I recently asked our CLASS Community to nominate a family child care provider they thought deserved to be in the spotlight. I asked for stories of teachers whose high-quality classroom interactions are making a difference in the lives of the children they cared for. We had so many lovely stories and nominations, but our winner was Vicki Schumm from Fargo, ND. Vicki is the owner, teacher, and everything else at Vicki's Childcare, her family child care program she has run from her home since 2010.
Her coach, Erin Kitzman, wrote how dedicated and caring Vicki is. “Vicki helps the children in her care express their emotions, give their feelings labels, and does not lose her calm. She remains kind and loving even if children are chaotic around her. She has a heart of gold and goes above and beyond for the children in her care" Erin wrote. And not only that, but during that time, “Vicki has also worked hard to earn her CDA as well as progress through all four of the Bright and Early North Dakota's Steps to Quality” said Erin.
I reached out to Vicki to hear more about her program and she graciously offered her time. It was nap time, so as soft music played in the background, here's a bit of what Vicki shared:
In her nomination Erin wrote about Vicki’s skill at supporting children’s emotions, especially children dealing with trauma. Erin wrote, “Vicki has been working with a child who has had a lot of trauma in his life. She has been his consistent caregiver since he was a baby. He recently lost his baby brother and obviously is having some behavioral and emotional issues. She reaches out to ask for new ideas and is always willing to go the extra mile to help this child and his parents to deal with the stress of losing a loved one. She really wants to help him and steps up when they need a little extra guidance and support. She helped him with strong emotions, gave him choices when possible, and was a constant source of comfort and stability for him.”
I asked Vicki if she had any strategies that she has found successful that she would recommend for other teachers.
Creating a routine and using a schedule
"Right now I have a little one struggling with some emotions and having a tough time with it. I reached out to my coach and she's given me some ideas. I've created a schedule for him where he can take the little pieces on and off the schedule, and move them to mark they are done. It's been really helpful."
Providing comfort, reassurance, and encouragement
“I really have been trying to label emotions. I say things like, 'I see that you're stomping your foot. Are you frustrated?' Or if he's grunting at something, I'll say 'It sounds like your body might be frustrated because I hear you making that sound. I'm not sure what that means. What do you think you need help with? What do you think is going on?' He can now say things like, 'I'm frustrated. This piece won't go in. It's not working. I'm frustrated.'"
And for the infants and young toddlers she cares for who aren’t yet verbal, she still finds ways to acknowledge and respond to their emotions and needs. “I do a lot of self-talk and parallel-talk. I'll say things like, ‘We're done changing your diaper. Now I'm going to bring you back to our area so I can wash my hands,'” she said. If she notices they get upset when she puts them down, she’ll remind them, "I will be right back and then I'll come to play with you some more!"
I've always known this is something I've wanted to do.
Vicki made it clear that facilitating activities to support the children's learning and development was also very important to her. We discussed how there’s often a misconception about family child care programs being less academic than center-based programs. Before beginning her own program, Vicki worked in a large center-based program, so she’s seen both, and shared, “We’re still doing all the things the big centers are doing. A lot of families think kids don’t learn in a home program. But that’s not true. They’re all learning. Every activity they are doing, they are learning. Every activity we do, there’s a reason behind it.”
She also shared a bit about her own experience with professional development. “As part of the Bright and Early North Dakota program, I recently started using CLASS through Teachstone. CLASS was really helpful. I enjoyed the little CLASS Strategy Cards. I even made my own open-ended questions sheets to put up in each area. So if we're playing in an area together, I can look up at the sheet, and remember to ask questions like, ‘What do you think would happen if…’ and ‘What will happen when…’ At mealtimes, I'll try to use new describing words that we hadn't used yet, so something like, 'I'm pouring milk out of a magenta pitcher.'"
"It's been a pretty big impact," said Vicki. She typically cares for six children and is licensed to watch up to 12, but Vicki now is caring for four children, most of whom are the children of essential workers that need to work in person. Enrollment has been difficult, but so far she hasn't shut down for any time. Vicki shared that, "Luckily North Dakota did a grant for child care providers, so we're getting grant funding to stay open. Without that funding, I'd probably have to shut our doors. No one was looking for childcare." On top of all that, she's also now supporting her own two young children who are home doing virtual school.
Thank you Vicki and Erin for your time, care, and dedication to helping children reach their full potential.
Last week we hosted Back to School with Meaningful Interactions, our first week-long free Teacher Series for nearly 4,000 early childhood educators. Each day attendees could choose from three 45-minute sessions that focused on what matters the most—meaningful classroom interactions.
How do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I posed that question to a random selection of contacts via text message. What did I discover? Everyone in my sample group spreads on the PB first, then the J. There are a variety of ways though to apply the jelly, but in my random group, the jelly always comes second.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches make me think about Behavior Guidance, a dimension in the CLASS® toddler observation tool. Especially the first two indicators of behavior guidance: proactive and supporting positive behavior. Proactive is the peanut butter! It goes first. That layer of peanut butter is the base for the jelly, which promotes positive behavior.
“What I think I’m most proud of as a professional in the field is our ability to show up, our ability to still do it, to still roll with the changes… We have to adjust. That is what educators did the entire year. We show up. We have a strong why. We love what we do.” This is a quote from Colleen Schmit from our recent webinar, Celebrating Great Teaching. She’s talking about how hard the last couple of school years have been for teachers. Teachers faced a similar difficulty 20 years ago when the United States faced a national tragedy.
I was a kindergarten teacher for eight years at a public school. I loved my job, but somewhere along the road I started to become crotchety. I was often annoyed with my colleagues and frustrated with the demands of the district, and I was sure I knew better than any training or professional development session I would ever be forced to attend.