Tag Archives: preschool

An Open Letter To Esther Evans Central NY’s Own Mary Poppins

18 May

Dear Esther,

It has been several weeks since we met at your home tucked away in the rolling hills between Skaneateles and Marcellus, N.Y. You agreed to talk with me on the dawn of your retirement from 16 years as a licensed family child care provider, so I could “profile” your story for Child Care Solutions. The stories I typically write are attempts at illustrating the importance of the work we do on behalf of the Central New York child care system.  I spin negative circumstances which our agency has helped parents or child care providers overcome into heart-tugging pleas for more money, better legislation, and progressive public policies. But your story is different. Your story is an example of our vision –“every child being cared for in a high quality, safe and nurturing environment that cultivates healthy development, early learning and joy” – being brought to life. There is nothing to spin, no barrier to hurdle, no struggle to detail. Yet I want you to know, you tugged at my heartstrings like no other person I’ve interviewed.

The day we met began with a nostalgic drive down memory lane on the country roads of my youth. Farm houses, sturdy barns and rolling pastures brought me back to simpler days and led me to a humble home that felt comfortably familiar. I stumbled up your gravel driveway; you held the door open for me, your cheery yellow scarf blowing in the wind, and shouted, “Honey, I’m so glad to meet you.”  My heart knew you meant it. I loved you instantly. After formal introductions and offers of coffee and tea, I settled into a well-worn couch and learned about the volumes of knowledge accumulated during 16 years as a family child care provider. What was supposed to be a quick ½-hour interview about retirement evolved into a 2-hour visit that filled me with gratitude for having met such a kind soul. I could have stayed nestled in that couch forever. I’d liken the experience to what I am sure Jane and Michael Banks felt after realizing that Mary Poppins had magical nanny powers – it was mesmerizing!esther

Please know that meeting you felt like kismet to me. You came along during a period when I was questioning the relevance of my work and becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of political/societal will to change a dysfunctional child care system. You single-handedly reignited my spark because in you I saw what I’m working for – child care that is filled with learning, play, security, comfort, and most importantly, love. You embody what every child care provider should be. This vocation was your calling and countless children and parents benefited from your passion. My hope is that by writing this letter, others will reap the rewards of your wisdom; they will know your story is a diamond in the rough … and that we need more diamonds.

In 2000, you worked up the courage to open your own child care business. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” you told me.  You had never been your own boss, having worked in retail and at a Camillus copy center – where people would come in and scream and yell all day. The thought of anyone yelling at you is heartbreaking. Who yells at quite possibly one of the kindest ladies I have ever met? These jobs led to an assistant position at a child care center in Skaneateles, where you found your destiny. And I don’t use that word lightly. It is my belief that some people are simply hardwired to perform certain jobs. Child care is one of the hardest professions around and it takes a special person to do it really well – and to want to. Let’s face it, you weren’t in it for the money. You said yourself you should have charged more, but that wasn’t what it was about for you. For you, it was about the kids and loving them and helping their parents. “Where else can you go to work every day and get a hug and ‘I love you’?”  Oh, how I wish I would have known you when my children were small. The heartache you could have saved me.

As you know, Esther, heartache like mine can be quite common among parents who rely on child care when they are at work. Leaving your child in someone else’s care is a leap of faith. It is the ultimate test of trust. For you, it was “a privilege that parents would trust [me] enough to help raise their children.”  When you uttered those words, I choked up and thought, why can’t everyone feel that way? For truly, it is a privilege and an honor (albeit not always an easy one) to be entrusted with another’s safety, security and education. (We need this privilege to translate to community and political leaders – a letter for another day!) For 16 years you did it with grace, humility, confidence, common sense and a little bit of flair. That flair shines through in what I’m calling “Esther’s Pearls of Wisdom.” These are the nuggets you peppered into our conversation, and I’ve compiled them into a list so you can easily share them with others:

  1. Play outdoors all of the time, but be prepared for anything. Always have extra sweatshirts, socks, and underwear on hand.
  2. Thrifty Shopper and the Rescue Mission are a child care provider’s best friend for things like sweatshirts, coats and snowsuits. A little soap and water and things are like brand new!
  3. Don’t be afraid of making messes. It’s OK if you get paint on the table. It will come off.
  4. Let kids play. Let kids make mistakes.
  5. Kids are so smart. Give them the time and patience they need because slow and steady wins the race.
  6. Encourage, don’t discourage. Praise children for things they do well. Listen and get excited for them.
  7. Say “I’m sorry” as an adult and teach children to say “I’m sorry” sincerely.
  8. Place children on your heart and never take them off.
  9. Adults have good days and bad days. Children are no different – always remember that.
  10. Don’t buy expensive toys. It’s OK to get toys at garage sales.
  11. There are no bad kids – only bad situations.
  12. Greet children at the door with a hug or a handshake.
  13. Document, document, document every bump, bruise, tummy ache, etc.
  14. Jump in the mud!
  15. Do arts and crafts outdoors. Kids will be inspired.
  16. Parents visit a child care program multiple times before you make a decision. You can’t get a true sense of what a place is like in one day.
  17. Know what your limits are and what you’re capable of.
  18. If you can’t give kids 110% it’s time to quit.
  19. Have a schedule and share it with parents. Be flexible with the schedule if you need to.
  20. Enroll in CACFP.
  21. If you are the child care provider and you witness a child’s first step or word or smile, DO NOT TELL THE PARENTS! Let them have this experience.
  22. JUST LOVE THEM!

These pearls of wisdom are just a few of the examples of the kind of child care you provided, Esther. How lucky are the children and parents who benefited from this advice.

mackenna-green-beans

As you embark on your retirement, please rest assured knowing that you served the parents and children of your community well. The impact you’ve had on children’s lives cannot be underestimated. Children like Mackenna Caryl are better people for having been in your care; I’m sure she will always credit you for being the person who got her to eat green beans (a magical feat for many parents) and for being a second “grandmother” to her. Your “kids” who are now teenagers come back to visit you and write cards and letters. That says something!  So from me personally and the entire staff of Child Care Solutions, thank you. Thank you for your dedication, for treating child care as a profession, for doing right by children, for being the type of child care provider everyone should emulate, for being Central New York’s own Mary Poppins. You will be missed.

Sincerely,

Patrice Robinson

Marketing & Development Director

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PS. Don’t be surprised if I stop by for freeze pops one day this summer!

Esther made differences in children’s lives every day. We need more qualified and caring individuals like Esther to support working families. When you support Child Care Solutions, it’s an investment in Central New York’s future. Your donation supports professional development opportunities for child care educators and providers like Esther and our public policy and advocacy efforts on behalf of quality and affordable child care.

Every day Esther invested in children, parents, and our economy. Make your investment in Central NY’s future.

DONATE

 

 

 

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Changing Adult Behavior To Improve Child Outcomes

26 Aug

Pancakes for breakfast.

Pancakes for breakfast.

Imagine this…You are 4 years old and nestled in your cozy pajamas gently waking to the smell of pancakes and eggs cooking on the stove.   You slowly rise as your mother calls you down for your favorite breakfast.  You enter the brightly lit kitchen greeted by a kiss and hug from your mom and a “how did you sleep?” from your dad.  You eat breakfast together then mom heads to work and you and dad have a few minutes to read your favorite picture book together.  Dad then gets dressed for his job and you pick out your favorite shirt and pants to wear to pre-school.   Dad drops you off at your classroom and you beeline for the Legos because they are your favorite thing to play with your best friend.  Dad waves goodbye after he talks to your teacher and says “pick you up at 5.”  You spend the day playing, reading, eating, napping, building Legos, coloring, painting and being silly with your friends.

 

Now imagine this…You are 4 years old and are waking up to a silent house.  You go to the empty kitchen that makes you shiver because the landlord will not fix the broken furnace. Your mom is sleeping because she had to work the late shift.  You open the refrigerator where you pull out a bottle of soda and grab some cereal.  There is not a lot of cereal left because your older brother gave it to you for dinner the night before.  Your brother then yells at you to get dressed because he has to walk you to your neighbor’s house.  Your neighbor is a really nice person who loves children but doesn’t know what to do with you all day.  They want you to behave and not make a lot of noise so they tell you to go watch TV, which you do until your brother picks you up on his way home from school.

 

Now believe this…these two very different “scenarios in the life of a 4 year old” happen every day in our community.  And I’m pretty sure we all can guess which 4 year old is going to have greater opportunities to become a successful, productive, healthy, contributing member of society.  We have been shouting it from the rooftops that the first five years of a child’s life are critical to brain development. We tweet, we Facebook, we write letters to the editor, we speak to anyone who will listen!  Why do we do it?  Because we care about the children of Central New York.  We advocate for them because they can’t advocate for themselves.  Because we know that in order for our community to have less crime, a better educated workforce, healthier citizens, and economic prosperity we have to build a strong foundation.  This foundation starts to form the second a child is born and in truth it is developing in-utero.

But how can we create better foundations when we know that so many of the children in our community are living with toxic stressors that prevent that critical brain development from occurring?   These stressors or “brain development blockers,” include poverty, violence, abuse, neglect, drugs, and mental illness.  These are the things we all know exist but often find difficult to confront.  In the city of Syracuse 67% of children under the age of five live in poverty.  In Onondaga County 20% of families with children under the age of five live below the federal poverty level.  Many of these children are also dealing with the other toxic stressors putting them at huge disadvantages from the beginning of their lives.  The statistics are overwhelming and I have often heard it said that these problems are too big to tackle.  In reality aren’t they too big not to tackle?  This is a battle for our future. 

 

Now I’m not naive.  I don’t think we can wave a “magic paradigm shift wand” and solve these societal problems.  But I am intrigued by the work of the folks at Frontiers of Innovation (FOI) at the Harvard Center for the Developing Child.   FOI is a “community of more than 400 researchers, practitioners, policymakers, philanthropists, and experts in systems change from across North America.  The goal of FOI is to bring about substantially greater positive impacts for vulnerable young children whose needs (or the needs of their caregivers) are not being fully met by existing policies and programs.”

 

FOI is currently exploring 3 methods of improving outcomes that involve protecting children from the impacts of toxic stress.  One method that is of particular interest to Child Care Solutions is skill building of adults who care for vulnerable children.  Like the neighbor in the second scenario above, many caregivers are well intentioned but they often lack the skills, experience and knowledge to improve the outcomes of the children in their care.  This skill building is not accomplished by simply providing information or support; it is accomplished through modeling decision making and appropriate techniques for caring for children. This theory forces agencies like ours to examine the way we train child care providers and parents.  We cannot be “passers of paper,” instead we have to use our knowledge and resources in a “boots on the ground” method of demonstrating and modeling the appropriate methods of interacting with and caring for our community’s children. Fortunately we have been doing this for some time, albeit in a limited way.  But the challenge is to bring this modeling to the scale necessary to create societal change.  It requires funding to support our trainers, support from policy makers and community leaders and the desire to truly start changing outcomes for our children. 

 

Now imagine again that you are the child in the second scenario above.  The caregiver has done “skill building” with Child Care Solutions.  Our trainers visited the home and modeled activities and practices that are easy to implement.  Now instead of your neighbor telling you to go watch TV, she has a set of building blocks in the living room and the TV is off.  She has a healthy snack waiting for you because she knows you might be hungry.  After your snack you go outside for a walk and count the number of objects that are the same colors as the blocks you played with. When you come back you get to color and talk about the things you saw on your walk.  These are simple changes, but they have to be taught and modeled for many adults.  Don’t these small changes make the future seem a little brighter though?

 

For more information on the research of the Frontiers of Innovation

Visit http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/multimedia/videos/

Friday, May 10th is Child Care Provider Appreciation Day

6 May

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The second Sunday in May has long been recognized as the day to honor mothers and their commitment to children. The Friday before Mother’s Day, May 10, 2013, is Provider Appreciation Day, a special day to recognize child care providers, teachers, school-age program staff, child care center directors and staff, and all those who work with children and are responsible for their education and care. It is estimated that nearly 11 million children under age 5 are cared for by 2.8 million child care providers in the United States.

“Every day, child care providers care for more than 7,000 children under the age of 5 in Onondaga and Cayuga counties of New York, says Patrice Robinson, Marketing & Development Director of Child Care Solutions, the local child care resource and referral agency. “The children and parents of Central New York depend on our child care providers. May 10 is the day to recognize the hard work and dedication of these providers and to acknowledge their contributions to quality care.”

Provider Appreciation Day was started in 1996 by a group of volunteers in New Jersey who saw the need to recognize the tireless efforts of providers who care for children of working parents. Momentum and support for this event has grown each year, and recognition presently includes individuals and government organizations throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
“By recognizing the dedication of child care providers on May 10, we remind our communities of the importance of quality child care and let providers everywhere know that we recognize and value their important work,” said Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., Executive Director of Child Care Aware® of America, the host organization of Provider Appreciation Day. “Ninety percent of brain development occurs during the first five years of life. Providing quality care for our children – especially during this critical time – will help ensure their future success.”

In recent years, local governments across the United States have joined many Governors in proclaiming this day of recognition. Around the globe, Department of Defense installations celebrate Provider Appreciation Day by recognizing those who care for the children of military parents living both at home and abroad. Events such as luncheons, parades, dedications, and other recognition celebrations are planned throughout the United States to honor and thank child care providers for their hard work and commitment to children.

“It takes a special person to work in the child care field, and these individuals are often unrecognized,” says Robinson. “This day offers an opportunity for parents to show their child care providers their appreciation.”

To learn more about Provider Appreciation Day or for ideas on how you can thank your child care provider, visit http://www.childcaresolutionscny.org or contact Patrice Robinson, marketing and development director, at patricer@childcaresolutionscny.org or (315) 446-1220, ext. 354.

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