“The conference affirms my work, in general, leaving me feeling renewed and ready to try new things.”
This is one of the many highly positive comments received on the anonymous evaluations completed by attendees at the All Our Kin seventh annual family child care network conference Taking Root: Early Education as a Foundation for Learning and Life. The conference, which is English-Spanish bilingual, is a unique event in Connecticut. It is the only statewide daylong training opportunity specifically designed to convene and educate family child care providers. Its presentations and workshops cover many different areas of early childhood education and development, and are all designed for providers to reflect on how they can immediately implement their new learning.
All Our Kin held its conference on Saturday, May 5 at the Yale School of Medicine. It brought together over 150 family child care providers from all over Connecticut to share experiences, build community, gain ideas and strategies to enhance the quality of their child care programs, and recommit themselves to the rewarding and difficult job of caring for young children in their homes.
Everyone participating the conference – the attendees, staff, volunteers, and presenters – provided valuable positive feedback that has reinforced our hard work and will help us plan for net year’s conference. However, the key indicators used by All Our Kin to measure the day’s success are the attendee evaluations. We collected 108 evaluations, and of this total, 85% evaluated the overall conference as “excellent.” Ninety-eight percent of attendees “learned new strategies that will improve their work with children” and “plan to use ideas and activities from the conference in their child care programs” and also “would recommend the conference to other FCC providers.” In addition, 97% reported that they are “leaving the conference today feeling more energized and excited about their work as an early childhood education professional.”
Some of the comments we received shed light on how positive an experience the conference is for providers:
It was an amazing conference that taught me so many things. I like the teamwork we had in our workshop. Everyone was so easy to talk to and work with.
[I liked] being able to meet other providers and learn that they have the same daily challenges that I do.
It’s always a happy, joyful, welcoming conference.
I enjoyed all of it. It was my first time and I look forward to next year.
The conference was very well organized and the workshops were excellent and very educational.
Being able to spend time with my provider colleagues and feel for one day that we are valued as professionals… made me very happy.
[There is] always something new to bring back to my daycare. You always can grow and learn something new.
Every year I learn something new.
We began the day with a thought-provoking keynote presentation about early childhood literacy and the achievement gap by Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor. The providers then attended three hours of high-quality workshops on early care and education. During lunch, the providers participated in a “program showcase,” an exhibition of projects, artwork, photos, and provider certificates from several child care programs. After lunch, we reconvened and were entertained and moved by the student-run spoken word collective “Forbidden Voices” from New Haven’s Coop High School. The closing plenary was led by Ify Nwokoye, a yoga teacher and life coach, who gave attendees important words and strategies about caring for themselves and valuing their work.
The attendees gave valuable feedback about the workshops they attended. Some highlights were CT Children’s Museum Director Sandy Malmquist’s “What Does Love Feel Like?” session, which explored the feeling of love from all five senses. One provider said, “The workshop “What does love feel like?” was the best workshop I have ever gone to and was extremely enjoyable.” Sandy also held a workshop called “The Environment as Teacher” in which she gave suggestions about how providers can organize their space and think of the environments where they care for children as teachers. “It was a fabulous workshop. Lots of relevant information was shared, the presentation was well put together, the presenter worked very well with the interpreter & she stayed on topic.”
Another very popular session, “Finding Nature in Urban Spaces,” led by Jill Keating-Herbst from Common Ground High School, gave providers new ideas about how to incorporate nature and the environment into their lesson plans, by bringing the children outside, and even by bringing nature indoors. One provider said, “I learned how to get my children involved with their environment, discover new things such as types of bugs, and use their five senses in the world of nature.”
A group of providers attended a block of workshops called “The Roots of Learning” which included two sessions: the first about setting up a science center, led by veteran AOK trainer Maureen Myers, and the second about creating props and puppets to enhance story time and increase literacy, taught by puppeteer and early childhood educator Betty Baisden. The providers responded that they had learned many new ideas that are easy and inexpensive to implement in their programs. One said, “I loved all the science stuff and have lots of ideas now for a science table in my program,” and “I loved the idea of using puppets to enhance a book – it would also work in communicating with the children about challenging issues (sharing, hitting, etc.)”
Overall, All Our Kin’s conference was a motivating, energizing day that helped providers reaffirm their commitment to caring for Connecticut’s youngest children. It gave attendees the opportunity to convene and reinforce their professional community, a community that can be difficult to grasp during the year, given the isolating nature of home-based family child care. It also gave them a wealth of new strategies and ideas to try out in their programs. Everyone in attendance, the providers, AOK staff, presenters and volunteers, will carry with us the energy and learning generated at the conference as we begin to await next year’s event.