By: Dawn Irwin
Picture this - while sitting in a café chatting with friends, you find yourself admiring some artwork displayed on the walls. Upon further investigation, you realize these incredible pieces of art were created by some students at one of the local early childhood education programs. You find yourself blown away by the beauty, creativity, and intentionality that is infused in each piece. You didn't even realize children that young were capable of this kind of artistry.
Ever since Growing With Wonder was just a dream inside of my head, I have always imagined a world in which we create community partnerships. A world where folks celebrate the youngest members of our society. Local businesses that are willing to welcome children and families into the fold in a way that benefits everyone involved. Citizens engaging with students' work, learning right alongside them. A community that understands the important role our future leaders play in the health and well-being of their town. People invested in creating the most supportive environment possible for our littles. A community that not only appreciates the children they care for, but also recognizes and respects them as the researchers, artists, and teachers they are.
As a Reggio Emilia inspired school, I have seen so many examples of the people from Reggio Emilia highlighting and elevating the work of their youngest citizens in a way that is usually reserved for adults. It is very common to walk into a coffee shop or restaurant in Reggio Emilia and see its walls, windows, and shelves displaying paintings, sculptures, drawings, writings, and documentation created by early education students at the local schools. The community understands and acknowledges that the children are the heart and soul of their city. If they want Reggio Emilia to thrive, it is imperative that all of their children are thriving. One way they accomplish this is by treating their children's work with as much clout and respect as they would for the adults because the citizens of Reggio Emilia understand that it IS just as important, if not more important than the work of the adults. They believe that their children are valuable members of their society and treat them as such. The adults think of their work as real and important pieces of art. They see the students as critical contributors to their community. And, since all of the grownups believe in them, the children believe in themselves too.
And, now, Growing With Wonder is starting to create our own Community Connections. Our teacher, Haley Rockwood, has been spearheading our Community Outreach. She's been reaching out to local businesses to start fostering relationships and find ways to celebrate our students out in the community. Because of her hard work, she has created our first Community Connection! Island Ice Cream, located in Williston, has enthusiastically agreed to showcase some of our students' amazing artwork!
Since the beginning of the year, our students have been working on an art project we are calling Collaborative Canvases. Haley wrote a description of the children's work that is hung at Island Ice Cream alongside the canvases:
"Growing With Wonder, located in Essex Junction, is a multi age school (ages 0-5) that encourages every child to create and explore our play based learning environment. We paint, draw, collage, print and use all types of different mediums when working on our collaborative canvases. Our community of proud artists work together, layer by layer, adding dimension to each canvas.
We believe that the process of creating is just as important as the final product. The importance of collaborative art helps self expression, teamwork, improves self-esteem, processing emotions, and gives children a grasp on color theory, and a supportive environment for exploration. Each child from our school has added their own unique style to these beautiful canvases. We hope our on going pieces of art inspire you to create and collaborate with others."
We invite you, your family, friends, colleagues to go to Island Ice Cream, enjoy some delicious treats, and admire the truly magnificent artwork that will be on display for the next couple of months. We hope they will bring you as much joy as it does for us!
By: Dawn Irwin
Two summers ago, I enrolled in an amazing course offered through Shelburne Farms called Education for Sustainability. Not knowing very much about it, I thought I would be learning some new sustainability practices to help our school, students, and teachers become better stewards for the Earth. Come to find out, this course would rock my foundation and help me combine many facets of my educational philosophy into one incredible overarching theme.
As a Reggio Emilia inspired Early Educator, play and arts-based learning and collaboration between students, teachers, and the community with an emphasis on social/emotional learning and social justice have always been extremely important pieces of my pedagogical puzzle. It is imperative that children feel invested in the relationships and spaces they spend their time in. These concepts are key components to achieving this goal. What the course at Shelburne Farms taught me is that sustainable educational practices already include these crucial ideas under its umbrella. I no longer needed to think of these things as separate parts of my philosophy, it can all be seen through the single lens of Education for Sustainability.
I was so excited to bring this back to Growing With Wonder and couldn’t wait to share the concept with the other teachers at school. We talked a lot about what I learned over inservice and decided to embrace these practices and bring them into the classroom with even more intention than we already were.
One of the first opportunities we were given to put this theory into practice was with some tomato plants that were donated to our school. It was our first time trying to grow something with the kiddos and everyone was very excited about the process. That first attempt had a wonderfully sweet outcome that came straight from the kiddos.
From there, our students decided they wanted to grow more edible plants during the next growing season. A curriculum thread we had been following for the full school year was storytelling. It started with the kiddos just listening to stories–some from books, some from read-alouds–and grew into the students creating their own elaborate stories, both through book making and oratory storytelling. During the winter, we began drinking tea during our storytelling events. So, when it came time to think about planting a new garden in the spring, the kiddos immediately latched on to the idea of creating our very own tea garden. By this time, Shelburne Farms had reached out to me to see how Growing With Wonder was applying the teachings from the Education for Sustainability course. When I told them about the tomato plants and the students’ tea garden idea, they asked if they could photograph us planting the tea garden. We immediately said yes!
It was such an honor being able to show the folks at Shelburne Farms some of the ways in which we were able to implement Education for Sustainability almost immediately after the course ended. And, the class taught me how easily we can start to put together the building blocks of stewardship, advocacy, community, and equity through the simple act of planting just two tomato plants and watching the wonder grow within the eyes of our students. And, this is only the beginning.
You can read more about our gardening adventures in an article written by Shelburne Farms, which you can find here:
From left to right: Emily Holden, Leonora Dodge, Dawn Irwin, Rep. Karen Dolan, Rep. Alyssa Black, and Sen. Thomas Chittenden
“There are times we should be quiet.
There are days for letting go.
But when matters seem important–
Let others know.
With so many ways to speak up, like a sign, a smile, a shout…
If we could make things better,
Why not let our words come out?”
–From the book, Speak Up, written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Ebony Glenn
Early childhood educators everywhere are undervalued, under appreciated, and underpaid. For many people with supportive families and partners, it is a privilege to be able to afford to work in this profession. I was introduced to the advocacy side of this profession in my first job in the field and it has been present at every single center I've worked in since then. The fight for respect societally, politically, and financially has been long, hard, and ceases to end despite the perseverance and exhaustive effort of the majority of folks who work in the field begging for change.
The problem in all of this is a greater, systemic issue that many people don’t understand and it’s impacting both those who need childcare and those who work in childcare. We teachers participate in rallies like the one that takes place at Early Childhood Day at the Legislator, engage in hours-long zoom meetings and conversations with legislators and state representatives, write letters, make phone calls, post on social media, donate, display signs of support on our lawns, pins, and clothing. We do everything we can to make sure our voices are heard and it sometimes still feels like it is not enough.
The state provided centers and schools with an application for retention bonuses, with the hope that a payment of $1,000 or less could inspire educators to remain in a field that is disastrously understaffed and losing teachers left and right. This was incredible news until we learned that the schools that can afford to be open with no room for extra spending had to front the money to be reimbursed by the state later on. This was earth shattering and angering and wrong. It was like dangling a treat in front of a dog on a treadmill– the treat IS there, but it is inaccessible to most.
After some processing and release of frustration, our teaching team wondered if there was anything we could do to change this, making bonuses more accessible so we could access the funds without a detrimental financial impact on our small, woman-owned school. After all, we spend our days with vulnerable children teaching them that their voices matter, deserve to be heard, and that speaking up in times of adversity is crucial to making life and the world a better place.
In an effort to show our children a real life example of advocacy, we invited a group of State representative candidates and legislators into our school to meet with the teachers, families, and to see the magic that happens in our center first hand. Representatives Alyssa Black, Tanya Vyhovsky, Karen Dolan, Senator Thomas Chittenden, and legislative candidates Leonora Dodge and Infinite Culceasure joined us on a Monday afternoon and listened to people from our Wonder community describe the challenges that both the families and those that provide the care face. For the first time in a while, we felt seen and heard. We described to them the dilemma of the stipulations around the bonus funding and most of them hadn’t heard the details about how inaccessible it was until we told them.
Following the visit, my co-teacher and friend, Dominique Collins, boldly and bravely reached out to the Seven Days. Shortly thereafter, she and the director and owner of Growing With Wonder, Dawn Irwin, were interviewed about retention bonuses, exposing the inaccessible nature of it to the public. They shared the struggles that the teaching team faces individually and as a whole and an article was posted later that day.
20 hours after the article was published, the state revised the process and made it more accessible to those who apply, providing the funding for the bonuses upfront, no longer requiring businesses to front the money until they could be reimbursed.
We got news of this while we were in our outdoor classroom, surrounded by muddy and playful children. Being the people we are, we jumped and cheered and screamed and filled with tears of joy because this money will help us all out and we realized that our advocacy for change worked. It really worked this time. In many ways, it feels bigger than the bonuses we will receive.
The children were curious about our emotionally charged celebration and asked us what was going on and what happened. Upon an age appropriate explanation about how we used our voices to generate change “like we always talk about”, they smiled and celebrated with us. One 4 year old girl remarked, “Well, that is really great!”.
All of this is inspiration to never give up on fighting for what you believe is right and fair and accessible. Because a few people raised their voices, educators all over the state will have easier access to these bonuses.
I want to thank the representative candidates and legislators for visiting and listening to our stories. I want to thank Mark for joining us during their visit, representing the families in our community, and sharing his family’s story and struggles while honoring the work we do and sacrifices we make. I want to thank my co-teachers for being absolutely incredible advocates and humans, Dawn Irwin for being the best director in the world and fighting for all of us in the Wonder community every way she can. Lastly, I want to thank Dominique for reaching out and initiating the interview with the reporter and representing us with her eloquent words. We will continue to advocate for change together, for as long as we have to.
By: Emily Holden
A link to the article in the Seven Days--
“It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have rewritten mine
By being my friend”
-”For Good” from Wicked the Musical
In the dark, cozy, cool, quiet, and still of nap time, we realized it was time to take down our graduate’s birthday handprints to send home; along with everything else each child had collected and stored in their cubbies, their art from the drying rack, and their extra clothes that found themselves a home here for the past year. The miscellaneous toys from home that ended up being a part of the classroom were gathered, too. As I watched Dawn gently take down their handprints, it hit me that our first actual school year was really over. Next week, we will be completely overhauling the classroom to get ready for our new Wonder friends that we will see in September and our graduates have already started at their new schools. We received photos of them walking into their new school or onto the bus for the first time, which was completely surreal and we are so proud of them.
Being an early educator will always be one of the best jobs in the world because it is all about building strong relationships with the children around you, and you quickly end up with 20 or more friends under the age of six. You start to get to know someone during their most formative years and if you’re lucky, you get to spend more than one year together. There is nothing like reflecting back and seeing how much a child has grown and learned during the time you’ve known them. There is nothing like the dynamic in our classroom, either- we are a family. We eat together, we play together, we sleep at the same time, and we laugh together. It’s truly magical.
I could go on and on about all the wonderful things about being an early childhood educator, but I have to address the hardest part of the job: seeing the children you have grown to love like your own move on to their next chapter in life. Things feel a little different this year, because we opened up a brand new school in the midst of a global pandemic. During one of the scariest times in our lifetimes, the teachers and kids mostly just had each other to help bring laughter, love, light, and joy into an otherwise extremely challenging , lonely, and dark time. We made it through this past year together.
As we say goodbye to our first full school year, we are beyond grateful for everyone that came together and repeatedly showed up to help us out, support us, or encourage us. Our founding families and Wonder Kids will always, always be an integral part of our school’s story. Every child that entered our doors this year helped lay the foundation for our school’s routines, philosophy, habits, and inside jokes. While the teachers have all worked really hard to create Growing With Wonder, we couldn’t have done it without the flexibility, understanding, and lessons learned from the Wonder Kids. They remained patient as we tried to perfect how our school runs and were always willing to make changes, and we are so thankful.
To our big kid graduates, We want to say congratulations and THANK YOU. Thank you for so,so much. Thank you for helping us create our school from the ground up! We want you to know how much of an impact you’ve had on the foundation of GWW. You helped us figure it all out! You helped us create our systems and routines and helped show us where we could make changes to make our school better every day. You are responsible for so much laughter, art, magic, and wonder we’ve experienced over the past year. We’ve seen you all grow so incredibly much, going from already incredible human beings to people who truly take our breath away every day with your thoughtfulness, kindness, caring, and love for adventure. Thank you for your desire to help us clean, set up the classroom, set up lunch, and for all your purposeful work. We’ve seen you develop a sense of ownership and pride for the classrooms and we want you to know that GWW will always be yours. Thank you for showing us how to play, how to roll with the punches, how to be flexible, and for igniting a passion for adventure in the teachers. Thank you for all the great walks we’ve gone on- there isn’t a better way to spend our days together than at the park or in the woods. We are completely astounded by the magnificent humans you are and we just know that you are all destined for greatness. Never hesitate to keep in touch, reach out, or join us for our traditions and parties. You are ALWAYS welcome in our school. Each of you are truly remarkable humans who are going to do incredible things in this world.
Although it is scary to send them off into the big world outside of our Wonder bubble, we are abundantly proud to send a group of empathetic, kind, compassionate, and thoughtful activists into the world. We know that their next chapters will be fun, exciting, busy, and challenging at times; we know that it might be a while before we see each other again. No matter what- these children have left their ‘handprints’ all over our school and our hearts. Our wonderful first year spent together at Growing With Wonder has changed its teachers, for good. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we love you so much.
With so much love and Wonder,
Emily and the Wonder Team
An inside peek at emergent curriculum
By: Holly Beckert
July 7, 2020
I was so very excited to work my first day at GWW. As I was getting to know the children, a small bug flew by. "What was that?" asked one of the children. Another one said "It was a bug!" I asked them what kind of bug they thought it might be. "A lady bug!" "No, a mosquito!" "No, it's a spider" "No it can't be because spiders can't fly". In that moment, and in that conversation, a spark was lit. The children became invested in figuring out what sort of bug could have flown by inside of our school. They offered ideas, predictions, they argued their reasoning for why it could or couldn't be a certain type of bug. I wondered where this might take us...
A short while later I sat at the art table. I set out some markers, pencils, paper, scissors, and small pie tins. I asked two year old V if she would be interested in sketching some bugs with me. I said, "Hmm...I wonder what kind of bug I could draw. I wonder if I know how to draw a bug..." 4 year old Q's interest was piqued. He said "I know! I'll go look in the library to see if I can find any books about bugs!" He and 4 year old B went searching. At this point 2 year old V had been drawing up a storm. "LOOK! Ladybug! Lady BUG!" she announced excitedly while pointing at her work. I asked her if it would be okay for me to write the label "lady bug" on her drawing as well as write her name. She nodded and beamed with pride as I labeled her work. Her big brother L came walking over. He asked what we were doing. The children at the table all explained. "We are drawing about bugs". At this point, I had begun to cut out some pictures of bugs I found in an old magazine. I asked the children what they thought about creating our own GWW Bug Museum! This way we could document what we learned and hang it up in our classroom for other children to see. They were so excited as they brainstormed other bugs our museum would need. "We need grasshoppers!" "We need flies!" The ideas kept coming. I supported the children by scaffolding as needed. Some of them needed help with cutting out their bugs, others wanted me to label for them. Some wanted to write their own words (more on emergent writing later).
It was one of those small moments that I live for as an educator. When a tiny spark-like a little bug flying by-can ignite a fire in our bellies. A yearning to learn something new, to investigate, to come together as a small community of multi-aged children (and adults). The teamwork that was built between the children as they looked for books together; as they listened to each others ideas and offered their own. These are the moments that we learn and grow together, children and teachers. Through my observation I was able to learn a lot about where these children are at developmentally. I was taking note in my mind of who might need what in the future. I was thinking of all the new ways I could support them and also stretch them to learn and develop new skills. From the perspective of the children, they thoroughly enjoyed learning through hands-on, investigative play. I didn't walk in with a lesson plan that morning.
They wondered. I wondered. We wondered together. And that is the magic of emergent curriculum.
By: Dawn Irwin
As I sit here sipping my coffee on a beautiful Saturday morning, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of contentment and satisfaction. I haven't been this relaxed mentally and emotionally for longer than I can remember. The corners of my mouth can't help but turn towards the sky and I am trying to get comfortable with a lightness that feels foreign to me.
I've gotten so used to carrying around uncertainty and fear that my brain doesn't know what to do with the sudden extra bandwidth.
For the past 13 months, every single day was littered with complications, impossible hurdles, infuriating roadblocks, and unexpected heartbreaks. For the first time in over a year, that negative cloud has dissipated.
This past Wednesday, July 1st, was our first official day of school. I barely slept a wink the night before. But, not for the reasons I've lost so much sleep since last June. This time it was because of an excited, nervous giddiness that kept my mind humming along all night. If felt a lot like those sleepless Christmas Eve nights when I was a kid - laying awake in bed anxiously awaiting the time I could finally creep down the stairs and see what was waiting for me under the tree.
And, Wednesday turned out to be everything I hoped it would be. My amazing teachers arrived looking just as excited and nervous as I was. The kiddos came next, saying their goodbyes to their grownups. The school was filled with the wonderful, joyful chaos I've been missing for so long.
There was laughter, singing, reading, snuggling, negotiations, dancing, construction, mud cookies, a rock cake, painting, and even a few tears. New relationships were formed and familiar ones were rekindled.
At the end of the day, I was emotionally depleted and achingly exhausted, but I was whole. I had finally found the missing piece of the puzzle I had been searching for.
The outpouring of love we have received has also been an emotional roller coaster. It's incredible to physically feel the support of our community enveloping our little school. I know with every fiber of my being this dream would have never happened if it weren't for them. The countless shoulders I cried on, the many words of advice given, the financial support, the ones that saw a path forward when I couldn't, the endless dedication to the vision, the warriors that fought tooth and nail, the believers. I am eternally grateful for every single one of you. I would not be where I am today and the school would not have become what it is without you.
So, as I sit here reflecting back on the past thirteen months, basking in the lightness of this moment, I can't help but chuckle a little. As insane as it has been and almost impossible as it was to get to the place we are now, it's important to remember we have only just reached the starting line. We've taken just the first few steps of the marathon. The road will never end and I never want it to.
I'm ready. Let's do this.
By: Dawn Irwin
I don't really know how to begin this piece, so I'm just going to start writing, sitting in the uncomfortable knowledge of not knowing the best way to begin this conversation.
The past several days have been extremely emotional for me. And, I recognize that the emotions swirling inside of me do not even come close to the emotional baggage Black people in our country have been forced to carry for over four hundred years.
It has been extremely hard to watch video after video of protesters being brutalized by police officers around the country. I also recognize that what I've seen is nothing in comparison to the brutalization the Black community has been experiencing and witnessing for decades. The fact that I didn't do more to stop their nightmare before now weighs heavy on my heart.
I have felt a full range of emotions since the murder of George Floyd. Rage, frustration, confusion, desperation, deep sadness, helplessness, and most of all, shame. These have enveloped me on more than one occasion. But, by the end of last week, I also started to experience some other feelings. I felt inspiration, connectedness, pride, hope, and love. These latter emotions all stemmed from my five year old son.
It has been impossible to shield my children from the reality of the last few weeks. If I'm being completely honest, the fact that I was shielding them from the racist world we live in at all is a significant sign of my privilege and I regret not having done more to build their awareness. Although I can't change the past, I can recognize my mistakes and vow to do better.
My son heard his father and I having conversations about the protests, the brutality of the police, and the gross mistreatment of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in America. He also saw me watching videos explaining systemic racism, violence against Blacks, and researching resources for anti-racism. This, as you can imagine, has lead to many questions and conversations.
We have been as honest and transparent about current, as well as past, events as we possibly could be. Questions he asked that I didn't know how to answer, we tried to figure out together. When he asked why Black people are hurt by other people, I told him about White people being afraid of losing power over Black people so White people created ways to keep Black people from feeling safe and left them out of the communities they live in. I told him that White people still hurt Black people to fill them with fear and make them feel like nobody cares about them.
"But, I care about Black people! No one should be unkind to them. No one should hurt them!" he said to me with all the passion a five-year-old can muster.
"That's why it's so important for White people like you and me to use our voices and make sure we stop others from hurting Black people. We need to make sure Black people know that we care about them and will do what we can to help them."
A couple of days later, my son heard my husband and I talking about a protest taking place in our town. He immediately jumped up and demanded that we go to the protest. "If we go to the protest people will know that they can't be mean and hurt Black people. We will tell them to be kind. We need to show them (Black people) that we care about them."
Then he said,
"If I don't go, how will they know that I love them?"
The next afternoon, my husband helped my son make a sign. As we arrived at the protest, he was amazed by all of the people that were there. "Mama! Look! All of these people care about Black people too!"
For an hour and a half, he held his sign, waved at cars, and said hi to the folks that walked by. And, at the end, he knelt down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds with all of the adults in honor of George Floyd.
My five year old son understands the injustices of our country better than I ever have. He believes with every fiber of his being that its his responsibility to spread love and fight back against hate. I didn't need to, and shouldn't have, sheltered him from the cruelty of our oppressive society.
How can we expect our children to break the cycle of systemic racism if they don't even know it exists.
Kids are smart, capable, empathetic beings. We hardly ever give them the credit they deserve. It is our responsibility as adults to trust them with this knowledge and support them on their own social justice journeys. I waited longer than I should have with my son. I won't make the same mistake with my daughter.
I am on this path of discovery myself. I am trying to become the best ally I can and embrace an anti-racist way of living. I have no idea what I'm doing, except on one front: I am being open and honest about my own anti-racist journey with my children. We are learning and growing in our allyship together.
As long as white people keep doing our best to educate ourselves, act against oppression, and treat our children as capable allies, social justice will become the norm for our children and generations to come. That's the kind of world I want to live in, don't you?
The Conscious Kid - https://www.theconsciouskid.org/
Raising Race Conscious Children - http://www.raceconscious.org/
Center for Racial Justice - https://centerracialjustice.org/resources/resources-for-talking-about-race-racism-and-racialized-violence-with-kids/
PBS - https://www.pbs.org/parents/talking-about-racism
Other resources can be found here - https://bouncebackparenting.com/resources-for-talking-to-kids-about-race-and-racism/
By: Dawn Irwin
Two weeks ago, Governor Scott held a press conference in which he told in-home providers and child care programs that they have the choice to reopen starting June 1st. About five days later, the updated health guidelines were released. Since then, providers and programs from around the state have been working tirelessly to figure out how to reopen by the June date. Lots of folks are upset, petitions are being signed, protests are being held.
How did we get here?
Let's back up a little bit. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, our governor and state officials put an incredible policy in place called the Stabilization Program. This program provided financial support to in-home early childhood educators and child care programs and schools around the state to ensure their survival through the statewide closures. Without the remarkable leadership and support of our top government officials, the child care industry would have collapsed. Other states around the country are now looking to Vermont as a model on how to successfully navigate through a financially debilitating crisis. Now that we are all caught up, lets jump back to the current environment surrounding reopening.
The governor made his reopening announcement about four weeks before the June 1st date. Since then, guidance and other crucial information that the field needs to successfully and safely reopen has been trickling in. As I said, the health guidance was issued about five days after his initial announcement and another crucial piece of information was finally released on Friday. The Restart Stipends.
At the initial reopening press conference, it was announced that reopening June 1st was a choice providers and programs could make. However, it was also announced that the Stabilization Program would be ending May 31st. This made June 1st feel a lot less like a choice to many in the field. It was also announced that there would be grants available to programs to help with reopening costs. $6 million worth. We also found out that those funds would be used for not only childcare programs, but summer camps as well. Although it sounds like a big number, its actually pretty small. If every child care provider and program received an equal amount of funds from that total, we would all get $5,000. Sounds like a lot. But, let's think about what those funds need to be used for - more payroll to cover extra staff and/or hours to complete the new cleaning requirements, installation of new walls/barriers/etc. to meet group size restrictions, and the purchase of PPE equipment and the extra cleaning supplies needed on top of the normal amount we go through. That $5,000 won't get programs very far. And, that number is guaranteed to be smaller because of the summer camps and after school programs that will also be eligible for those funds. Providers have been given a week to apply for the stipend (they have until this Friday) if they want to be considered for any of the funds. And, magically, that <$5,000 is supposed to cover all of the extra financial burdens facing the field during this transitional period. This brings me to my biggest frustration with the reopening timeline - the accessibility and affordability of supplies.
Remember how toilet paper was MIA for awhile at the beginning of this whole crazy situation? Remember how scary it felt not knowing how long your stash would last or if you would be able to find it when you did run out? Do you remember how surreal it was walking through stores and all the shelves were just empty? How unbelievable it felt that basic items no one usually thinks about were being sold on ebay for hundreds of dollars over their usual retail price? Folks were hoarding supplies, others couldn't find any at all...it was a desperate time.
Here's the thing: this is still the reality for providers and programs.
Hundreds of early educators cannot find the essential cleaning supplies and PPE equipment they need to open their programs safely. Distributors won't sell them products because the child care industry is not designated as an "essential business". When they are lucky enough to find the products and equipment, they either can't afford to buy it in the amounts they now need or they are told it will be several weeks before their orders can be filled.
This is not conducive with a June 1st reopening.
When broken down like this, it is easy to understand why providers and programs are feeling anxious about reopening.
And, this doesn't even include the worries lots of folks, both families and providers, are feeling around how safe and developmentally appropriate some of the health guidelines are.
Hence, petitions and protests.
Here's the thing. We need to be more comfortable having "yes AND" conversations. Not everything has to be thrown into divisive boxes that pit us all against each other.
Let me give you some examples. Yes, the government did a phenomenal thing and showed the world that the field of early childhood education is valuable, important, and a crucial part of our economy AND we need continued substantial support to ensure our industry survives this transition. Yes, some children, families, and educators need to and are ready to get back into the consistent, caring, and nurturing child care environments we create AND some children, families, and educators think its too soon to go back. Yes, child care providers from every corner of Vermont are extremely appreciative and grateful for the support we were given during the closures AND we need to advocate for the safe reopening of our programs.
I know I just threw a rainstorm at you, but now its time to make way for the rainbow.
June 1st is approaching really fast. In fact, its two weeks from today. Instead of thinking about the impossibility of opening that soon, let's think about what we CAN do. We can focus on supplies and how we talk to one another. Here are my suggestions:
1. - Advocate to become a designated "essential business". Accessibility is one of our biggest challenges. If we want to ensure in-home providers and child care programs are able to open on time and safely, we need to make sure there are no unnecessary hold ups in the supply chain. Write to your legislators and urge them to add the child care industry to the "essential business" list. If the early childhood education field were added to that list, supply deliveries would go from weeks to days, meaning many programs would no longer think of reopening June 1st as an impossibility.
I'll even make it easy for you. Copy the passage in italics, click the link below to get matched with your legislators, then paste the passage into the message box, hit send and viola! You've just advocated for Vermont's early childhood educators!
I am a constituent from your district and I am writing to you to bring a concern of mine to your attention. I have recently found out that child care providers are having extreme difficulty finding the cleaning supplies and PPE equipment necessary for them to reopen their programs. I think it is a mistake to make them wait for these crucial materials. I urge you to add the child care industry as a designated essential business so that, like the health care industry, they can access the supplies and equipment needed to keep children and themselves safe and healthy at school. Thank you for your time and your support in this matter.
Seriously, don't finish reading this post until you've completed this simple task.
2. - Donate supplies. Advocating is necessary, but programs needed supplies and equipment yesterday. They can't afford the costs associated with extra supplies needed to follow the health guidelines. I have spoken directly with over a hundred providers and they are all asking for the same things - gloves, cloth masks, disinfecting spray, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer. If you are able, purchase one or two of these items on your next shopping trip and drop them off at a home provider or program near you. If you don't know any programs or providers, email me and I will make sure your donation makes its way to an educator that needs it.
3. - Make space for "yes AND" conversations. Nothing is ever black and white. Everything is always full of nuance and gray area, and that's not even taking a pandemic into account. There are lots of different emotions, perspectives, and experiences influencing the conversations surrounding our transition back into care. Every single one of them is valid. I'm going to say that again.
Every single one of them is valid.
Families need care AND families want to stay home longer. Providers want to get back to work AND providers are worried about the health and safety of themselves, their staff, and the children and families they serve. Isolation is detrimental to children AND physical distancing is developmentally inappropriate. The government kept our industry afloat during the shutdown AND we need even more support moving forward. It is possible to hold more than one truth at the same time. The better we get at having nuanced conversations, the better equipped we will be moving forward.
This isn't going to be easy. But, I don't know a single early educator that chose this profession because it was easy. So, let's do what we do best - think outside the box, advocate for the critical things we need, ooze empathy and compassion, and work together to create the tomorrow our children, families, and fellow educators deserve.
Now, seriously, go write to your legislators. No excuses.
We are pleased to announce a new feature of our blog - Community Voices. Every now and then we will be highlighting different voices and perspectives from the world of Early Childhood Education. We are even more excited to introduce our very first guest writer, Serene Ismail!
Serene Ismail is a Fulbright Scholar and mother of a beautiful girl. She is an educationalist who loves creating different art & craft ideas for kids.
I sat near the window,
Rain dripping down the pane,
Chirping of birds in the tree,
So fresh and green..
‘The earth has music for those who listen’
Every passing moment, you realize what life was and what it has become now. Everyone was in a hurry to get things done but God is in no hurry. His plans are never rushed, and today’s world is not less than a perfect example of it. We did not learn to trust His timing. We were impatient. We tried to force doors open. We tried to make things happen in our own strength. We just got too busy in the race of life that we ignored ourselves and our loved ones. But then came a global pandemic and life changed !
We confined ourselves within four walls of our homes, those walls which is our world now. The world where we have all the time to realize what we were missing in life. A year ago, I would have never guessed life would be the way it is now. ‘Stay at home’ orders changed the order of life for everyone. It is true that change is the only constant in life.
After some much needed time of self-reflection, I have realized how easy it is to let things go. I learned this from my four years old daughter, who enjoys every little moment, being carefree and happy. Spending time with her, using new different techniques to create and paint something new every day, spreading colors of happiness and positivity in my four walled world. Do not let grief surround you.
Look around and see how nature is at its best. Clean and fresh air, beautiful blue sky, lush green leaves, blooming flowers, chirping birds…is this all we were missing? God has given us time to enjoy the beauty of nature and admire how life can be simple yet beautiful with these colors around us. Things might not go always as we planned, but you still got to make the best out of life. Turn the negatives into positives, not letting anything steal away your joy. Let the nature breathe so we can breathe too. Let us forgive others so we can be forgiven too. Let us love our loved ones so we can be loved too. Just let things go…
For it is in giving that we receive. . . .
By: Dawn Irwin
Today is April 6th. Today is a Monday. Today was suppose to be the start of something new. The beginning of a new chapter. The day my dream became a reality. The day that all of the blood, sweat, and tears I've poured into this school paid off.
Instead, today is a day I am surrounded by grief.
You might be thinking to yourself that I am using the wrong word. That I'm not using it in the correct context. That it can't possibly be the emotion that I'm feeling at this moment. But...it is.
Two weeks before this crazy pandemic turned our world upside down, I was days away from finishing the application process to open a brand new school. I was only 20 days away from our Open House event and our very first day of school. I was hiring incredible educators, enrolling amazing families, and feeling so relieved knowing that everything we had been working towards since last June was finally FINALLY here.
Then the world came to a crashing halt.
People were getting sick, folks were dying, and everyone everywhere couldn't believe what was happening. Our governor made the right decision, closing school districts and early childhood education programs throughout the state and slowly over the next two weeks, shut down everything else declared non-essential. So, here I sit, marking what was suppose to be one of the most important days of my life reading articles about Covid-19 instead of welcoming families on our first day of school.
It's hard not to feel insane when dueling emotions fight for space in your brain. On one hand, I am extremely grateful to live in a state that is taking this pandemic seriously and putting the right steps in place to keep us safe. On the other hand, I feel like I've been sucker punched and made the butt of a cruel joke. I become overwhelmed with anger, frustration, and fear for the situation this pandemic has placed me in while simultaneously being crushed by guilt for feeling that way when I know there are so many others out there experiencing much worse realities than mine. Sometimes, I am able to take a deep breath and focus on the future post Covid-19. Sometimes, I'm paralyzed and feel like we will never escape this nightmare. Most days I don't want to feel the waves of sadness crash over me and I do what I can to keep myself busy.
Today is different.
Today I will mourn the loss of the opening that wasn't. I will feel the emptiness of a school that's full of silence. I will long for the camaraderie I have found in my co-teachers. I will cry for the families that are struggling to figure out a new normal in this time of crisis. I will be engulfed in sadness and sit with the pain of what isn't. My grief is real. My loss is real. No matter how many times I try to convince myself otherwise.
Today I grieve. Tomorrow I rise.
We are Early Childhood Educators that consider introspection and reflection valuable tools that help us become the best teachers we can be. Please enjoy reading all about our adventures inside and outside of our classroom!