“We want Utopia on earth, and we start by shaping that here.” Teresa Winslow has worked in child care for 37 years, from teenage aid to center director. She is keenly aware of the challenges of providing high quality pre-school care to all children, but she continues to work, patiently and positively, toward her vision of giving every child the best start in life.
The DuPont Learning Center is a privately owned center whose 28 staff members care for 153 children, aged four weeks to twelve years. The great majority of the children are pre-school age; the State of Washington only requires ongoing adult supervision until age five. The center is open thirteen hours a day, five days a week. Since it’s located next to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the teachers are experienced in working with transient children. The DuPont Learning Center is licensed by the state, but also accredited through the National Association for Education of Young Children, a designation only the top 10% of child care centers carry.
Operating a childcare center requires a range of educational, bureaucratic, and business skills. Teresa and her staff have curriculum objectives for every age that address overriding issues of safety and basic needs as well as bonding, communication, and aligning words with action and has to meet specific regulations. The business aspects are truly challenging. “We are a for-profit center, with no subsidies like Head Start. The state offers financial assistance to college students studying early childhood education; that helps with our teacher’s college debt, but this is still a low-wage profession. In childcare, everyone above you makes more money than you.”
Teresa would like to see a greater role for government in early child education. “The government mandates all sorts of requirements for ages 5 to 18, but we know most learning occurs in ages 0 to 5.” However, she adds the caveat, “When I say I want the government to help, I want them to do it in a way that makes a real difference, not just dictate the way they want to do it.”
I asked Teresa what changes she foresees in early child education. “We will be in this format for a long time. I don’t see the extended family taking on more childcare. I’d like to see more regulation and assistance so all children can have the same opportunities.”
What has kept Teresa in this profession for so long? “I get paid in hugs.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“When it comes to the children and our hopes for the future I look at how much child care has changed in the past ten years. The children are more informed than before. We can focus on their problem solving and cooperation abilities at a much higher level. There has been so much research in the past twenty years to understand children’s executive processing capabilities. Their initial response to conflict is a tantrum. The next order response is to fight. But we have gotten so much better at guiding them to positions of discuss and negotiate. Our initial objective is to curb hitting and biting and eventually limit violence and bullying.
“To give a concrete example, we don’t tell the children to share; that word is too abstract and adults don’t do it. We say, ‘when you are finished, let so-and-so know so that she can use it.’ An interchange like that shows them respect and builds communication. We want them to feel valued.
“In utopia, everyone is valued.”