Last fall, All Our Kin began training a cohort of licensed family child care providers in our Bridgeport network to obtain the CDA credential. The CDA is a rigorous, year-long course in the fundamentals of child development, which articulates to six college credits in early childhood at any of Connecticut’s state colleges. It includes a classroom component, field hours, an observational assessment, portfolio completion, and both a written and oral examination. Dionne is one of the members of our Bridgeport CDA class, and today we’d like to share her story with you.
As Dionne spoon-feeds a toddler in her child care program, KDM Family Day Care, the little boy balls up his fists and tightens his lips to refuse the spoon. Instantly, Dionne widens her eyes and energetically mimes opening her mouth. Within seconds, the toddler’s face is transformed by a wide smile and he lets Dionne bring the spoon to his mouth. Dionne’s energy and investment in every interaction is something she has practiced for decades, first as a mother and now as a family child care provider.
Dionne opened her child care program several years ago, after losing her job as a Patient Care Tech at a hospital. She says she was inspired to begin a career in child care because she had such positive memories of caring for her own daughter, who currently attends a local college. “I always loved children,” she says. “It was always a pleasure for me to take care of kids.” She recalls thinking, “Let me try to open something and work by myself to do something I like.”
Before becoming licensed as a family child care provider in Connecticut, Dionne didn’t receive any special training in child care. She had learned about child care activities and strategies during a brief class she’d taken in another state several years earlier, but she knew she needed to refresh her knowledge. “You need to educate yourself to learn more about children,” she says. “You might have ten children and you still don’t know how to work with kids.” She heard about All Our Kin’s programs through postcards and emails, and decided to enroll in our Bridgeport Child Development Associate (CDA) class.
Through the CDA course, Dionne has learned strategies and activities to deepen her work with children. She says her instructor Maureen reinforces some of the approaches she used with her own daughter, like the importance of providing children with lots of stimulation and interaction. “Right now I could put this in the living room and watch TV,” Dionne says, gesturing to a highchair, “but that’s not good. I need to engage myself.” Maureen has also introduced Dionne to new routines grounded in principles of child development, such as eating meals together and reading to children, even in their first years. Dionne especially appreciates that Maureen’s teaching strategies aren’t based on expensive supplies. “I may not have special equipment,” Dionne says, “but I can still educate the children the way she taught us.”
Through the CDA class, Dionne has also gained opportunities to network with other child care professionals. Before the CDA, Dionne says she didn’t know any other family child care providers. Now she has a place to learn, to socialize, and to meet women whose experiences are similar to her own.
The material in the CDA class is already helping Dionne develop activities and experiences that support children’s development. Even in the winter, she takes children out to “smell the breeze” because she believes that they benefit from exposure to nature. Dionne takes great pleasure in the moments when she witnesses children learning and growing in their capabilities. She vividly remembers the moment when one girl in her program said her first word as they were singing and dancing together. Dionne says it was “so nice to tell her mother” about that girl’s first experience with speech.
Dionne truly sees herself as a partner with parents, a feeling she says has been reinforced by her work in the CDA class. “Anything I can do in my power, I will do it for the child if the mother is not around,” Dionne says. When she recently noticed that a young boy in her care was crying and touching his ear, she immediately recommended that his mother take him to a doctor to check for an ear infection. She says she knew she had to report it to the parent right away, because what she observed concerned “the safety of the child.” When the child’s mother later thanked Dionne, she responded by text: “You’re welcome, I’m glad…remember, we are a team.”
Dionne has big dreams for her program. In addition to caring for more children, in the future she hopes to share more experiences from her program with parents. She says she’d like to invite parents in to sit down and have a meal with her and the children, or have them come in together and play. And when she has successfully gained her CDA, she says she’s looking forward to continuing her process of learning. “When the class is finished,” Dionne says, “I’m going to find another class to go to.” We are so excited that Dionne has embarked on a journey to establish a career as an early childhood educator. We look forward to supporting her as she builds her program and serves Bridgeport’s children and families in the years to come.
All Our Kin’s Bridgeport CDA class is made possible through the support of the Fairfield County Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls. You can learn more about the Fund at their website.