- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

SHERIDAN, Wyo. (AP) - Over and over, educators and professionals have stressed that critical brain development takes place in the first three years of life. The more opportunities children are given to learn, the better their foundation for ongoing learning throughout the childhood. A key to that learning, though, lies in local child care providers.

A nonprofit in Sheridan County - 4Kids - has started work to help build on knowledge and training of area providers that work with children, reported The Sheridan Press (https://bit.ly/29EDuGL).

“We’re working at laying the foundation for successful child care experiences - loving, nurturing - optimal growth for the child through training, coaching and supporting the providers who work with the children,” 4Kids board member Lynn Gordon said.

Gordon works as a behavior specialist, is a certified teacher, trainer and counselor. She and four others - Val Burgess, Theo Powers, Shellie Szymd and Luanne Jones - comprise the 4Kids board. Each has decades of experience working with children.

4Kids recently started a pilot program with several local child care providers to provide training for staff at those facilities.

“We’re comprehensive, beginning with birth for the centers who have the infants, all the way through the elementary children that come after school and in the summer,” Gordon said. “Naturally because the majority of children in child care are birth through 5 years, our emphasis is on those early years. Being foundational allows the focus to be on the whole child - developmental, social/emotional, mental and familial. The young child’s strength is the family and providers are part of the bedrock for the parents.”

Trish Fox, who runs Fox’s Fun House child care center in Sheridan, was one provider who helped jump start the nonprofit.

“I needed more information,” Fox said. “I needed more help and more education on how to become better. So they (4Kids) got everything together and decided if I needed help, others probably did too.”

Fox noted that she has about 20 kids in her facility and she wanted to do a better job working with them. She wanted help coming up with beneficial activities, handling behavioral issues and even developing healthy lunch menus.

“We just wanted to keep getting better,” Fox said.

4Kids organizes monthly trainings with local child care providers that cover topics ranging from program management, diversity, professionalism, child growth and development, health and safety, behavior and learning environments.

Presently, all participating facilities are receiving STARS credit, which is continuing education training in line with state of Wyoming licensing in child care, for their efforts. According to Shari Mortensen, educational director at the Tongue River Child’s Place, her staff can also work toward earning a Child Development Associate credential through the trainings.

Following the training, the providers receive four coaching sessions. This on-site coaching occurs while child care providers are caring for children in their facilities. This allows them to actively utilize the information taught, thus increasing the learning and the standard of care for the children in their charge.

Powers said the training helps child care providers see themselves as more than just babysitters.

“These child care providers do so much more than that,” Powers said. “All professionals have standards to follow and ways to meet those standards. We help explain what those are and how to reach them. In the end, it’s a win-win for all involved, especially the kids.”

Mortensen said she has required all of her staff to participate in the training. She said the group has covered professionalism, sensory integration and social and emotional development so far.

“For my staff, none of them have had - just through life situations - opportunities for college classes or to work on their CDA on their own time,” Mortensen said. “This helps them in a lot of different ways. It is a way to empower staff through education and to build confidence. The more knowledge and confidence they have in their skills, the better they can do their jobs.”

Mortensen noted that providing training for her staff is also a way for her and the organization’s leadership to invest in the child care provider’s future.

Szymd said the on-site training has been rewarding.

“These are mostly young providers,” Szymd said of the pilot program’s participants. “They are really receptive and it is so much fun to see those ‘light bulb’ moments.”

While the 4Kids group currently works with just four child care providers in Sheridan County, the nonprofit board members said they’d like to eventually reach all providers in Sheridan County.

The Joe and Arlene Watt Foundation, the Homer A. & Mildred S. Scott Foundation and the Chandler H. Kibbee and Mercedes K. Kibbee Foundation are providing funding for the current pilot project.

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Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press, https://www.thesheridanpress.com/


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