Friday, May 10, 2013

Embracing continuity of care

Maybe the title of this one should be "Embracing continuity of care and getting others on board too."  Because I love it.  I want more of it.  I just need to convince the 'powers that be' that this is a no-brainer decision and we should move forward with my plan.  I've been practicing my case for mixed-age groupings and feel I've spoken with enough colleagues to now be more articulate in the positive outcomes as well as highlighting the challenges and presenting possible solutions.  I'm ready!  Bring it!

  • More family-focused
    • Mixed-age groupings would better allow us to support the child in the context of his/her family. When children gather within social experiences, they are not segregated by age and forbidden to socialize with other age groups.  It is our responsibility to prepare children and help build a strong social-emotional foundation in partnership with the family.
    • Parents and teachers would have up to three years to build a reciprocal relationship before transitioning to our preschool program; the Birth to Three staff would still be nearby and the relationship could continue into the preschool years.
  • Better assessment data
    • I didn't even think of this at first, but think about how much more valid the assessment data would be for the children who stay with one consistent and reliable assessor for the first three years.  The teacher would have years of prior knowledge to refer to when assessing children's progress.
    • Parents and teachers would have a stronger relationship and when completing the Ages and Stages Questionnaires together, they would be better equipped to respond to the questions and reflect on the child's growth over time.  This safe relationship would also allow an easier referral process if there were concerns about the child's development.  
  • Better for the children
    • We would essentially be minimizing transitions to the bare minimum.  Children could be in the same room until age 3 and then transition to preschool.  As they prepare for kindergarten, they transition into their new school and we celebrate.  Awesome, right?
      • The alternative to this would be to have one infant (6 weeks to 15 months) and one toddler/two (15 months to three years) classroom as well as our preschool room.  This would mean a possible 4 transitions (into the center, into the toddler room, into the preschool, and into kindergarten).  Less is more when it comes to transitions for tiny humans.
        • If we use this scenario, I could loop the teachers with the children so they at least have a familiar face. The only concern with that is turnover.  We have had pretty low turnover at this location (KNOCK ON WOOD) but if the teacher leaves, I'm sending children into a new room with a new teacher and no familiar teacher to support the transition.  I know there are ways to make it work if it's the only option, but right now, it's not the most attractive possibility.
  • Better for our staff
    • Teachers get very attached to the children they work with and this would afford them three years with their babies before they transition to the preschool classroom.  I suspect I would see a boost in morale as those relationships with children are often the highlight of teachers' days at the center.  This could further work to reduce teacher turnover as they wouldn't  have to learn a whole new group of children but rather could watch their relationships blossom.
      • Typically, when I ask teachers about the best part of their job, they say something along the lines of "When the babies get excited to see me come into the classroom."
Honestly, when we look at all of the amazing benefits, the challenges seem more manageable but also totally worth it!  Professional development for our teachers?  Of course!  Pile it on!  We want to make sure our teams are ready, knowledgeable, and excited about working with children for the first three years.  Seems like a pretty smart investment.

Now let's see what our friend at licensing says... I'm hoping for good news.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A dance with licensing

The center I work with is licensed by DCFS and we meet and exceed the regulations.  I have a phenomenal relationship with our licensing representative who I work with very closely when brainstorming changes.  That being said, today I sent an email that may or may not have stressed that relationship.

The more time I spend in this field, the more I recognize the presence of those who quote standards and regulations that are within their comfort zones, not necessarily what's considered best practice or developmentally appropriate.  Some things still make people uncomfortable.  As an advocate for tiny humans and their families, I'm an avid reader and researcher.  I've invested many hours reading materials about attachment and primary care-giving   I strongly believe in mixed-age groupings where the teachers have the professional development and knowledge to support children over the span of their first three years of life.

I have three classrooms in my very small, close-knit center and I'd really like to change our program model from only birth to three to include a preschool classroom.  Ideally, our two remaining birth to three classrooms would be birth to three.  I want children to come into the center and stay with their primary caregivers until they transition to preschool and stay with that preschool group until transitioning to kindergarten.  Dreamy, right?  So glad we agree.

I had a conversation with my licensing representative and she shared that I cannot mix infants, toddlers, and two-year-olds in the same classroom because it's not safe.  "Just think about how big some of your two-year-olds are and then imagine them with infants."  I did.  I pictured it.  And it made perfect sense to me that they be together.  Families do not consist of children all the same age, unless you've been blessed with multiples.  We don't keep children from younger siblings or cousins.  Granted, teachers will require a bit more support with helping children to respect those younger children and planning for such a vast age grouping can be tricky.  But that's why we have an Infant Toddler Specialist.

Imagine my surprise while reading the standards for child care (dude, I read everything) and finding the following:

"Children may be combined in any of the following ways:
                    1)      infants, toddlers, and two-year-olds may be combined; and/or
                    2)      Two-year-old children through five-year-old children may be mixed in any combination; and/or
                    3)      Four-year-old through six-year-old children may be mixed; and/or
                    4)      Children of all ages may be mixed during the first hour and last hour of programs that operate
                           10 or more hours per day.” 

I'm not one to fight with those who have the power to shut down my program so I sent a sweet-as-pie email asking for more clarification about this section of the standards and whether this meant that I could indeed group them together as I had hoped.  Response is pending.

So I suppose the main point of my presentation here is that if it's permissible by the standards, I'm doing it.  I'm moving forward and blazing some kind of trail because it's what's best for our children.  I want to eliminate transition as much as possible and create a solid foundation for our children and families.  Sure, it means I'll be spending copious amounts of time offering professional development and technical assistance to teachers, but THAT'S MY JOB anyway.

C'est la vie!