick on your feet or ask someone else for help, and keep close with the family,” she said.
Dee said that among her tested and true methods is to become familiar with not only the families, but their routines at home.
“Typically, I’ll ask, ‘Are they potty-training? Are they getting used to it? Where are we in the process?’ Then, I write a note and leave it in that classroom for the other teacher. We need to see what works at home that WE can do.”
Still, the best is yet to come. In instances where Arlie encounters children’s resistance to directions such as refusing to put on their shoes, she has another method for that. The good news is, according to Mindy and the Series, these kinds of challenges are developmentally normal.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to have a few new and old tricks in your back pocket. For Arlie, this includes leading by example.
“When a student takes her shoes off, I do it, too,” said Arlie. “Then, I say, ‘I don’t know how to put on my shoes! Can you help me?’ The child may say ‘no’ a couple of times, but eventually, they try to put my shoes on, then theirs!”
There are a few attributes to being a strong childcare provider that may be impossible to teach. When asked what she looks for in a true professional, in addition to a willingness to learn, Arlie said that compassion and patience are key.
“You give all day long,” she said. “You have to have an open mind, to be caring, but know when to leave it behind. You have to WANT to teach children. These are tiny minds that are shaped by people; you are a BIG part. You know when childcare is for you.”