Dreams, Discovery and Development at All Our Kin’s 10th Annual Family Child Care Conference

AOK-176Saturday morning, 8am: Gateway Community College is a hive of activity. Approximately 200 family child care providers weave through the large, light-filled building, adjusting translation equipment, deciphering their workshop assignments, and greeting each other enthusiastically. Some began their days hours earlier when they boarded New Haven-bound busses in Bridgeport and Stamford. All are here to learn, connect, and explore at All Our Kin’s 2015 Family Child Care Conference.

10 years of dreams, discovery and development

The theme of this year’s conference, held on Saturday, May 2, was Decade: Ten Years of Dreams, Discovery and Development, to mark the fact that it was All Our Kin’s tenth conference. The first conference, held at the Yale Divinity School in 2006, was attended by just 25 providers. During the past ten years, the conference has expanded and changed locations, but the purpose remains the same: to create a day for family child care providers from across the state to convene, learn, and re-commit themselves to the profession.  “The fact that this conference has been happening for ten years, and over those years our numbers have been growing – that shows us that within the field of family child care, there’s a lot of hunger for learning, for meeting new colleagues, and for spending time together,” says Dana Holahan, All Our Kin’s Professional Development Coordinator, who has helped to organize the conference for the past six years.

A day of learning

Dr. Valora Washington, CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition

Dr. Valora Washington, CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition

The day began with an inspiring keynote speech by Valora Washington, the CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition, an organization that promotes improved performance and recognition of professionals in the field of early childhood education. The Council administers the Child Development Associate (CDA) National Credentialing Program, a certification that many All Our Kin providers obtain as they work their way towards running high quality child care programs.

Dr. Washington congratulated providers for the hard work they do, day in and day out. Part of the reason why this work is so difficult, she explained, is that providers must use their hearts, heads, and hands as they strive to give children safe, educational learning experiences during their earliest years. Providers use their hearts as they care for children and nurture their social-emotional development; they use their heads to continually learn, think on their feet, and stay up-to-date with new research in the early childhood field; and they use their hands to join together and advocate for themselves. The nature of home-based child care makes it difficult for providers to work collectively and make their voices heard, but as Dr. Washington looked across the sea of attentive provider faces, she deemed it completely possible.

After Dr. Washington’s speech, providers were ready to put their hearts, hands and heads into action; they were thrilled to be able to attend workshops designed especially for them by presenters who were versed in the unique challenges of running a home-based child care program.  Workshops, which were offered in both Spanish and English, focused on a variety of topics relevant to family child care providers, from creating welcoming environments for young children in a family child care setting, to supporting dual-language learners.

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In keeping with the theme of “Discovery,” Dana and other All Our Kin staff members worked with presenters to offer workshop material that would be new for providers. “We asked them to think about ideas that maybe they had never taught before, but were innovative and exciting for them,” Dana reported.  One presenter, Sharon Redmann, taught providers beginning yoga poses and explored how practicing yoga could positively impact their work. Working with young children all day can be both mentally and physically taxing, so finding multiple ways to ease stress is critical for family child care providers.  “I learned to relax through breathing properly when I may be under stress,” reported one provider who participated. Another presenter, Niyonu Spann, led a workshop called “How to Abolish Racism: Radical Truth, Love & Action” on how systemic racism affects providers and the children in their programs. Providers welcomed the opportunity to think about how to speak to children about race and share their own experiences about how racism has affected their lives.

To see the full list of workshops offered, click here.

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Creating a community

Because family child care providers work long hours with children in their homes, it can be difficult for them to meet other providers with whom to share experiences and strategies for working with young children. One of the reasons why the All Our Kin conference is so powerful is that it brings so many providers from across the state together in one place and gives them opportunities to socialize. “The conference strips away the isolation of family child care work,” says Dana. “It allows providers to feel part of a community of learning.” After this year’s conference, some providers suggested that we make the conference overnight, or hold multiple conferences per year, to allow for even more community-building and socializing.

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At the end of the long day, providers were exhilarated and ready to put their new knowledge into practice. One provider told us that after attending a workshop on promoting young children’s social-emotional literacy, she intended to spend a whole week focusing on feelings and emotions in her curriculum. Another provider planned to involve young children more when she read aloud to them, asking them questions and encouraging them to talk about what they had read.

Providers left the building in twos and threes, talking about what they learned, exchanging phone numbers, and hugging.  “The conference always has a celebratory atmosphere,” says Dana. “It’s so important to celebrate the providers and recognize them for their dedication and hard work.”

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