When Geraldine Elliott first started a family child care program as a young mother over twenty years ago, she felt isolated from sources of support and ill-equipped to manage her business. Although she loved taking care of kids, eventually, she closed her doors to parents. A few years ago, Geraldine decided to reopen her child care program. With All Our Kin’s help, she’s now a licensed provider serving children and families in Hamden. Geraldine’s story shows the importance of closely-knit communities like All Our Kin’s, which create opportunities for dedicated providers to learn and grow as businesspeople and early childhood educators.
A first start
Twenty four years ago, Geraldine opened a child care program in her home on New Haven’s Carlyle Street. Back then, Geraldine says she struggled to give children the enriching early experiences she knew they needed. Though she wanted to continue her education, she didn’t have the means to go back to school for formal training in child development and early education. “I knew I wanted to teach [the children], but I didn’t know the teaching,” she explains. She felt that some parents saw her merely as a babysitter and took advantage of her by not paying her adequately or on time.
Eventually, Geraldine closed her program. “There was no one to consult with, no one to ask the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts,’ she says. “I stopped for a while, because of not knowing what to do, how to do it.”
A second opening
When Geraldine’s daughter became pregnant several years ago, Geraldine says she saw a need to open up her program again. When she started teaching her grandson, she says, “it just opened up that door—I thought, ‘I can do this!’” Geraldine felt a calling to expand her program to serve more children, and she began the process of becoming licensed through All Our Kin’s Tool Kit Licensing Program, a collaboration with the Connecticut Children’s Museum that helps informal home-based providers through the licensing process. She worked closely with our Tool Kit Licensing Coordinator, Sarah Derbala. “Sarah took over,” says Geraldine. “I called her so much I know her like a daughter.” On May 31, 2012, Geraldine became a licensed family child care provider in Hamden. “All Our Kin was just dynamite,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
After she became licensed, Geraldine enrolled in our business series, led by Nilda Aponte and Tyree Dickey. Every Saturday morning, Geraldine says she met other providers “going through things that [I had been] through.” These providers bonded over their shared experiences, and the full class was a sign of provider’s dedication to the process. In order for a provider to attend a class on a Saturday after a long week of working with kids, Geraldine explains, “You know you have to love what you’re doing!”
Since taking that first class, Geraldine has continued to develop her child care program with help from All Our Kin. As a newly-licensed provider, she received one-on-one educational mentoring focused on child development, curriculum creation, family engagement, choosing appropriate materials, and more. Our Business Consultant, Julia Granata, helped Geraldine set up her computer and establish bookkeeping routines. Like many family child care providers, Geraldine has had moments of doubt since opening her program. But through All Our Kin, she says she found the confidence to go on: “I had the right people to work with me and encourage me, and that made all the difference.”
Geraldine adds that All Our Kin’s welcoming environment has made it easy to advance her education. “The people are so open when you go—like family,” she says. Right now, Geraldine is taking part in All Our Kin’s new Read, Count, Grow program, which offers providers strategies and materials to support young children’s understanding of literacy and mathematical concepts. She is preparing to enter her second year in All Our Kin’s Garden Project, which she calls her “super-joy.” She also seeks out professional development through other community organizations, including the Hamden Family Resource Center.
Geraldine’s teaching philosophy
With help from All Our Kin, Geraldine has developed a philosophy of teaching that guides her work with every child. “As a teacher, each child is like a plant,” she says. “Nourish it, take patience with it, encourage it.” Over time, she says her approach to learning helps children “open up, just like a sunflower.”
By creating different areas for play in her home, Geraldine hopes to stimulate children’s creativity and “keep their heads thinking.” She takes joy in children’s small accomplishments, the building blocks to larger developmental steps. Recently, while observing a child fitting together a puzzle, she pointed out how the young girl was developing her hand-eye coordination and her ability to pay attention to small details. “It’s not just here: make a puzzle,” she says. “It’s an adventure. We get on the train, we ride, we get off at different stops, and we explore.”
Like many family child care providers, Geraldine serves children at different developmental stages. One of her aims in the future is to work with All Our Kin’s staff on strategies for integrating babies in her program. “I want them to learn, too,” she says. Geraldine also hopes to expand her program to serve more children. “I’ve come a long way,” she explains. “The knowledge that I received is freely given from All Our Kin—it would be a waste not to apply it.”
Here at All Our Kin, we feel fortunate to be able to support nurturing teachers like Geraldine in their work with young children. We are continually inspired by our providers’ dedication to strengthening their programs in order to better serve the children in their care.