Supporting Our Littlest Learners

By Sunny Carron, YMCA Child Development Center


“YMCA Child Development Center. This is Sunny, how may I help you?”

“I’m sorry we do not have any infant openings; I am happy to put you on the waiting list.”

“The waiting list is about 1-1 ½ years out before we have any new openings.”

“Your family is relocating to Jefferson City for your new job and you are finding there is no childcare? I am so sorry; I know that is a lot of stress for your family.”

This is a conversation we find ourselves having lately. Serving infants and toddlers in our community has been a hardship for many centers. Serving 4 infants creates a $14,000 - $15,000 loss each year, and this is not a manageable deficit for most centers. For this reason some centers closed infant/toddler spots in order to maintain operations. As a partner agency with the United Way, we were very fortunate to receive emergency grant funding of $14,000 to serve 4 additional infants this year. Our center also partners with the United Way to offer income-based scholarships to our families. Partnering with the United Way has been such a critical part in our ability to continue serving all families in our community.

The YMCA Child Development Center serves the littlest learners from 6 weeks, until they graduate our program and start their next adventure, kindergarten. As we are preparing our community’s little ones for kindergarten readiness there is much work to be done. The “work” of a young child is play, so we provide hands-on activities daily to reinforce learning. The center uses the nationally recognized Creative Curriculum in planning daily activities. Our philosophy is to involve children in their environment with learning opportunities that develop and build social-emotional, cognitive, language, and gross and fine motor skills.

As part of our partnership with the United Way Early Childhood Initiative, our center also uses Conscious Discipline curriculum in the classrooms. Conscious Discipline is an evidence-based approach to social-emotional learning that fosters a safe, connected, problem-solving environment for the whole family.

One of our current focuses in incorporating Conscious Discipline in our center is to help the children create safe spaces within themselves, through social emotional self-regulation. We are striving to teach them, when the world isn’t going their way, (and let’s be honest we know as adults it often doesn’t go our way, which leads to disappointment, frustration or upset), that we can find a calming strength within us. As the children learn breathing techniques to calm their bodies, they then can process the situation with adult support. As we are learning, many adults still struggle in times of upset with self-regulation, so we are teaching the family as a whole with parent education nights, access to community trainings and an online Conscious Discipline series. After the child and adult learn to self-regulate, then optimal connections and learning can occur. For a child to really engage in learning they must feel a sense of safety and connection in order to progress.

Building connections is another focus we are strengthening in our center. In order to make connections oftentimes the adult needs to disconnect from the distraction of their day. I don’t think I have had a conversation with many adults lately that aren’t distracted. It seems they cannot make it through a conversations without a reminder beeping on their phone, looking at their phone or watch to read a message or taking a call and asking me to wait a minute. To really make connection with others we need to be present, we need to make eye contact, we need to use touch and create a playful situation. Our staff use “I love you rituals” throughout the day with the children, which include all the elements for true connections. A connected child is a child who feels safe and is willing to cooperate in learning.

By combining hands-on learning, a sense of safety and connections we are not only sending children out prepared for kindergarten, we are sending them out with problem solving skills to help throughout their lifetime.