Every Sunday night, West Haven family child care provider Yanerys Aziz strategizes for the coming week. She thinks about the materials she’ll lay out for children on her theme table, the arrangement of her child care space, and the activities she’ll propose in the days to come. The children she cares for will arrive early the next morning, and Yanerys wants to be prepared to offer them experiences that nurture their curiosity and help them grow and learn. Since 2007, when she opened the doors to her family child care program, Yanerys has exemplified the creativity, perseverance, and commitment to continuous learning that so many of All Our Kin’s providers share.
Yanerys has had the impulse to teach since her childhood. “I’ve had this inside of me since I was a teenager,” she says. When Yanerys and her sister were young women living in the Dominican Republic, they used to gather together neighborhood children for informal classes. They provided children with a pencil and a composition notebook, asking only that parents send one chair per student.
Yanerys immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1991, and right away she displayed her determination once she had a goal in her sights. “My dream was to speak English,” she says, but when she arrived she knew only a few words of English. During her first pregnancy, she traveled by bus to two different free language programs to learn English and recalls spending her time “just listening, listening, listening.” Ultimately, Yanerys passed the language comprehension test at Gateway Community College and enrolled in their early childhood education classes. She is now just one course away from graduating with her college degree.
Before opening her own family child care program, Yanerys worked as a consultant to home-based providers in the Hartford area and as a staff member in a center-based infant/toddler program. “My dream was to be able to accomplish my own business as a child care provider,” she says, “but people who want to open a business have fears—you have no idea!” In 2007, with assistance from All Our Kin, Yanerys achieved her goal of opening her own business. “[All Our Kin] helped me so much,” recalls Yanerys. “That’s why I stick with them like glue.”
Despite her extensive early childhood education experience, after Yanerys opened in October of 2007 she struggled to find clients. For the first six or seven months she had no income from her child care business, a common challenge faced by new family child care providers. She asked one of All Our Kin’s consultants, Tanya Michaelson, to visit her home and pretend to be a client. Yanerys says that Tanya offered her “so much advice,” from rephrasing her client contract to bringing in natural light and rearranging her backyard space. One month later her first child enrolled, and “little by little,” her program grew.
Yanerys says that she wanted more than just licensure support from All Our Kin; “I wanted to be connected with someone about what comes after licensure. I believe in continuing education, one hundred percent. You have to keep constantly going to training to refresh yourself.”
Currently, Yanerys is participating in All Our Kin’s “Read, Count, Grow” program. Through Read, Count, Grow, Yanerys receives materials, resources, and intensive individualized consulting focused on integrating math and early literacy into her program. Yanerys says that the written “Read, Count, Grow” materials from All Our Kin, which contain numerous activity ideas for family child care providers and parents, are “like a Bible—it’s special resources for a year.”
So far, she says, the program has helped diversify the ways that she exposes children to mathematical concepts. Some of her favorite math-based activities include arranging teddy bears by color and size, which helps children learn about sorting; using measuring cups to separate portions, to familiarize children with measurement; and clapping hands in rhythm, to build children’s awareness of patterns. These activities form a natural part of the play-based curriculum in Yanerys’s program. Yanerys has also enjoyed the addition of new books to her program and says that the children’s literature All Our Kin provides is “fantastic.” Over the coming months, All Our Kin’s educational consultant will work closely with Yanerys on strategies and methods for reading with children and supporting emergent literacy in all facets of her program.
In addition to participating in “Read, Count, Grow,” Yanerys regularly attends All Our Kin’s network meetings and workshops and participates in All Our Kin’s Garden Project. All Our Kin supported Yanerys in the National Association for Family Child Care accreditation process.
Modeling for and learning from other providers
As an experienced provider, Yanerys regularly advises other caregivers in her community. She appreciates that every provider has their own special approach, but she has a few common words of advice for her fellow providers. First, she recommends that other providers embrace messy activities that support children’s learning. “The main goal is that the children learn something from it and have a great time. When I do all the [messy] stuff—sand, finger-painting—the children learn and the time goes by so fast.” Yanerys also recommends collaborative activities that help children learn to “share their space,” in preparation for the teamwork they will need to succeed in school. She also encourages other providers to take a children’s-eye-view of their space. “Sometimes you have to view things from the children’s level, not yours,” says Yanerys. “If I go down and everything is high, it’s not inviting. I need to see things to attract me.” In addition to offering advice to other providers, Yanerys says that she regularly visits the programs of other providers in the All Our Kin network to observe and learn from their strategies. “Every person is different,” she says, and she takes every opportunity to adopt creative ideas from her peers.
Yanerys is continually searching for new ideas. “Everywhere I go,” she says, “I try to observe and see—what can I bring back to my program?” For instance, after she saw a magnetic word wall at the Connecticut Children’s Museum, Yanerys created her own version in her program. When possible, she uses low-cost materials or items from her own home to create experiences and activities for children. One of her favorite creative uses of materials was a home-made light table, which she created using a pressure-activated closet light. Yanerys’ program shows that expensive materials aren’t necessary to create a high-quality learning environment for children.
Planning for the Future
On a recent summer afternoon, Yanerys surveyed her backyard. It’s a spacious green area with cheerful decorations and two hexagonal garden beds for children to explore. Although Yanerys is constantly striving to improve her program, she also acknowledges how far she’s come. “It used to look totally different,” Yanerys said. “Every year I get a little better.”
Yanerys’ commitment to ongoing learning and improvement enriches the lives of the children and families she serves, as well as the providers and staff here at All Our Kin. We are thrilled that All Our Kin is able to support nurturing, creative providers like Yanerys in establishing high-quality, sustainable family child care programs.
“Read, Count, Grow” is made possible by a grant from the United Way of Greater New Haven’s Success by Six Initiative.