Blog

By Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at Child Care Services Association

Part III: Why is data important?

For Child Care Services Association (CCSA), collecting data about the impact and effects of high quality child care is one of the most important things we can do for early childhood educators, young children and families. To that end, we talk to educators and families daily, collecting an enormous amount of data to analyze the needs of families and early childhood educators. In fact, we are the only organization in North Carolina that collects data on child care supply and demand. This information helps us strengthen and innovate the child care system for families, child care providers, programs and communities.

Yet, I am often asked why we have to collect all of this data. In short, data is absolutely vital to ensuring that all children have access to high quality child care led by educated and motivated teachers.

For example, recent data indicates decreases in the number of classrooms, family child care homes and the total number in the child care workforce. Since child care resource and referral (CCR&R) is the only system that collects data on both supply and demand, we continue to help families locate child care as the supply decreases and the need increases. We also work to help start-up new programs to fill gaps where the supply of child care is limited. Our data can be used to help us advocate for change in public policy. And we need data to accurately tell the story of what families and providers across North Carolina need to strengthen services for families and the early childhood education field.

Federal funds to support CCR&R are a part of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The state’s Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) defines goals each year for the Council to help North Carolina meet federal block grant requirements. Regional CCR&R Lead Agencies receive funding from the Council to provide services in the 14 CCR&R regions based on population, community and child care demographics, workforce numbers and number of classrooms in the region, etc. The Council reports outcomes, outputs and demographics to DCDEE each year. These reports enable us to analyze customer needs and identify gaps in services and trends in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Statewide in FY19, the NC CCR&R system data indicated that the 14 regions trained 24,180 early educators; 3,077 of those training participants received CEUs. In addition to training, CCR&R agencies provided technical assistance to 6,171 classrooms/homes and consumer education and/or consultation to 21,738 households across the state. Ninety-eight percent (98%) of families surveyed said they used quality indicators when choosing child care and 97% of the families surveyed indicated that they chose a 3-5 star rated child care program after using CCR&R services. By collecting data in a consistent manner using defined data sets, data is monitored to ensure reliability.

To access a membership to the website for CCR&R staff, please contact Mary Erwin, NC CCR&R Council Coordinator at Child Care Services Association, here.

For more in-depth knowledge of the CCR&R system, training sessions are available each year throughout the state for new staff. The final one for this fiscal year will be held in Greenville, N.C., at the Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children, April 23 at 9:30 a.m. You can register for the training session here.

To read the first part of this series on what the statewide CCR&R is, click here.

To read the second part of this series on what the NC CCR&R Council is, click here.

By Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at Child Care Services Association

Part II: What is the NC CCR&R Council?

The NC CCR&R Council was designed by the state’s Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) to standardize the delivery of child care resource and referral (CCR&R) services and provide equitable funding across the state. Before the Council was created, North Carolina had a fragmented, under-resourced CCR&R system that delivered services to children from birth to 5 or birth through 12, depending on where they lived. Some CCR&Rs provided non-English services while others did not. Databases and reporting mechanisms were different and data on programs, children and families served was not collected in a consistent manner. This made it impossible to provide accurate statewide data when advocating for changes in public policy or reporting to federal or state governments on the successes and/or gaps in services across North Carolina.

The Council allowed DCDEE to ensure that CCR&R services were equitably funded and available in communities across the state for providers and families of children from birth through age 12 in the two most commonly used languages, no matter where they lived or worked. In addition, they wanted to ensure that the system was data driven and that data was collected consistently. This allows DCDEE to paint an accurate picture of what is happening in North Carolina for policymakers using consistent statistical data. It was also created with a flexible structure to accommodate emerging needs as priorities and funding sources change.

Today, the Council manages and delivers CCR&R core services and special initiatives which include providing technical assistance and training to early care and education professionals, helping families locate child care services, collecting and analyzing data to help shape public policy and provide community awareness, helping young children build strong social-emotional behaviors, helping support babies, helping improve school-age services and others as requested by DCDEE. The Council collaborates with other early childhood entities in North Carolina to strengthen early childhood and also leads many projects that increase the quality and availability of child care, provides research and advocates for child care policies that positively impact the lives of children and families.

The three agencies chosen to partner as the Council—Child Care Services Association, Child Care Resources Inc. and Southwestern Child Development Commission—are referred to as Council Management Agencies (CMAs) and each one is responsible for the management of 4 to 5 regions (inclusive of their own region). Below is a map showing how regions are structured today.

A wealth of information is provided by the Council to support CCR&Rs, children, families, providers and communities. In addition to training and technical assistance, other resources provided to CCR&Rs include:

  • train the trainer classes;
  • an annual conference;
  • email and advocacy alerts;
  • regulatory changes and notices;
  • collaborative meetings;
  • definitions/instructions and data collection forms;
  • regional directories;
  • a monthly news blast with early childhood news and links to regional training calendars;
  • a website;
  • Art and Science of TA and Emergency Preparedness training calendars;
  • manuals;
  • workgroups; and
  • contract management.

Read more about why the data collected is important in the final part of this series here.

To read the first part of this series on what the statewide CCR&R is, click here.

By Allison Miller, CCSA Compensation Initiatives Team

When Davina Woods was asked how she became interested in early childhood, she said, “I entered the profession as an undercover helicopter mom! I had just placed my son in child care and I couldn’t stand not being there and seeing what and how he was doing.”

Her child’s center hired her as a part-time school-age group leader before she eventually found her calling with young children and their teachers. 

She started with no education and now she is in the master’s program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with the assistance of a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship. After 25 years in the field, she loves her position as director of Excel Christian Academy, a five-star child care center in Alamance County, where she has been for 13 years.

“It has been a privilege to work in every single aspect of child care,” Davina said. “In every classroom, with every age group, in every position. I have fulfilled every duty from cook to van driver and it gives me perspective and appreciation. I love this viewpoint. I get the luxury of working with children, families and teachers.” 

Davina’s center prioritizes its teachers by providing a livable wage as well as other key benefits, which she knows most teachers are unable to access in this field. “And then they get WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. on top of that,” she said.

The Child Care WAGE$® (WAGE$) Program provides education-based salary supplements to low-paid teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children between the ages of birth to five. The program is designed to provide preschool children more stable relationships with better-educated teachers by rewarding teacher education and continuity of care.

The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program addresses under-education, poor compensation and high turnover within the early childhood workforce by providing educational scholarships to early care professionals and those who perform specialized functions in the early care system.

“WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. are just part of who we are, part of the center’s make-up,” Davina said. “It is essential, imperative, to have an educated staff, especially here in the 21st century where children are not changing but the modes and methods of educating children are constantly evolving. Teachers must know best practices and know how to utilize the latest research and incorporate that into classrooms for the best outcomes for children.”

According to Davina, “WAGE$ is essential because it helps to boost teacher morale within the program. WAGE$ both encourages and motivates staff to increase their education. Additionally, WAGE$ provides a sense of healthy competition among team members as they see who can achieve the next level first.”

She said, “My teachers talk about the courses they take and they drive each other.” Three of her staff will graduate in December with their associate degree in early childhood education and they remind Davina of why she does what she does. “If I take great care of my team, they will take great care of the children.”

Thank you, Davina, for your support of the workforce and the Child Care WAGE$® Program.

Learn more about the Child Care WAGE$® Program here.

Learn more about the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program here.

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

Working Parents Need Access to Quality Child Care – More Support Needed for Child Care Workforce

Currently, throughout North Carolina, nearly half a million (457,706) children under age six live in a family where all parents in the household are working.[1] Many of these children are in some type of child care setting every week so that their parents can obtain and retain jobs that sustain and grow our state’s economy. 

A study by the Committee for Economic Development (CED) shows that child care as an industry has an economic impact in North Carolina of $3.15 billion annually ($1.47 billion in direct revenue and $1.67 billion in spillover in other industries throughout our counties and cities).[2] Child care programs have an overall job impact throughout the state of 64,852, which includes 47,282 individuals who are employed within child care centers or who operate a home-based business plus another 17,570 in spillover jobs – created through the activity of those operating child care programs.[3] The economic impact of child care matters because it helps drive local economies. When parents can access child care, they are more likely to enter the workforce and stay employed. 

The Child Care Workforce: Early Brain Builders

Source: Committee for Economic Development, 2019

What we know is that child care is not only a work support for parents but also an early learning setting for young children. Research shows that a child’s earliest years are when the brain is developing the fastest – forming a foundation for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. During this time, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second.[4] This is important to understand because both parents and child care providers play an important role in supporting healthy child development – helping to shape the brain’s foundation for all future learning (e.g., school readiness and school success).

Because both genes and experiences impact a child’s brain development,[5] the child care workforce plays a critical role in supporting early learning. In essence, they are brain builders – working with children to support a strong foundation on which later learning depends – just like the foundation for a house, all floors above the basement depend on the construction or sturdiness of the basement.

The Workforce that Supports All Other Workforces

Despite the important role that child care educators play in supporting our next generation (as well as supporting the ability of parents to work), the current economic model for child care programs falls short of supporting child care workers in a way that recognizes their role in child development. How so? The operating budget for child care programs is based on parent fees and state subsidies paid for low-income children.

Because the current cost of child care in North Carolina is so high (e.g., $9,254 annually for center-based infant care),[6] program directors try to keep costs down because they know parents can’t pay more. However, what this translates to is low wages for the child care field. In today’s economy, where the fast-food industry and retail sales pay higher hourly wages and often offer benefits, the competition for the workforce to enter the early childhood field is steep. In fact, the early childhood field is experiencing a workforce crisis.

In North Carolina, the median wage earned for child care teachers is about $10.97 per hour ($22,818 per year if full time) and assistant teachers earn $9.97 per hour.[7] These wages represent a modest 0.7% increase in buying power despite much larger gains in education. The study also found that statewide, 39% of teachers and teacher assistants had needed at least one type of public assistance (e.g., TANF, Medicaid, SNAP/food stamps, etc.) in the past three years.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) is conducting a county-level early childhood workforce study for the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) that will be completed in August 2020. Once completed, North Carolina will have additional information.

Source: Committee for Economic Development, 2019

For context, many child care educators are supporting their own families. With these wages, they fall well short of the level that qualifies them for public food assistance benefits (e.g., a family of three with income under $27,000 per year qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP).[8] It’s not hard to understand that workers in low wage jobs face stresses in making ends meet, in supporting their own families and in parking their stress outside the classroom door when working with young children. 

In North Carolina, the state funds two programs administered by CCSA to support the early childhood workforce:

  • Child Care WAGE$® Program, which provides education-based salary supplements to low paid teachers, directors and family child care educators working with children ages birth to five. The program is designed to increase retention, education and compensation. The Child Care WAGE$® Program is a funding collaboration between local Smart Start partnerships (55 partnerships) and the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE).[9] Salary supplements are earned – tied to the recipient’s level of education, with teachers and family child care providers awarded on a different scale than directors.

These strategies are invaluable to better support the child care workforce for the important work that they do.  It raises salaries sometimes almost a dollar an hour. You can see the impact of these programs on our website. This is an investment in the workforce that supports all other workforces, AND also an investment that results in better outcomes for our children (e.g., brain-building that leads to school readiness). We hope these programs will grow in the years ahead to support our early childhood educators who care for our young children and families.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the work of our early educators. It is time for our communities to think about compensation for the early childhood workforce in a manner that reflects their contribution to our state’s prosperity.


[1] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, Age of Own Children Under 18 Years in Families and Subfamilies by Living Arrangements by Employment Status of Parents, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=b23008&hidePreview=true&table=B23008&tid=ACSDT1Y2018.B23008&lastDisplayedRow=15&g=0400000US37

[2] Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update, Committee for Economic Development, 2019. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[3] Ibid.

[4] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[5] Ibid.

[6] The U.S. and the High Price of Child Care: An Examination of a Broken System, Child Care Aware of America, 2019. https://usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/priceofcare/

[7] Child Care Services Association, Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina, 2015,  https://www.childcareservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2015-Workforce-Report-FNL.pdf        

[8] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, eligibility 2019. https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility

[9] WAGE$ North Carolina, Child Care Services Association.  https://www.childcareservices.org/wages-nc/

[10] AWARD$ North Carolina, Child Care Services Association. https://www.childcareservices.org/awards/

Written by Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at CCSA

Becoming a Gigi

Guess what? I finally became a grandmother! Over the past three years, I have had the honor of becoming a grandmother (or Gigi, as my oldest granddaughter Mila calls me) to three little girls. I used to wonder why my friends never seemed to have time for me anymore after they had grandchildren. I actually found myself feeling sorry for some of them because they were always consumed with babysitting when I wanted to go do fun things on weekends. Now, I understand. “Mila adventures” occur on my weekends now, and I love every minute of them. I find myself doing things such as going to the kiddie splash pad, brushing billy goats, riding carousels, planting flowers, visiting playgrounds, shopping for shoes and other weekend girly things. We have gone through so many things, such as potty training, sleep issues, screen time limits, visits to petting farms and zoos, being gentle with animals, learning to walk dogs, etc.

Not Now, Gigi, I’m Busy Writing My Dissertation!

As a former preschool teacher many years ago, I was fascinated with language development. As I worked with young children, I tended to focus on language skills, and obviously do the same with my grandchildren. My oldest daughter is trying to finish her Ph.D. and is on the last leg of completing her dissertation. She called me the other day and told me Mila’s teacher had just called saying that Mila had been standing over a whiteboard. The teacher asked Mila why she was standing up to write. Mila’s reply was, “I am working on my dissertation.” I have heard Mila say that she was working on her dissertation many times and didn’t even think about it being different because this dissertation is something we talk about frequently in our family.

As a result of being a Gigi, I have a renewed appreciation of what we do at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for parents, young children and early care and education professionals. I am keenly aware of child care deserts for infants and toddlers, the cost of child care and the navigation systems that parents use to unravel the mystery of child care for their young children. I have visited and observed child care programs as a Gigi and talked with teachers about their days and how things work in their programs. I am amazed at how much they are accomplishing. I see new things that Mila learns at her preschool every week and am in total awe of her development, but most of all those language skills.

Talking Power

Mila really doesn’t know what a dissertation is, but she does know that it involves writing. No one actually prompted Mila to say the word but obviously has heard it numerous times at home, and it just comes naturally.

As I watch my younger grandchildren learning language skills, I am reminded of what we need to do even with young infants. We respond to their crying at first because we want to understand what they are trying to tell us. This takes practice, but if you really pay attention, you will understand. When they begin babbling, we imitate their sounds and help them learn new ones.

Recently, I listened to my younger granddaughters as they were learning to make sounds and navigate through the house by crawling or walking around wobbling from side to side. One of them kept repeating the “B” and “M” sounds that she had just learned, and her mother would imitate her attempts. They had great games going back and forth, and truly there was a lot of glee and bonding! Finally, she started saying “momma” by the end of the week, and this week she has learned to follow directions and kiss her momma when prompted. 

Young children, as we all know, do repeat what they hear and imitate what they see. Conversations with parents aid in language development and nurtures learning. Talk at home is a powerful tool in the development of language and communication skills. Talking with babies and young children in natural tones and modeling the words that we want them to adopt is extremely important. Instead of teaching Mila the word “dissertation,” we used the word many times while we were around her. It is meaningful to her. Hopefully one day, she will write a real “dissertation” as she explores her own world! 

When around young children, it is important to relax and talk to them. Children are listening and understand much more than we sometimes give them credit for. Making them perform their new language skills can sometimes make them clam up, so be careful that you are not asking for performances.  

Remember that play and language development go hand-in-hand. A great deal of language is developed through pretend play. Give them lots of opportunities to talk, sing and read books. Reading books with rhyming words and sounds, or singing songs are great ways to develop language skills. 

Sometimes language skills emerge over a long period of time and sometimes they emerge overnight. All children are different and develop at their own pace. The conversations we have with children nurture their development and learning. Our talk at home and in preschool settings is a powerful tool in the development of young children. 

5 Power Tools to Help Develop Your Skills in Expanding Language

Here are a few ideas for helping young children develop language skills:

  1. Talk naturally in your authentic voice;
  2. Tell stories, sing, read books, ask questions;
  3. Sometimes just be silly with songs, books, and words;
  4. When they point at a ball, expand on it and make a sentence out of the word they used or object they pointed out; and
  5. Add colors, prepositions or numbers of objects in everyday language (i.e. “We are going to climb up 7 brown steps now”). Numbers, prepositions, colors and words used will all become a natural part of their vocabulary.

They are soaking it all in and learn so much from you. Your words are truly powerful! Model the language that you want them to use and you can create learning opportunities wherever you go or whatever you are doing with children. Enjoy them. They grow up too fast!

Thank you to Kristen Siarzynski and Kathryn DeLorenzo for the photographs of Kay’s grandchildren.

Written by Allison Miller, VP of Compensation Initiatives at CCSA

Early Educator’s Day

Australia has the right idea. They celebrate Early Educator’s Day on September 4, 2019. We should do the same! We have National Provider’s Day in May, but shouldn’t we celebrate teachers who work with our young children at every opportunity? They deserve our recognition; children need them, parents need them and the nation needs them. They truly are the workforce behind the workforce.

The Workforce Behind the Workforce Deserves Better Compensation

Early educators make it possible for other professionals to go to their jobs, to lend their expertise to the community, to grow the economy. To be productive in the workforce, parents need peace of mind that can only come from knowing their children are in safe, stable, positive and engaging environments with teachers who can appropriately guide their learning.

It’s a lot to expect when early childhood teachers, on average, earn $10.97 per hour in North Carolina. It’s not an easy problem to solve because most parents cannot afford to pay more than they do. That’s where the Child Care WAGE$® Program comes in.

A Compensation Strategy: The Child Care WAGE$® Program

Early educators deserve to be paid commensurate with their education and the importance of their jobs. Sadly, that’s simply not the case. The Child Care WAGE$® Program is an education-based salary supplement program for teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children birth to five. Awards are issued after the eligible participant has completed at least six months with the same child care program.

As a result of this additional compensation, early educators not only earn more, but they are more likely to stay and increase their education. The quality of child care is improved when turnover rates are low, education is high and compensation is fair.

WAGE$ is made possible with the funding provided by the local Smart Start partnerships that elect to participate and the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education.

Does WAGE$ work?

Yes! In the fiscal year 2018-2019, WAGE$ recipients from the 55 participating N.C. counties earned an average six-month supplement of $974, which breaks down to about $.94 more per hour for full-time employment. The vast majority of participants had at least a two-year degree with significant early childhood coursework and they stayed in their programs. Only 14% left their employers last year, which is notably lower than turnover rates prior to WAGE$ availability.

WAGE$ Recognizes Early Educators

In addition to the program results of increased education, retention and compensation, WAGE$ recognizes the importance of early educators and the key role they play in our lives. It is a way to show appreciation and to boost morale for an underpaid workforce.

In fact, 97% of survey respondents said that WAGE$ makes them feel more appreciated and recognized for their work.  The feedback of participants always highlights this message.

One teacher shared, “WAGE$ has shown the value of giving incentives to teachers.  Teachers need to feel appreciated and rewarded.  All teachers deserve a chance to feel special and loved; that is how WAGE$ makes me feel.”

We all need to take the time to show our appreciation to this workforce. They deserve it. Happy Early Educator’s Day!

For more information, view the Child Care WAGE$® Program: NC Statewide Report (FY19).

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Kellie and her family on the day of her graduation.

Kellie Toney is an early childhood educator in Cleveland County. As a recipient of Child Care WAGE$®, she sent the following letter to her North Carolina legislators:

“I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your support of the WAGE$ program funded through Smart Start. Without this supplement, I would not have had the opportunity to complete my Bachelor’s degree while working as an assistant teacher with Cleveland County Schools. The checks I have received through this program have [gone] towards my tuition and textbooks. Without this program, I likely would not have been able to get through school without student loans. Thank you so much for supporting this program, which played such a vital role in the completion of my Birth-Kindergarten Education Bachelor’s degree. This program truly helps those of us shaping the youngest minds through private child care and public education.”

Kellie began her career in early childhood education as an assistant teacher in Head Start. “I love children. I love to be there for all of the ‘firsts’ in learning. When children arrive in NC Pre-K and Head Start, most have never been in [child care] or spent very much time learning. I am there to guide them as they begin to write their name, interact with peers and explore the world around them,” Kellie said.

After some time, Kellie began wanting a role where she could plan what to teach the children, so she decided to go back to school to complete her Birth-Kindergarten Education Bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University.

With high college tuition, textbooks and transportation expenses, Kellie’s husband had to work overtime to help her afford to go back to school. They also took out a home equity line to pay for some of her classes.

Fortunately, through Child Care Connections and a college instructor from Cleveland Community College, Kellie heard about Child Care Services Association’s Child Care WAGE$® compensation program. “WAGE$ helped me to graduate debt-free. With the help of WAGE$ funds and Education Incentive Grants, I did not ever need to take out student loans. I was able to save these funds and used them to pay for textbooks, coursework and required trips to East Carolina University,” Kellie said, “With the WAGE$ funds, we paid back [our] loans and used the remaining funding to pay for new coursework.”

Kellie felt compelled to contact and thank her legislators for their support of Smart Start, which the Cleveland County Partnership for Children, Inc. used to provide WAGE$. “WAGE$ enabled me to continue my education. This in turn benefits my students because I was equipped with the skills and knowledge to better educate my students… I want to ensure funds are available for [all] teachers.”

Learn more about Child Care WAGE$, and check out a similar program for Infant-Toddler teachers, Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$. To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as WAGE$ and AWARD$, please consider donating today.

Written by Edith Locke, CCSA Professional Development Team

The month of May signals the season for commencement exercises at colleges and universities nationwide. As students walk proudly across the stage in cap and gown, triumphantly moving the tassel on their mortarboard to symbolize academic achievement, it is important to recognize degree attainment roadblocks that the early care and education (ECE) field face.

Why are early educators more deserving of special acknowledgment for degree completion than other non-traditional, working students?

First, one should consider the shared traits of this workforce with college non-completers. The ECE workforce, much like the college non-completer, typically has dependent children, low income, works full-time, attends college part-time and is financially independent from parents.

Despite how closely they mirror college non-completers, degree attainment is not impossible. The 2015 Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina Study reported 63 percent of teachers had a college degree. Additionally, 17 percent of teachers were taking courses in the ECE field with 60 percent of them working towards an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, degree attainment rarely means significant compensation gains. The median wage for ECE teachers was $10.46 compared to $17.61 starting wage of public school teachers in North Carolina.  Additionally, over 70 percent of the workforce’s household income was below the $46,784 North Carolina median household income. Moreover, 39 percent of teachers received some public assistance in the previous three years.

It is commendable the ECE workforce makes educational advancements despite challenges.

Workforce supports, such as the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship and Child Care WAGE$® salary supplement programs that help early educators access formal education and reward their retention, are crucial. Research shows degrees are linked to quality care, and maternal education has been linked to better child outcomes. Therefore, support for degree attainment in the ECE field should remain a priority.

Written by Christy Thalheimer, M.Ed., CCSA Child Care Referral Manager

It seems fitting that Child Care Provider Appreciation Day is recognized nationally on the same weekend as we celebrate Mother’s Day. We often think of one of the many early educator roles as that of a caretaker; one who offers safety, security, knowledge and compassion to children. When Parenting magazine polled mothers in a recent article about what gifts they wanted for Mother’s Day, the top 10 had nothing to do with something purchased. Instead, the top 10 had one thing in common: taking care of themselves albeit through a clean house, “off mom” routine for a day or a spa day.

A Gift for You

What if I told you I wanted to give you a gift this Provider Appreciation Day of better overall well-being and enhanced connections with your students? What if I told you this was possible without having to spend one dollar or attend another training? 

Welcome to Mindfulness! A simple practice of being present in the moment, with acceptance and openness. Mindfulness strategies can help reduce your stress, lower your anxiety and help you have a more positive and productive emotional state as a teacher.

By now, I am sure most readers have heard of mindfulness through reading a magazine article, a social media post or through mainstream media. It’s a growing trend in the early education field with research supporting practices that can reduce both emotional and physical distress. While mindfulness practices do not replace your health care routines, they can be a complimentary practice that benefit your brain, body and relationships. Learn more about Patricia Jennings’ mindfulness research with teachers at the University of Virginiahere.

The Gift of Mindfulness

I was first introduced to mindfulness in the fall of 2015 out of necessity for a graduate thesis topic and balance in my life. On April 1, 2015, I received the hardest news I have ever had to mentally absorb. My mom, my confidant and grandmother to my 5-year-old, received a diagnosis of cancer. Treatment would begin right away; it was a type of lymphoma cancer and in stage 4. I was devastated! We talked about the care my mom would need and how treatment would affect her life and ability to care for herself. Of course, I would be there through it all.

I worried though. I was a full-time working mother of a kindergartener who began graduate school in January on a time-limited scholarship and lived 1.5 hours away from my mother. Over the next few months, I juggled everything with great time-management skills, a flexible work environment and an understanding husband. Until, I couldn’t any more! I was “burning my candle at both ends.” I began to be snappy with my family, felt tired all the time, my body was showing signs of serious stress and my mind would never rest.

Then came a critical moment in my graduate school work—I had to identify a thesis topic. As a student in education, I had already been reading about breaking research around mindfulness in the education field. Then, I went to NCAEYC’s 2015 conference and I met Dr. Kathleen Gallagher. Her research at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute intrigued me and when asked, she happily agreed to be my internship supervisor. The research we conducted around mindfulness and learning to practice mindfulness was the answer to my prayers for my thesis and for being able to be present for my family.

Top 5 Mindful Practices

Here are the top five mindful practices I incorporated into my life. These practices are easy to build into your daily routine at home or in the classroom.

  1. Three Deep Breaths: This practice has helped me calm down when we have received upsetting news. It is also very helpful to teach a child this technique so they have self-regulation tools to calm down more quickly while reducing quick, shallow breathing.
  2. 5-Minute Mindful Breathing: This practice is very helpful as you prepare to address something that you find particularly stressful. I have used this technique for better focus before presentations. At home, this helps me become aware of my emotions before I respond to my daughter.
  3. Mindful Observations: This is a quick exercise you can do to ground yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed or to reconnect when you want to better enjoy a moment. I have been able to use this strategy to enhance the intimate relationship with my husband. 
  4. Body Scan: The body scan has been very useful for the many sleepless nights I had during my mother’s illness. I also guide my daughter through a body scan when she has trouble getting to sleep at night. (Works like a charm!)
  5. Mindful Moments: Repurpose everyday routines or activities into mindful breaks. This can include mindful walks, listening to soothing music, folding laundry, showering or drinking your morning coffee. Making any moment into a mindful moment can help you better enjoy the activity, just by changing your perspective.

I hope you find at least one mindfulness gift to use daily. There is a robust amount of research and resources available just by searching online. Take time this weekend to try these five simple strategies.

I can personally attest that building mindfulness strategies into my life helps me deal with anxiety (good and bad) in a more positive way. I have a better ability to slow down, enjoy life and regulate my awareness as well as be more compassionate with family members and colleagues. 

  • 1
  • 2