Category Archives: Providers

Become a Children’s Mental Health Advocate

by Shannon Ford, Professional Development Coordinator

I am one of the millions of Americans diagnosed with a mental health condition. In fact, one in five of us are!1 Mental health problems are actually more common than heart disease, lung disease, and cancer combined.2   Anxiety disorder is something that causes me to worry a bit too much.  At times, I can be restless and wound-up. Other times, I can be easily fatigued and have trouble concentrating.  On top of this, I’m a single mother raising a teenage son dealing with depression and anxiety.  It’s easy to see why mental health awareness is a topic close to my heart.

Of course, early childhood topics are also an area close to my heart. I wake up each day, wondering how my work in the early childhood field impacts children. I am always looking for ways to grow my knowledge on all things early childhood. As our nation seeks to increase awareness about the importance of children’s mental health, I began to look at my own repertoire on the topic and find ways to increase my skill set on this important topic. Here’s what I found that may help you as a caregiver of young children.


For our youngest children, we define mental health more along the lines of social and emotional development and wellness. Ask yourself these questions about the children in your care. Are they:

  • Forming close and secure relationships with adults and peers?
  • Able to experience, express, and manage a full range of emotions and feelings?
  • Able to explore the environment around them and learn?

We know early experiences matter.  Furthermore, they have a large impact on later mental and physical health. They also affect educational success, employment, and social well-being.


It’s always good to evaluate your own practices. Take a look what you’re currently doing in your own program.

  • What are you doing to build and strengthen life skills in young children?
  • How are you promoting confidence in young children?
  • Are there opportunities for problem-solving and conflict resolution?
  • In what ways are you fostering empathy and compassion?


This February, I became a Youth Mental Health First Aider through a course offered by the Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY).  Being endorsed as a Youth Mental Health First Aider has given me the tools to assist and support a child showing symptoms of a mental illness. Its tools can also help me with those children experiencing a mental health crisis until someone can reach professional help.  Not only was this course beneficial to me as an early childhood expert, it has benefited me as a parent as well.

National Alliance on Mental Illness:

National Council for Behavioral Health, 2016


Cover image by Flickr user Aikawa KeCreative Commons license.

Putting down screens and picking up a book

by Kristin Kahl, Knowledge Manager

Next week is a fantastic opportunity for families.  It’s both Screen-Free Week and Children’s Book Week! You read that right. I said fantastic opportunity, not scary-potential-for-disaster-when-my-kids-don’t-have-something-to-entertain-them-every-second.

I get it. As a working parent of 6- and 8-year-old boys, sometimes this mama just needs a minute of peace. Most of the time, the Kindle does a bang-up job of being my right-hand man to help me get a load of dishes or laundry done. The Wii (who lives in the quiet recesses of the faraway basement) is a great friend whenever the boys are snapping at each other, and I need a way to get a little quiet time.

This week is going to be different. So, I’m going to try to use entertainment other than screens for the kiddos. That’s where the books come in! The boys are old enough to be able to read on their own now. My 8-year-old is working his way through the Harry Potters and The Mysterious Benedict Society series. My 6-year-old feels like such a big kid when he reads the Magic Tree House chapter books. I think it’s also important for me to take some extra time out of my schedule to read with them. We have plenty of favorites I plan to break out, and many more waiting for us at the library.

Thankfully, I work with really wonderful experts who have some great suggestions:






What about you? Tell us about your favorite children’s book in the comments section below.



Well, I’m proud to report that our family survived Screen-Free week. As luck has it, it rained just about every day last week. Also, my third grader reported it was the worst planning ever because it also collided with Star Wars Day (May the Fourth). That meant that all six of the original movies were on TV, and the poor kid had to wait to watch them. Yet, we managed to get in some great board game nights and family reading time.

My favorite moment was when my kindergartner decided he wanted to attempt to read The Mysterious Benedict Society like his big brother. Although he could pronounce all the words, he didn’t know what they all meant. So, my third grader sat down with him and acted as a human dictionary for a good while they read it together. It warmed this mama’s heart – thanks Screen-Free week!

Cover image by Flickr user Katie LevesqueCreative Commons license.

Early Childhood Career Path: From Caregiver to Coach

by Joy McCall, Enhanced Family Child Care Coach

Where do I begin to tell you about my Early Childhood Education journey without aging myself? We all know that women and talking about age is not the way to start any conversation…


My journey in the field of Early Childhood Education started back in high school.  I completed the Early Childhood program at Warren Central and worked for the preschool part-time after school.  I enjoyed being with the children and watching their little faces light up when the light bulb came on.


I was then off to college for what I thought was a degree in Elementary Education.  Boy, was I wrong.  I started the pre-requirement classes for my major,  but they then put me in Intro to Music Appreciation class.  This, for a tone deaf person that has never read a note in her life, was the beginning of the end for me.  I struggled through the class and changed my major at that point. I knew my calling was to work with children and make a difference in their lives. So, that led me to majoring in Social Work.  I loved the ability to still work in the field of Early Childhood Education during my process. During my time in college, I got married and had my son. He was three-months old at graduation.


After I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, I accepted a position as an assistant director at a licensed facility. I had been working part-time there as an infant caregiver and was eager to “move up the ladder” so-to-speak.  In addition, administrators did not have to pay for child care. That was a huge expense I was relieved not to have. It was kind of like an extra pay check in the grand scheme of things.  I really enjoyed working as the assistant director. When my director switched jobs, I was more than happy to take over as director,  although I was losing my mentor. I needed the change and advancement in my life.


Advancing in my career also meant I would need additional education to meet the requirements by the state. I started taking Child Development Associate (CDA) credential classes online while working as the director.  I completed three Early Childhood Education classes and really felt like this was the right fit for me.  Yes, the social work aspect was still a part of my career, and I could work with children and families.  So, I did that for about three years before I started searching for something more.  By that, I mean I wanted to better myself both personally and professionally.

My mentor and friend never left me and always encouraged me to move up in my career. It was hard leaving my staff and families, but knew I could make a bigger impact growing into a new director position for Day Nursery.  They were a Level 4 Paths to QUALITY program and NAEYC accredited.  Man, I had no clue how big of a change it would be and how much I would continue to grow. Going through NAEYC accreditation with no previous experience proved to be challenging, but meeting the standards and passing was a great accomplishment.

During my time as a director for Day Nursery, I took the opportunity to complete my Director’s Credential at the University of Southern Indiana.  This program was great,  and I could still work full time. The course actually related to my day-to-day job too.  To this day, I go back and use some of the notes I took to help my providers. I remained the director at Day Nursery for six years.  The company had experienced many changes, and I felt as if I had outgrown the position.  I loved my families and staff, but felt like I could make a bigger impact by working as a Paths to QUALITY coach.


Becoming a Paths to QUALITY coach allowed me to help other providers improve their programs for higher quality and my personal impact would help many more children.  I loved the change – it opened so many doors for me to grow personally and professionally.  At that point, I had never stepped foot in a family child care home or ministry before that position.  I met so many great people and saw how important my position was in helping providers give children the best start in high quality programs.

After two years as a Paths to QUALITY Coach, I was offered a position partnering with the United Way of Central Indiana as an Enhanced Family Child Care Coaching Specialist.  A mouth-full, right? I have served in this position for five months now, and I really enjoy the partnership with United Way along with now helping providers from beginning. I have learned so much over these months, including building relationships with licensing consultants and seeing the process providers go through to become licensed and then signing on to Paths to QUALITY.

When I was 16-years old sitting in the Early Childhood program at Warren Central, you could not have told me I would be in the position that I am in today.  I have had an interesting journey in this field and look forward to continuing my education and career in Early Childhood Education.

Childhood has moved indoors – get them outside!

by Ann Aull, Early Childhood Adult Educator

Childhood has moved indoors.  The average American child spends only 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor playtime[i] as opposed to nearly seven hours of screen time.[ii]  As child care providers, we know that parents often enroll children in organized sports early and spend time outside watching children play.  Guess what? All those summer soccer and baseball games do not count as the type of outdoor play that children need.  It is up to us to make sure the children in our care are getting the play time they need to nurture their body, mind, and spirit.

Here are a few of the benefits outside time can provide our children:


  • Children run, jump, skip, and climb outside, which naturally increases fitness levels and prevents childhood obesity.
  • Outside time raises levels of Vitamin D, which helps children prevent future health problems.


  • Exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.
  • Children learn to assess risk and solve problems on their own.


  • Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.
  • Play protects children’s emotional development.
  • Nature makes children nicer, enhancing social relationships.

Even the simplest experiences can enhance children’s experiences outside.  I had the opportunity to visit the town of Reggio Emilia in Italy when I worked as a teacher at St. Mary’s Child Center.  Giving children the opportunity to experience nature was a priority for these schools.  At a center for infants and toddlers, the teachers put a large mirror down on a grassy area for the mobile infants to explore.  While observing the play, I realized that for infants who just learned to crawl, this could have been their first experience with the sky!  The teachers took pictures so the parents could also share in their child’s joyous discovery of the world around them.  As child care providers, we can make a difference so let’s get them outside!

Here are some resources for you to get the children in your life out in nature!

Indiana Children & Nature Network: Places to play outdoors in Indiana

Nature Net: Things kids can do outside

Visit Indy: Top 10 outdoor spaces


[i] Children under 13 spend only 30 minutes per week in unstructured play time outdoors – Sandra Hofferth and J. Sandberg (1999)

[ii] Children between the ages of 8 and 18 years spend an average of nearly 6.5 hours a day with electronic media – Rideout, V. and Hamel, E. (2006). The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Their Parent. Kaiser Family Foundation. (Note: Remember this was published in 2006. Think of how much bigger Facebook, iPhones and iPads have become since then.)

Cover image by Flickr user Jeff BoydCreative Commons license.

How to Respond to Superhero Play

by Candice Wise, former Early Childhood Development Specialist and current Partnerships for Early Learners Inclusion Specialist

I have a few children in my group who want to play superheroes all the time.  Just about every day, Elijah constructs an L-shaped Lego and points it in the air. Other children shout “Shoot, Elijah! Shoot!”.  It seems that I am constantly reminding them to stop running indoors, kicking the air pretending to be Spiderman.  Does this sound familiar?

Many teachers express concerns about this type of play behavior in their child care settings.  Some admit to me that they feel frustrated repeating the same phrases while noticing very little change in the behavior.  Redirection doesn’t seem to work, and many have noticed that the children still sneak and play.  If you can relate, you may ask yourself “What can I do?”.  My response, along with many other researchers? “Join the party!”.

Superhero play is commonly defined as a type of imaginative or dramatic play where children can use action figures, costumes, or props to imitate and pretend to be their favorite super hero character.  This type of play’s main theme is a form of “Good guy versus bad guy” – a game that many of us played throughout our childhoods.  D.E. Levin[i] stated that most young children look for ways to feel powerful and strong and that play is a safe way for children to achieve this sense of power.  Rarely in a super hero movie or animation does the heroine show weakness – she wins more often than not.  With this being true, then it would be quite appealing for a child to play and admire superheroes, especially if he is searching for ways to feel strong and powerful.


Currently, superhero play receives lots of attention.  Within the last fifteen years, many Marvel and DC comic super hero characters have been brought to the big screen by major movie companies.  These movies have shown trends of blockbuster sensations attracting generations of family members.  Fisher-Price and Hasbro now have a superhero squad geared specifically for children between the ages of three to eight.  Not only do we have classic super heroes, we also have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Power Puff Girls, Wolverine, and more.  At this point, I’m sure even you may have a favorite or two or can remember pretending to be a favorite character.


Children playing their favorite superhero character imitate the actions they see.  So, children will run, jump from furniture, crawl, and create weapons with block and props.  They are able to describe in great detail how the superhero saves people from evil, which can all be used as roles, language, and plot for their story and play[ii]. Like all other play, teachers and caregivers have an opportunity to respond to this emerging interest of dramatic play by listening, observing, and helping children facilitate their play.  There has been research and success in programs that have lifted the ban on children’s superhero play.  A few strategies to support it include:

  • Set reasonable limits and rules. Make sure children understand which behaviors are not acceptable.
  • Have children work with you to create the super hero play rules. Help children develop plots that don’t involve fighting.
  • Involve yourself in the play.
  • Allow time for open communication with children. Talk to children about real heroes and what it means to be a hero. Discuss the positive sides of being a superhero – don’t just focus on their power.
  • Encourage the imaginative and creative aspects of super hero play.
  • Practice conflict-resolution in the classroom. Make sure children can make choices and have power over their own lives.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with families.

In the end, you can move beyond the aggressiveness of superhero play by building on themes that focus on the benefits of helping others and overcoming challenges.   So rev up some power and join in the fun to create learning opportunities that help children develop and evolve into creative beings.

[i] Levin, D.E. (2003). Teaching young children in violent times: building a peaceable classroom. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Educators for Social Responsibility

[ii] Source:  Heidman, S. & Hewitt D. (2014) When Play isn’t fun Helping Children Resolve Play Conflicts. Sandra. Readleaf Publishing

Cover image by Flickr user Imagens Portal SESCSPCreative Commons license.


A provider’s view on food and the CACFP program

by Emily Barrow,  CACFP Child Nutrition Professional

March 12th-18th is National Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) week. To celebrate, here’s a peek into the work that we do every day at Child Care Answers, sponsoring providers throughout Central Indiana.

Proper nutrition during the early stages of childhood ensures appropriate development and reduces physical and educational problems later in life.  Providers participating on the program receive valuable nutrition education that helps them support growing children and their nutritional needs. In addition, they receive a reimbursement to assist them financially in serving nutritious meals.


I recently reached out to one of my child care home providers, Shannon Garcia, to understand her experience with the CACFP program. She shared, “CACFP not only provides good nutrition for the children but also enhances my business. It is a marketing tool that makes me stand out from other home day cares that don’t participate. I enjoy meal planning and shopping for meals. It eliminates the hassle of trying to decide and make meals on the fly. It also helps me see menus in writing so that I know I’m offering variety and healthy choices.”


The children in Shannon’s program also love to help her make colorful fruit salads and sing songs as they prepare them.  As providers (or parents), involving kids in the preparation is always a fun way to get meals going.  Below is a delicious fruit salsa recipe served with cinnamon chips that makes an excellent CACFP snack. Enjoy!


Recipe by Jen Nikolaus, Yummy Healthy Easy


Fruit salsa:

  • 16-oz. strawberries, diced
  • 2 kiwi, peeled and diced
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • ½ cup raspberries
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar-free apricot preserves or jam

Cinnamon chips:

  • 4 flour tortillas (I used soft taco size)
  • cooking spray
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ tsp. cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 350º F.  Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. On a large plate, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Spray each tortilla front and back and carefully lay on the plate, one at a time. Move around lightly to get the cinnamon and sugar to adhere to the tortilla, then flip coating the other side.
  3. With a pizza cutter, cut cinnamon and sugar tortilla in half and then each half into four pieces, creating 8 slices per tortilla. Spread out on the baking sheet. Repeat with all tortillas and then place in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Pull baking sheet from oven and set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the fruit and the preserves in a medium sized bowl. Serve with cooled cinnamon chips and enjoy!

Cover image by Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiCreative Commons license.

Including All Children and Families during the Holidays

by Vicki Lehman, Professional Development Specialist

The holiday season is often a very exciting time of the year. This goes for both children AND adults! For children, they are experiencing all of their family’s traditions. For parents and caregivers, they also have the opportunity to share traditions with their children. As an early childhood professional, it is easy to get caught up in celebrating a certain holiday within your classroom or center. It is very important that you are intentional with your planning and you ensure that all children and their families are represented appropriately. The most important thing for the children will be that they see themselves and their families reflected in the activities and celebrations that you plan.

You want to be sure that the activities you are planning accurately represent the different ways families may choose to celebrate different holidays. Here are a few ideas to help you get family members involved. (Julie Bisson, Celebrate!: An Anti-Bias Guide to Enjoying Holidays)

  • Encourage families to share information about their holidays and how they celebrate.You will find that most of the families will share information with you. They will be grateful that they were included and that you took the time to ask them for specific information.
  • Ask for activity ideas! Most families will be more than happy to help you incorporate their holiday into your lesson plans. Ask them if there are any fun activities or games they think would be appropriate for the age group you work with.
  • Invite family members in to share a story or activity with your class. It’s always great for kids to get a different perspective straight from the source, and little ones will have a sense of pride when their own family members can participate.

It is also important to remember that December isn’t the only month in which holidays take place. If you have children in your care that celebrate holidays in other months, recognize and include those holidays in your plans. Give equal emphasis to all holidays celebrated within your group of children to help them feel respected and included.

Remember, the “Holiday Season” is not the only time you should celebrate diversity. Your classroom should represent many different cultures year round. Post pictures of the children and their families on the wall, place books on the shelf that are culturally diverse, and talk about the different kinds of family units present in your classroom.  Do your homework so you know the information you give the children is accurate.

Holidays are incredibly important and personal for the families that celebrate them. Taking that extra step and incorporating ALL of the holidays the children in your care celebrate will really go a long way. Enjoy the fun and excitement that will come with the children getting the opportunity to share their traditions with you and the class. Happy Holidays!

Cover image by Flickr user melCreative Commons license.

Lights on Afterschool – Celebrate Your Program!


Did you know…220,573 students are on their own in the hours after school right here in Indiana? 308,914 students would participate in an afterschool program if one were available to them!  These numbers highlight the need for afterschool programming in our state. Research confirms that high quality afterschool programs are having great impacts on children’s lives.
On October 20, 2016 , there will be a  highlight of this need across the nation. Lights On Afterschool is a celebration of afterschool programs nationwide.  On this day, programs are encouraged to highlight their programs and the importance they make in the lives of children, families, and communities. The events send a powerful message across the United States that millions more kids need quality afterschool programs.
If you are an afterschool provider, you can register your event on the Afterschool Alliance’s website. This site also provides great ideas for how to promote your program and to simply celebrate!

You can also read more about Indiana statistics regarding the need for afterschool programs.

Teaching Children the Art of Giving

by Kristin Cofield, Paths to QUALITY Coach

Four year old Kennisyn overheard a conversation between her parents discussing donating to the United Way of Central Indiana. Kennisyn chimed in and told her parents that she would like to donate also. Each day for one week, Kennisyn took money from her pink piggy bank to school and donated to the United Way collection jar in her class. Kennisyn even asked other family members to contribute to her classroom jar and help raise money for children in need.

Teaching children the art of giving develops kindness, compassion, and caring for others.  Anne Frank said “How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” At any age, we can all make a difference in someone’s life by showing compassion through our giving, acts of service by volunteering, or other forms of community outreach.

When families make giving and volunteering a normal part of their lives they will teach their children strong core values as they demonstrate these values in action. This philosophy is also true for educators who create a classroom learning environment that introduces and encourages children to practice social tolerance and respect for all people regardless of religion, race, socioeconomic status, gender, age, etc.  There are many creative ways families and educators can teach children the art of giving. The following are a few thoughtful ideas for families and educators to help children become involved in their local community.

  1. Thinking of You: Have children draw or paint a picture of their choice; frame the picture and give to a local hospital where the patients are fighting a terminal illness. Sometimes knowing that someone is thinking of you gives these patients hope to continue fighting their illness.
  2. Charitable Giving: Children can raise money through a lemonade stand; bake sale, art sale, etc.  Allow the children to choose an organization and donate the proceeds to that organization.
  3. Acts of Service: Ask family, friends, and classmates to donate items to create care packages for the homeless.  Donations may include food such as crackers, packaged fruit, or water; personal hygiene items such as soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste; socks, hat and gloves, etc.  Allow the children to help pack the sack lunches or care bags.

A simple Google search will generate many other ideas to help families and educators teach children the art of giving.  So search away and make giving and volunteering fun for the children in your life.  Follow the child’s interest and remember no deed is too small when the act of service stems from a heart full of kindness, compassion and most importantly, love for humanity.

New Laws on CCDF Provider Eligibilty

The time is just around the corner, on July 1, 2015 all providers in Indiana accepting CCDF but not licensed must follow new health and safety laws. Letters have been sent out to providers notifying them of the new standards.

If you are an unlicensed child care program accepting CCDF vouchers you must meet these additional standards effective July 1, 2015 in order to continue to receive CCDF funding.

  1. Safe Conditions: You must have and maintain a written policy describing how you maintain safe conditions in your child care facility or home and safety of motor vehicles used to transport children.
    • These written policies and any changes to this policy must;
    • Be submitted to the Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning (formerly the Bureau of Child Care)
    • Posted in a public location in the facility or home.
    • Provided to the parent or guardian of each child in your care.
  2. Daily Activities: you must make available daily activities appropriate to the age, developmental needs, interests, and number of children in your care, including the following:
    • Both active and quiet play. The provider may include the use of safe, age-appropriate toys, games, and equipment for indoor and outdoor play.
    • Daily outdoor play, unless one (1) of the following applies:
    • Severity of the weather poses a safety or health hazard.
    • A health related reason for a child to remain indoors is documented by the child’s parent, guardian, or physician.
  3. Nutrition: you must make available to each child in your care:
    • Appropriately timed, nutritious meals and snacks in a quantity sufficient to meet the needs of the child.
    • This does not eliminate sack lunches brought from home.
    • Drinking water at all times.

    You may be eligible to receive reimbursement for the cost of meals and snacks through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

  4. Group Size and Ratios: As a provider operating a child care program in a facility or home you must follow ratios and group sizes as follows:
    • If you will be caring for no more than sixteen (16) children at a facility/home you must maintain:
    • a ratio of children to caregivers in the same proportions as specified in the child to staff ratio requirements; and
    • the same group sizes as specified in the group size requirements that apply to a child care home under IC 12-17.2-5.
    • If you will be caring for more than sixteen (16) children at a facility/home you must maintain:
      • a ratio of children to caregivers in the same proportions as specified in the child to staff ratio requirements; and
      • the same group sizes as specified in the group size requirements; that apply to a child care center under IC 12-17.2-4.
  5. Continuing Education: unless the provider is a parent, stepparent, guardian, custodian, or other relative to each child in the care of the provider, the individual annually must receive:
    • at least twelve (12) hours of continuing education approved by the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning (OECOSL) and related to the age appropriate educational development, care, and safety of children.

    The hours of continuing education required may include:

    • child abuse detection and prevention
    • first aid
    • cardiopulmonary resuscitation
    • safe sleeping practices
    • education received during the year as part of the non-formal CDA process or through higher education such as an Associates or Bachelors degree program.
    • Not more than three (3) months after the individual begins employment or volunteer duties, the individual must receive training approved by OECOSL concerning child abuse detection and prevention. This training is available for free at your local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency.
    • You must:
      • maintain at the facility/home where you operate a child care program documentation of all training and completion of continuing education required; and
      • make the documentation available to the OECOSL upon request.

Cover image by Flickr user Herald PostCreative Commons license.