Bobbi’s classroom setting is relaxed and informal, with comfortable, earth toned carpeting, round tables, and fuzzy chairs. I counted four coffee makers, but I might have missed one.
The west wall is papered with nurturing thoughts and sayings, aimed towards children.
- “This is a cheerful and happy place”
- “This is a place like your home”
- “You belong here”
- “This is a place you can trust”
- “This is a safe and interesting place to explore”
- “You can do many things by yourself”
- “You can get away and be by yourself if you need to”
On the East wall are words of encouragement for Bobbi’s students.
- “The relationship between a young child and her teacher is at the heart of quality early education”
- “Children in early care and education are better prepared for school and life when their teachers have higher levels of training”
- “Thank you to our child development associate (CDA) students working in area child care programs”
Six of Bobbi’s students agreed to participate in a roundtable discussion about the CDA training course. The participants:
- LeahBeth Zeissler, a five year child care veteran
- Erin Hoffer, a member of the Blueprints for Learning Child Care Center team
- Barbara Walker, a preschool lead teacher
- Maricela Lindsey, the owner of Cela’s Creative Learning Academy
- Naomi Jones, a returning student who completed the course in 2009
I interviewed Ami Palmanteer separately, in advance of the roundtable. I asked her how the course has changed how she thinks about child care. “It makes you think of new ways to teach kids different ways that they can learn, a lot of different ways to approach certain situations,” she said. Ami, new to child care, is taking the course on the recommendation of her supervisor.
I asked each, in turn, how the CDA course changed how they thought about child care. The discussion began with LeahBeth.
“It’s made me more aware of the things that I have maybe have not been doing and need to do,” she said. “[I can]be better equipped to care for the children and not just be the teacher in the classroom.” The mentoring program suits her learning style. “I am a very hands-on learner,” she said. “I would much rather learn hands- on than just textbook and talking.”
Barbara: “It just gives you a new perspective of what you do every day,” she said. “It helps you to know what you are doing and what approaches you need to change, to help yourself grow as a teacher.”
Maricela runs an infant-toddler classroom, where she takes care of children ages 18-36 months. “By taking the class I’m learning more about how to work with that age,” she said. She is especially interested in learning more about Bobbi’s mentoring program. “I want to be a better role model,” she said.
Barbara described some of the benefits that come with taking the CDA course. “It gives you a better idea of what licensing and early achievers is going to look for if they came in to rate you as a teacher and as a center,” she said, “and to help meet the goals that the state would be looking for.”
Naomi used metaphor to describe the purpose of focused child-centered learning. “It’s very important to pack their suitcase for life,” she said, “because at five and six that suitcase closes. If you pack it full of all sorts of coping skills … you are setting them up for success.” Any missing coping skills, she said, “become development challenges in the future … you need to do it as much as you can and as well as you can at an early age.”
Erin, an associate in the Blueprints for Learning Childcare Center, described the atmosphere in a child-centered learning environment. “A lot of what we do is encourage the children in their learning and their playing, she said. “We just really encourage a lot of play; we use a lot of natural materials so that they can get used to that.”
Barbara described some of the benefits that come with taking the CDA course. “It gives you a better idea of what licensing and early achievers is going to look for if they came in to rate you as a teacher and as a center,” she said.
I asked about the course’s importance in the community. Barbara described the additional layer of respect clients feel towards accredited child care associates. “It encourages them to know that we didn’t just come into childcare and stop,” she said. “We’re actually putting in some effort to be able to teach their kids.”
Maricela described interactions with prospective clients, and the benefits of certification. “One of the first questions parents ask … is ‘what are the qualifications of your teachers?'” she said. “If they have a CDA … they jump at the opportunity.”
Naomi mentioned portfolios, another perk for prospective parents. “It’s a documentation of a child’s learning that they get to keep and take with them,” she said. “They love that.”
We switched gears and took a minute to discuss the Reggio Emilia approach.
“It’s a better way of assessing children so that you can teach them more individually,” said Naomi.
Barbara: “It’s really about encouraging the kids, you know, instead of demanding they do something a certain way it’s more about encouraging and finding out what kids like to do, what’s keeping their interest, and how can we encourage them to try something new.”
I asked the table if anyone else offers the CDA + mentoring program in the area. The consensus was nobody. The CDA course is offered online, and Spokane Falls Community College offers a two year program Early Childhood Development, but neither program includes the mentoring Bobbi adds through Blueprints for Learning’s CDA training program.
Maricela told me that she has hired associates from the college and online programs, but without the extra mentoring they still need a lot of training. Bobbi’s students, she said, are ready to jump right in. “CDAs with mentoring, like Bobbi – they are amazing,”said Maricela.