New Kid on the Block: Caramel Expands Illuminating Child Care to Pueblo and Fremont Counties

New Kid on the Block: Caramel Expands Illuminating Child Care to Pueblo and Fremont Counties

Caramel, Illuminating Child Care’s newest member of the fleet, was introduced to the Pueblo community at an open house on April 14th. Members of the community and local media toured the new classroom, learned more about the program and saw how the on-site classroom operates. Another open house is scheduled in Fremont County.

Media Coverage of the Pueblo Open House

Before a parent can begin to address any complex issue impacting their family, like mental health concerns, substance use disorders, or employment challenges, they are too often faced, first, with struggling to find child care.

That’s why Illuminate Colorado has partnered with Children First/Pueblo Early Childhood Council to expand the Illuminating Child Care program. Caramel, the newest classroom in the Illuminating Child Care fleet, is increasing access to child care for parents and caregivers navigating complex life situations in Pueblo and Fremont counties.

“We can support parents in… really being able to be present and well for their kiddos, then we can support children in building all of those brain connections that we know happens in early childhood. So that’s how this is really contributing to school readiness and long-term educational success for kiddos,” Jade Woodard, Executive Director of Illuminate Colorado, told Fox 21 News.

“As a single mother, and as a single mother in recovery, the greatest barrier to me being able to complete those tasks that I need to complete and stay on track would be child care.”

Karie, one of several parents who’ve depended on Illuminating Child Care

According to Angie Shehorn, Director of Children First/Pueblo Early Childhood Council, Caramel will officially begin services in late April or early May. “We have a schedule worked out… where we are out at facilities every single day, Monday through Friday,” she told The Pueblo Chieftain.

Getting this child care classroom ready to serve young children means we need your help!

Illuminate is hosting an online baby shower to help stock Caramel with all the items child care teachers need to help young children learn and grow while providing drop-in care on-site where parents are getting the support they need to strengthen their families.

The registry for Caremel is set up through Lakeshore Learning Materials.

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Meeting Parents Where They Are – Bringing Child Care with Us

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Before any parent goes back to work, gets into treatment or tries to tackle any one of life’s challenges that may take them away from their child, they need to find child care. It’s a problem all parents can relate to, but solutions depend entirely on what access to child care looks like in your community.

Options for all families in Colorado will look very different by the fall of 2023 when the new Colorado Department of Early Childhood Education rolls out the voluntary universal preschool program. Two years from now, families with 4-year-olds will have access to 10 hours of childcare per week through community-based centers, a program in a family’s home, a local Head Start program or a school-based provider. Senator Janet Buckner, one of the sponsors of a bill to implement the program shared with CPR News that “[t]he legislation talks about 10 hours but for low income students, they’re going to get additional hours.”

Reports also indicated that the voluntary universal preschool program is estimated to save families about $4,300 a year. That’s great news for all families, but the child care crisis isn’t just impacting families, it’s impacting everyone and every part of society. In particular, it’s impacting local behavioral health providers and community-based nonprofits’ ability to address some of Colorado’s most complex issues like substance misuse and poverty. Those agencies are getting creative when it comes to increasing access to child care for their clients.

Mile High Behavioral Healthcare provides a continuum of behavioral healthcare —offering affordable care and housing services with focused programs to help adults and young people address life challenges – offering hope for individuals on a journey of recovery—recovery from trauma, substance use and mental health challenges and homelessness. “We are really trying to expand and do things from a family lens, compared to just the identified patient,” said Jessica Courtney, chief clinical officer for Mile High Behavioral Healthcare. 

Listen to Raven’s Miracle Story

HONEY Serves the Denver Metro Area

The organization is one of several organizations utilizing Honey, the Illuminating Child Care on-site child care classroom visiting locations in the Denver Metro Area, to increase access to child care for their clients. Courtney estimates that 95% of the women in the Miracles program engaged in treatment related to substance misuse and mental health challenges have children. The program offers traditional and enhanced outpatient programming to meet the individual needs of the women. Classes include life skills, job readiness, parenting, healthy relationships, cooking, yoga, and quilting to support sobriety and recovery.

“Our belief is that the opposite of addiction is connection. Sobriety is fine, but that’s not living. Most of our clients don’t know how to live, they didn’t grow up with trusted adults in their lives. Our clients average an ACEs score of more than seven.” The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score is a guideline used to measure childhood trauma including physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect developed in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. This pivotal study also highlighted the negative–and often lasting–effects childhood trauma can have on health, well-being and opportunity which Miracles’ moms are working to overcome.

The Miracles program lasts all day, every day. And, while the program loves babies, parenting while trying to engage in treatment and recovery comes with some unique challenges. “Babies need time to be away from the high stimulation that is going on with the women talking, doing group or eating together. If a baby is fussy or difficult, it really disrupts the group, and, if a baby is calm and cute, it also disrupts the group,” explained Courtney. “At the same time, we know the importance of a mom being with her kid and learning skills to regulate herself while her baby is dysregulated, all of that is super important. Illuminating Child Care seemed like a natural fit. Having something on site, that they can easily access and run out [of the building] if something major happens, is a really comforting thing.”

The partnership between Mile High Behavioral Healthcare is a great example of multi-generational child maltreatment prevention. “It is nice to have access to [the Illuminating Child Care] team looking out for missed developmental milestones. They have access to different resources than we do and even bring a pediatrician every now and then. When we’re decreasing maternal stress and increasing the maternal community, then we are also decreasing a baby’s future ACEs scores. We’re catching it more upstream,” shared Courtney.

CrossPurpose is also partnering with Illuminate Colorado to increase access to child care for their clientele working to gain sustainable careers and get out of poverty for good. The Denver nonprofit is working to abolish relational, economic, and spiritual poverty through career and community development. Their core program offers six months of intensive classes, for four hours a day, focused on personal and professional development. 

Meet Mariah – A CrossPurpose Graduate

In addition to skills building and personal development for careers in the trades, construction, administration, customer services and medical fields, CrossPurpose also brings together allies, or community volunteers, and alumni to network and build community. “Once a week, we utilize Honey when we have everyone come together – doctors, business owners, retired professionals – a dynamic mix of people from our community, with current students, to network, have a meal, talk about what is going well and what is not going well and offering a couple hours of alleviated stress while our students are in the program,” said Sianna Gomez, director of a new Fellowship Cohort for Alumni at CrossPurpose. 

“Honey takes child care out of the equation for that weekly dinner. One of the other things we are looking to tap into is Illuminate’s navigation services to help our parents find more services, including quality-rated child care services,” said Gomez. “Access to child care is not easy right now. If a parent has two to three children and is a single mom – and we get that all the time – it’s common to take an hour and a half to drop off each kiddo at three different locations since more access to child care isn’t available closer to her, and then we expect her to potentially get a job or to come to training when she doesn’t even have a car to get to those places either. Child care is a barrier to getting a full-time job, and in the grand scheme of things it’s a barrier to getting out of poverty. We have to find creative solutions to help parents find child care close to their job, or they run the risk of losing their job in the future.” 

While many local behavioral health providers and community-based nonprofits have seen people less willing to come back to their brick and mortar locations for services, child care remains among the most important barriers to remove to bring them back. “It’s a super important partnership to have, even if it isn’t totally utilized, everyone knows when Honey comes. Our folks are so distrusting of everybody because people have told them they are terrible for so long. By showing them that another person can be safe, another agency has their best interest in mind, we are growing their community, decreasing barriers to coming to treatment,” said Courtney. “So often facilities focus on the adults, they get a little scared of the children. [Illuminating Child Care] relieves some stress that the provider doesn’t have to do it all, there is a partner that is specializing in this, you can be that connecting person to help make it safe for them to trust somebody else. Our clients are the kids that got missed. Partnering together we’re teaching them that there are systems in place to help them and their children succeed.”

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Illuminating Child Care is Expanding to the San Luis Valley

Illuminating Child Care is Expanding to the San Luis Valley

Over the course of the next couple of months, the Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley is taking Acorn – Illuminate’s newest renovated RV providing on-site child care – on a tour of the San Luis Valley, stopping at locations that are helping to strengthen families–like recovery and treatment centers–to showcase this exciting new service that is by the people of the Valley, for the people of the Valley.

“The Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley envisions a community where all members prioritize and invest in our children to build a thriving society. This means supporting families and meeting them where they are. We strive to support parents’ health & wellbeing so they can in turn support optimal development of their children. What many of our families with high needs require is timely and coordinated services and this on-site child care classroom does just that! In partnership with Illuminate Colorado and our local service providers, we can make a difference in our community. We are excited to be able to pilot this greatly needed service in the San Luis Valley,” said Sherri Valdez, executive director of the Early Childhood Council San Luis Valley.

The early years of life – from belly to age eight – are very important for learning and development. That’s because during the first few years, children’s brains are developing fast. In fact, more than one million new brain connections form every second! Because of this, the experiences and relationships that young children have in the early years can impact them for life.

When families struggling to manage life’s challenges and the demands of raising children are also faced with the challenge of finding high quality child care, it can stand in the way of strengthening families. In fact, studies have shown difficulty finding child care is a stronger predictor of maternal neglect than almost any other factor, including mental health, severity of drug use, history of abuse as a child & use of public assistance.(1) This is why Illuminating Child Care is such an innovative and essential part of solving the child care crisis in Colorado.

Beginning with Honey last year servicing the Denver Metro area, Illuminate unveiled the first innovative on-site child care classroom.  “As a single mother, and as a single mother in recovery, the greatest barrier to me being able to complete those tasks that I need to complete and stay on track would be child care,” said Karie, one of several parents who depended on Illuminating Child Care when Honey first hit the road. “Honey is allowing me, as a mother, to stay on top of those other parts of my life so well.” A year later, we’re expanding to the San Luis Valley thanks in large part to the leadership of the Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley.

The cornerstone of Illuminating Child Care is its renovated RVs, which serve as on-site child care classrooms providing drop-in care for young children. Acorn was created with its fun-loving squirrels and custom features designed with healthy child development in mind.

Children learn through play, and creating a classroom that offers hands-on manipulation, role-play and practice, free choice, cooperation, and decision-making experiences serve just this purpose. Age and developmental appropriate items, such as climbing stairs, the book nook, and the toddler potty and sink, were designed around a young child’s unique needs.

Parents and caregivers will be able to drop off their young children at partner locations and feel confident that the teachers on Acorn will help their little ones learn and grow while they are getting the support they need to strengthen their families.

“We are so excited about this next phase of Illuminating Child Care and the partnership with the San Luis Valley. It takes all of us to create brighter childhoods for all children in Colorado and, together, we can take some of the weight off of our parents’ shoulders as they are working to tackle some really hard challenges,” said Patsy Bruce, child care manager at Illuminate Colorado.

Become an Illuminating Child Care Partner

Download the Illuminating Child Care San Luis Valley Informational Flyer.

 

Citations

1 Cash, S. J., & Wilke, D. J. (2003). An ecological model of maternal substance abuse and child neglect: Issues, analyses, and recommendations. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 73(4), 392-404; Yang, M. Y., & Maguire-Jack, K. (2016). Predictors of basic needs and supervisory neglect: Evidence from the Illinois Families Study. Children and Youth Services Review, 67, 20-26.

Promoting Focused Eye-Hand Coordination

Promoting Focused Eye-Hand Coordination

Infant on back under a mobile, reaching for and looking at a blue and white ball hanging from the mobile

A picture is worth a thousand words! However, focused eye-hand coordination are the four words that come to my mind when I look at this photograph. This picture captures a baby focusing on the objects in front of her and then reaching out for them–a perfect example of focused eye-hand coordination. 

What is eye-hand coordination?

The Head Start Early Childhood Learning Knowledge Center establishes goals for child development in perceptual, motor, and physical behaviors. The fine motor skill goal for children from birth to nine months is that a child “[c]oordinates hands and eyes when reaching for and holding stable or moving objects.” This early fine motor skill development allows children to complete tasks like putting on a mitten, putting puzzle pieces together, or turning the pages of a book later on in their development.

Follow the Leader

Interacting with babies, following the baby’s lead, and introducing age-appropriate activities like eating and playing are a few ways teachers at Illuminating Child Care introduce focused eye-hand coordination to babies through repeated experiences and set a strong foundation for future fine motor skill development.

Child observation is an important part of interacting with babies since they lack spoken communication skills to voice their needs. Observation of the child allows the teacher to determine how to meet their needs and provide care.

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When Lead Teachers are observing babies, they are also building teacher-child relationships. These kinds of relationships and early experiences are an important foundation that help babies reach developmental milestones, along with many other positive effects.  

Eyes on the Prize

To follow the lead of the baby pictured above, the caregiver observed the child and knew that the mobile was an appropriate activity for him, so the caregiver placed him on his back under the mobile. Without instruction, he immediately became aware of his environment–focusing, reaching and grasping for the balls on the mobile. 

Research shows that babies aren’t born with an innate ability to perform focused eye-hand coordination activities. The role of the teacher is to create the environment informed by observation, and babies respond by building a repertoire of fine motor skills that strengthen their focused eye-hand coordination as they grow.  

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Learning Through Imaginative Play: Following the Lead of the Child

Learning Through Imaginative Play: Following the Lead of the Child

“Hi Declan, how are you doing today?” Madison Clay, the Illuminating Child Care mobile classroom early childhood lead teacher, greets the almost three year old as he enters the classroom. He answers “I’m fine,” walks over to the shelf, and grabs the colorful 3D magnetic blocks and an illustration showing different models he can build.

Declan has been participating in Illuminating Child Care for about six weeks, and he will be enrolling in a preschool program in the fall. I had the opportunity to observe him for three hours while he was in drop-in care. 

And today, he’s ready to play. Declan and Madison walk over to the dramatic play area and sit on the rug, and he dumps out the 3D blocks on the carpet. “I want to build this one,” he says, pointing to the rocket ship. “Which piece do we start with first?” Madison asks. Declan picks up the first piece, and Madison and Declan continue to work together until Declan has finished building the rocket ship.  

“Now let’s fly!” Declan starts to turn around the classroom with the rocket.

What is imaginative play?

Though it can be challenging to define what qualifies as play, play is an important way that kids learn. Katie Hurley, LCSW, describes imaginative play as play that “involves advanced thinking strategies, communication, and social skills. Kids spend time planning the play theme, dividing up tasks, negotiating roles, considering perspectives, transferring knowledge from one situation to another (e.g. setting up a grocery store based on what they know from shopping with parents), balancing their own ideas with those of their peers, and developing an action plan. That’s a lot of learning!”

Madison supported Declan in imaginative play by following his lead, asking open-ended questions to build his language, and extending active play opportunities

Imaginative Play Yields Real Benefits

Experts believe imaginative play allows the child to strengthen their creativity and problem-solving abilities, stay active, and make learning fun. When Declan first walked into the classroom, he identified familiar materials in the environment to spark his imagination. During play, he used expressive and descriptive language and engaged his peers in active play. These are just a few developmental benefits of imaginative play. 

“Ah man, it broke! . . . Let’s put it back together . . . This one is yours . . . Did you see that? . . . Where did it go?” Phrases like these were common for Declan to use while playing with and rebuilding the rocket ship with Madison and his peers.  

Imaginative Play in Action

“Now I’m going to build a robot! . . . Look at his arms–he looks like a silly person! . . . Now put wheels on his legs so he can roll and propellers on his head so he can fly!” When Declan plays, he interacts with the teacher and his peers, narrates what he’s doing–and doesn’t forget to celebrate. “Yeah, I made this!” he says triumphantly.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Teaching Your Child Baby Sign Language

A Beginner’s Guide to Teaching Your Child Baby Sign Language

Have you found yourself unsure of what your baby wants or needs? Baby sign language can help you and your baby communicate before they start talking. 

What is Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language refers to the use of a limited vocabulary of modified gestures from American Sign Language (ASL). The signs typically taught to hearing infants and toddlers are different from the signs taught to children with a hearing impairment. Baby signs enable babies to express wants and needs that are typical of children this age, as well as to identify objects and events infants and toddlers frequently encounter and experience. Signs such as “milk,” “more,” “eat,” “all done,” and many others, are common signs taught to young children. 

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Illuminating Child Care Using Baby Sign Language

Infants and toddlers in our Illuminating Child Care mobile classrooms are learning baby sign language and so can you! The infant teacher has started teaching the words “more,” “all done,” and “eat” to the infants in our program. Teachers practice these signs in all of our routines throughout the day, especially during feeding times. The babies in our care haven’t mastered these signs yet, so we’ll continue to practice until they can do them independently. 

Living Your Best Life With Baby Sign Language

Research from the National Institute of Health shows there are many potential benefits to teaching sign language to a baby, such as less fussing, a closer relationship between parent or caregiver and child, and positive cognitive development. 

    • Less Fussing. Babies may react with tantrums and meltdowns when they can’t communicate with their caregiver. Baby Sign Language allows babies to communicate what they want and need, which reduces frustration for caregiver and child and leaves more time for the caregiver and the child to play and interact positively together. 
    • Stronger Parenting Relationships. Research from the Early Childhood Research Quarterly showed that signing allowed parents to feel closer to their child and increased their confidence about parenting.  
    • Cognitive Benefits. A longitudinal study performed by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn found that children who used baby signs as two-year olds continued to outperform non-signing children at age eight, including a 12 point IQ advantage and stronger skills in vocabulary development, sentence construction, and reading. 

Let’s get started!

    1. Familiarize yourself with basic signs. Learn the signs you would like to teach your baby. Resources can be found in books and websites. Teach your baby signs that are relevant and meaningful, such as more, drink, eat, all done, or pacifier. 
    2. Start at an early age. A great time to start teaching a baby signs is when they are 6 months old, but you can teach a baby signing at any age. Most babies, however, won’t begin to start signing on their own until around 8 months of age. 
    3. Model using the signs in everyday life. For example, if your child wants another bite of food, say “more” while modeling the sign, and then give your child another bite of food as reinforcement. Continue to model using this sign every time your baby asks for more food. 
    4. Keep lessons short and sweet! Teaching your child to sign is intended to decrease frustration, so make sure to keep lessons to only about five minutes each. Make it a fun activity with a ton of positive reinforcements. 
    5. Allow the baby to set the pace. It is important not to overwhelm your baby with learning too many signs at once. Be sure to only teach 3-5 signs at a time. Once the baby masters those signs, you can add a few more. 
    6. Stay patient. The goal of baby sign is to provide another form of communication, not to be fluent in sign language. Follow your child’s lead and try not to get discouraged if your child uses the signs incorrectly or doesn’t start using them right away. Continue to work with your child and communicate with them using signs and spoken language daily. 

Practice at Home

    1. Show your baby the sign while saying the word, then help them to make it with their hands. 
    2. Once your child is able to perform the sign, ask them to show you the sign then give them 5-10 seconds of time to process the request. If she doesn’t perform the sign within 10 seconds, gently help them to make it with their hands and then reward them! 
    3. Always offer a reward or positive reinforcement when your child performs a sign with your help and independently. 
    4. Model the sign and say the word again as reinforcement after your baby performs the sign. 

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