Over the past few weeks, we’ve described Dionne, a new provider in Bridgeport, and Patti, an experienced provider in Trumbull. Today we’re offering the story of a motivated and dedicated provider named Natasha, who runs an innovative family child care program in Bridgeport. All three of these providers are currently enrolled in All Our Kin’s free, year-long Child Development Associate class.
When Natasha started her Bridgeport family child care program, Sweetpea Home Daycare, she planned to open her doors to families at 7 a.m. every day. But soon, a single dad approached her about dropping off his young son at 4:30 a.m. He needed to report to work in Waterbury every day by 5 a.m., and he was hoping Natasha could provide a safe place for his son to stay. “I don’t open that early,” Natasha says she explained, “but since you’re a single father, I will. I want to help.” As a family child care provider, Natasha embraces her opportunity to support entire families by providing stable, high-quality care to children of working parents.
Natasha started her program nearly four years ago, after working as a nanny for about fifteen years. Like many family child care providers, she chose to open a home-based child care program after deciding that she wanted to start her own family. Natasha was extremely intentional about the process of opening her program. She looked specifically for a home that offered good program spaces, and rejected houses with swimming pools or that didn’t offer parents easy transit options. When she finally found her current location, she says: “I thought, ‘that’s it!’”
Today, Natasha works together with her mother, Margaret, who is also a licensed provider with extensive child care experience. Natasha and Margaret are devoted to giving children great educational experiences. One side effect of their work? They’re changing parents’ conceptions about family child care. “In their mind, some parents think their kids just come in and watch TV, [but] over here we teach them so much,” Natasha says proudly.
Although every child in Natasha’s program speaks English at home, they’re all learning the basics of Spanish and sign language at Sweetpea Home Daycare. Children are encouraged to draw and paint, and colorful artwork adorns the walls and doorframes of the sunny child care space. Natasha regularly takes children on field trips to continue their learning. The children have visited parks, an animal petting zoo, the library, an apple orchard, the aquarium, and Stepping Stones Museum for Children.
Natasha is also determined to give children the chance to play and strengthen their muscles in her program. She has little patience for child care programs where children are left in swings for long stretches of time. “As you can see, we have no swings here,” Natasha says. “This,” she adds, pointing at a soft rug with alphabet letters, “is where my son is crawling, because we put him down and gave him space to move!”
As a teacher, Natasha sees the value in continually exploring new strategies and approaches to strengthen her program. “I’m always looking to learn new things,” she says. She has sought out trainings through both national teacher training organizations and the local Dunbar School Resource Center. About a year and a half ago, she began driving to New Haven to attend All Our Kin’s network meetings and trainings. At one particularly memorable training, she says she learned about disparities in educational outcomes for children of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds—what is commonly termed the “achievement gap.” That workshop inspired her to incorporate more reading into her program, out of a belief that it’s both possible and necessary to close the achievement gap. When All Our Kin expanded to Fairfield county, Natasha began attending classes and workshops in Bridgeport.
As a student in All Our Kin’s Child Development Associate class, Natasha has learned how different activities support children’s growth and development. With help from All Our Kin’s Educational Consultant, Maureen, she’s incorporating age-appropriate activities into her program to meet the needs of her mixed-age group. One of her first changes was to give the oldest child in her program, an 8-year-old, his own materials box with crayons, pencils, and pens. “He loves the fact that it’s his, with his name on it,” Natasha says. When he comes to her program, she says he grabs his box and sits “for hours,” writing books about Thanksgiving, rainbows, and other topics. Maureen has also introduced Natasha to activities that promote infant development, like putting brightly colored cereal and rice in an empty bottle for babies to shake, roll, and observe.
Through the CDA class, Maureen comes to Natasha’s program for observation and activities once every two weeks. In addition, Natasha is now receiving educational consulting visits through All Our Kin’s new Read, Count, Grow program, which offers intensive consulting focused on incorporating mathematics and literacy into family child care programs.
Despite Natasha’s passion for providing high-quality care, like many family child care providers she faces the economic difficulties that come from unstable enrollment. It’s an “up and down” business, she says. In the future, she aspires to care for more children and further deepen the quality of the education they receive in her care. If every child can leave her program and go straight to kindergarten prepared, she says, “I will have made it.” All Our Kin is very proud to work with dedicated providers like Natasha, whose commitment to the children and families she serves is evident throughout her family child care program.
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.