In part one of this special report on early childhood education we showed you the early childhood development model that’s getting rave reviews nationwide. In part two, we take you inside Educare in Waterville for a closer look at that model in action.
For the kids at Educare, it’s all about getting ready for that day when they start school, which means even in the infant-toddler rooms their days are structured.
“It’s a typical day, they’re just a lot smaller. That’s pretty much how it is,” said Jami Pollis, an infant-toddler teacher at Educare.
Pollis says the days typically start out the same. Greeting the families, followed by breakfast and then some skills work.
“Even with the infants, it’s amazing the kind of things you can do with them one on one,” Pollis said. “Infants, to me, are just absolutely amazing. They soak everything in. So being able to communicate with them, using the way they look at you, the way their bodies move.”
The social and emotional aspects of learning are big pieces of the infant-toddler program. Social interaction with other kids as well as adults is a key component to their growth.
“It’s a lot of like giving them language that they can use to not only speak their mind, but tell us what they want, but also what they need,” said Erica Harris, who also oversees an infant-toddler room at Educare. “But they also, through that, understand that what they say matters. So we’re kind of just prepping them for the preschool level, to be able to advocate for themselves.”
Another core principle of the model is continuity, which the folks at Educare believe brings about a certain comfort for the children that makes learning easier. If a child is enrolled at Educare at 6-months old, they can stay in the same room with the same staff until they’re 3. That minimizes transitions while also allowing for a more intimate relationship between teachers and families before the kids head to the preschool classrooms.
“The continuity across the board really makes a difference in children’s ability to learn and grow,” said Mallory O’Leary, who has been teaching at Educare since the day it opened. ”
“Another benefit is that we have our infant-toddler classrooms side-by-side to the 3-5 classrooms, with a bathroom that they share so they’re familiar with all the staff and with all the children in their classroom. When they move on to the 3-5 classroom, they’re already familiar with those teachers in that 3-5 classroom as well as the children,” adds Rhonda Kaiser, Site Director at Educare. Smaller class sizes and higher teacher-child ratios mean more one-on-one time for the kids.
“It’s more than just the building. It’s more than just we get to be Educare. It really is about setting the stage and showing that if you have educated teachers, and you out that first, and you have great family relationships, the progress is great for the children and they are better prepared for school,” said Tammi Davis, another of the many educators at Educare.
Megan Knowles’ daughter will soon be moving on from Educare and onto kindergarten. She says her daughter has shown an explosion of personality in her time at Educare. Knowles is currently pregnant with her second child.
“Knowing that she’s turned into such a beautiful and smart young girl, and I have this little one coming, I already have him on the wait list to get in here, so I’m eager.”
Members of the business community have also started to take an interest in early childhood education. Some of the most powerful business people in Maine have formed the Maine Early Learning Investment Group (MELIG). They’re committed to making early childhood education a priority. They’ve partnered with Educare on the “Elevate Maine Initiative” to get to kids early in the hopes they can help elevate Maine’s workforce down the road.
“We all have companies that we want to see continue to grow and prosper in the 21st century. We want to make sure we’ve got the right workers to do that work here in Maine into the future,” said Jim Clair who co-chairs MELIG.
The folks at Educare want to spread their educational model statewide to other childcare providers with their “Beyond the Walls” program. They recently launched a website for providers to get a closer look at how they do things: sharedservicesforme.org. To get started on that website you’ll need to contact: Lalelah Parker at 859-1595