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.



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.


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. 


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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Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley Hiring Early Childhood Lead Teachers in Partnership With Illuminate Colorado

Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley Hiring Early Childhood Lead Teachers in Partnership With Illuminate Colorado

Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley is partnering with Illuminate Colorado to bring Illuminating Child Care to the San Luis Valley and is seeking two Early Childhood Lead Teachers for our mobile child care classroom serving infants and toddlers onsite where parents are getting the support that they need to strengthen their families.

Position Overview:

The Early Childhood Lead Teachers will be hired to plan, organize, implement, and deliver an infant and toddler program curriculum to enrolled children’s individual and group’s educational, intellectual, physical, social, and emotional needs. 

These positions will manage a mobile child care classroom for children whose parents are working to address complex issues impacting their family, like mental health concerns, substance use disorders, or employment challenges; and ensure that the mobile classroom remains in compliance with the State of Colorado Child Care Licensing standards.

Position performs classroom, administrative, mobile unit management duties to support the mobile child care classrooms. Early Childhood Lead Teachers must have flexibility to work a schedule including evenings and weekends. Salary Range: $40,000 – $43,000 (based on education & relevant experience), IRA Contribution up to 3% Match, No Health Benefit available at this time. Anticipated start date June 1, 2021. 

View the full job description here.

To apply: Please submit a resume & letter of interest via email to

The Importance of Building Teacher-Child Relationships

The Importance of Building Teacher-Child Relationships

Imagine this scenario: A parent drops off their sleeping child at Illuminating Child Care. The teacher and parent transition the child successfully without waking her up.  A few minutes later, the child starts to wake up, noticing that the environment is different and that her mom is not there. Now, we all know what happens next. She starts to cry, looking around and trying to figure out where she is. The teacher, noticing the child’s discomfort, starts to interact with her at eye-level.

Lead teachers at Illuminating Child Care are building positive relationships with infants and toddlers ages 0-3, just as these kiddos are beginning their first educational experiences. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning says that “teacher behaviors such as listening to children, making eye contact with them, and engaging in many one-to-one, face-to-face interactions with young children promote secure teacher-child relationships.” And these types of teacher behaviors are critical to establishing a teacher-child relationship.

But why are teacher-child relationships important?

Relationships between a teacher and a child are important because they are built in agreement.  Children agree to show up as themselves and teachers agree to create the environment and experiences to meet their needs.  The child naturally needs to feel comfortable, responded to and loved in their environment. The role of the teacher is to influence the relationship and learn how to positively interact with the child in their care while also responding to the needs of the child. These teacher-child relationships create foundational experiences that influence trust, encourage developmental milestones, social and emotional regulation, healthy interaction and the ability to form secure relationships throughout life. 

In the scenario described above, the teacher picked up on the child’s needs and immediately started to interact with her by using her name, using warm language and strategies that calm the child.  As the teacher interacts with the child, she begins to respond to the teacher and settles into the environment.  

In every teacher-child interaction, there is an opportunity to build relationship.  The teacher supported the relationship by assuring the child she is in a safe place and the child responded to the teacher by demonstrating the ability to self-regulate. Teacher-child relationships are important because they are built on trust, familiarity, consistency, and following the lead of the child. Research from the Early Childhood Training and technical Assistance System tells us that “what you do to foster these relationships in your environment, interactions, and routines can have a long-term positive impact on infants’ and toddlers’ development.”

Teachers play a special role in the lives of children in their care. They create repeated opportunities to build trust in the relationship. And that’s exactly what our Lead Teachers at Illuminating Child Care are doing every day.

Patsy Bruce is the Child Care Manager for Illuminating Child Care at Illuminate Colorado. 

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