Pili’s Montessori-Inspired Program Flourishes in Westville

Today is the first day of the Great Give, a 36-hour, community-wide online giving event that celebrates the work of nonprofit organizations serving the greater New Haven region. Between now and tomorrow (May 6) at 8pm, every dollar you give to All Our Kin through this link will be amplified with matching funds provided by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, the Valley Community Foundation, and other generous community sponsors. This is your chance to expand the impact of your gift to support All Our Kin’s work with family child care providers like Pili, whose program is highlighted in today’s blog post. Please be generous with your donations today and tomorrow, and encourage your friends to join you in giving to All Our Kin. Thank you so much for your support!

A space for exploring

pili 009Bright walls in hues of clementine and lime frame an equally engaging space: a pile of pink pillows are positioned near a brimming bookshelf; a rainbow alphabet, days of the week, weather chart, and phases of the moon are arranged on a yellow bulletin board; an easel displays recent drawings, swirling lines and the message, “I like peanuts.” Developmentally-appropriate objects are placed within a child’s reach, offering an opportunity to engage with one’s surroundings and explore texture, shape, color, and sound. Letters and numbers are posted on the wall and referenced during daily circle-time, encouraging children’s understanding of literacy and numeracy. A mirror, stretching from the floor to the middle of the wall, allows even the youngest children to observe the world in a new way. And, for those beginning to walk, there is a height-appropriate balance-bar fixed along the mirror for children to test their balance in a safe, fun way. Young children – the majority of whom are between the ages of zero and three – move about this environment, encouraged to thoughtfully explore at their own pace.

This is the program of Pili Carrillo, a family child care provider in All Our Kin’s New Haven Network. “All my life, I have had a passion for education and working with children,” Pili explains. Before moving to the United States from Peru fifteen years ago, Pili studied social work, and she gained experience working with children with special needs and women in marginalized communities. Her observations of the school systems in both Peru and the United States taught her that education — especially early education — was the foundation of a child’s whole life.

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A Garden Project visit from Stephanie, an All Our Kin educational consultant.

Eight years ago, a friend referred Pili to All Our Kin. “I called the number she gave me, and I spoke to Nilda Aponte about getting my license. Nilda helped me become licensed within three months and open my own program. It was a marvelous opportunity.” Since then, Pili has run her own Montessori-inspired family child care program in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood while continuing to grow as a provider. Pili received her CDA (Child Development Associate) credential shortly after obtaining her license, and she has participated in numerous All Our Kin programs and workshops including the Garden Project, Circle of Security, Read Count Grow, and Business Consulting. Incredibly, she has also attended every single All Our Kin Family Child Care Conference since she joined the network (including this year’s conference, which took place this weekend on May 2). “It’s important to me to stay active in All Our Kin’s network,” she says.

A Montessori approach

Pili believes strongly in the Montessori approach; she has taken 12 months of Montessori classes and studies Montessori texts on her own time. “The Montessori philosophy is a child-focused philosophy,” she explains. “In Montessori, respect for the child is a top priority. I believe in respect for the children, their work, their ideas, and their growth. Part of this respect is allowing a child to work at his own rhythm, and not to interrupt him or distract him, so that he feels ownership over his work.”

Across Connecticut, there is a high demand for infant-toddler care, and family child care providers like Pili help fill this gap by serving children under three years old. One of the great benefits of the Montessori philosophy according to Pili is that rather than including infants and toddlers as an afterthought, it offers activities specifically designed to engage very young children. “In every activity, everyone participates, even the very youngest child,” she says. “At these young ages, they are learning constantly, every day, from everything they see and do. There is a Montessori concept called the ‘Absorbent Mind’ about how very young children absorb everything they encounter. These early years are the most important time to teach a child.”

Pili’s Montessori-grounded curriculum contains many ways for young children to use their hands and develop both fine and gross motor skills, from using a spoon to transfer beans into a jar to peeling a banana to building the Pink Tower, a classic Montessori activity that allows children to stack a series of pink wooden cubes on top of each other to learn concepts of volume, number, shape, and color.

Pili also takes care to promote what child development researchers call “pre-literacy skills.” Although the infants and toddlers in her program are not yet reading full words, they are gaining an important set of skills that will form the foundation for reading and writing later on, like the ability to differentiate between sounds and the ability to notice print in one’s surroundings. Pili reads with the children every day, and she believes that books have great power for young children. She teaches the children songs and rhymes so that they pay attention to the sounds that make up a word, and she tries to bring their attention to letters and words in as many ways as possible, from introducing them to the alphabet to pointing out words and letters posted on the walls.

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“I am here to follow the child”

In addition to helping the young children in her care build strong foundations for lifelong learning, Pili models an ever-present thirst for knowledge; she is always searching for new ways to add additional breadth and depth to her program. “One of Pili’s great strengths is that she is so excited to try new things and grow as a provider,” says Stephanie Lorek, an educational consultant who runs the Garden Project at All Our Kin. “She actively educates herself and does research to improve her program. You can just tell that she loves her work.” Pili’s understanding of education as continuous growth and change, coupled with her passion for early child care, allow her to support each child in a unique, thoughtful, and ongoing manner. “In truth,” she says, “for me, there is no ‘difficult child.’ Every single child deserves respect and space to grow, and I am here to follow the child in his journey.”

Pili can do this critical work, and do it well, because of All Our Kin’s support. We hope that you invest in All Our Kin to help us create more of the high quality child care spots that Connecticut’s children and families so desperately need. Thank you!

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