Providing a Watchful Eye

Raising child care awareness

One vexing aspect of parenthood is that just when parents start getting the hang of it, they’re out of a job. Kids grow up, move out, have kids of their own and pick up where mom and dad left off. Learning from experience is essential, but parents can also benefit from the expertise and effort provided by early childhood professionals.

The Child Development program at Dakota County Technical College is all about learning how children learn, but it’s also about giving students golden opportunities to help parents raise their children, including helping them find the best child care programs and preschools.

In January 2008, the Minnesota departments of Humans Services and Education selected Child Development Instructor Jill Behnke to serve on an eight-member committee that makes recommendations used to approve curricula for the Parent Aware Rating Tool, a three-year Minnesota pilot program that recognizes and celebrates early educators for delivering top-quality care.

“Using a star rating system, Parent Aware enhances overall quality in our state’s child care programs by supporting efforts to improve their curricula,” Behnke said.

Researchers have discovered that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before the age of five, which means that providing an optimum learning environment from babyhood through preschool is crucial for preparing a child for later schooling and life as an adult.

Parent Aware’s four-star rating system of licensed child care providers and early educators is based on the following criteria:

  • Family Partnerships
  • Teaching Materials and Strategies
  • Tracking Learning
  • Teacher Training and Education
  • Child Safety

Charley Alden, a graduate of DCTC’s Child Development program, understands the importance of giving parents the tools they need to raise their children. A member of the All-Minnesota Academic Team, Charley posted a 3.97 GPA on her way to earning her A.S. degree. She will be attending Concordia University this fall as a triple major, working on two licenses and her bachelor’s degree.

As part of her learning experience at DCTC, Charley worked one summer for Parent Aware, helping with the program’s Web site and getting involved in child advocacy initiatives with the state legislature. Parent Aware is currently serving St. Paul, parts of north Minneapolis, Wayzata’s school district, and Blue Earth and Nicollet counties—locations Charley views as a good beginning.

“Parents really need to find the best possible child care facilities and preschools for their children,” Charley said. “This becomes even more important in households where both parents are working. Legislation is in the works to expand the Parent Aware pilot statewide.”

While at DCTC, Charley also had the “awesome opportunity” to work with Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral, a network that helps families find and understand their child care options. Charley plans on taking her teaching career directly to parents, believing that as a parent family educator she can make an even bigger difference in a child’s upbringing.

“Child development is the foundation of all education no matter what the level,” she said. “Teaching parents what I’ve learned is very rewarding. I appreciate the respect parents have for my knowledge and training, which drives me to dig deeper for the answers they need.”

Charley includes more child advocacy in her future along with earning her master’s degree. “We have a high need for child development professionals with excellent training,” she said. “The DCTC Child Development program with its amazing instructors, curriculum and transfer agreements gave me the chance to go anywhere in the field.”

Developing Potential for Children and Your Career

Graduates of the Child Development program are qualified to work with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, children with special needs, and parents of young children in homes, centers and community-based programs.

Depending on the level of training and experience, graduates may find employment as a child care assistant teacher or teacher, director of a child care center, family child care provider, nanny, home visitor, child care resource and referral counselor, special education program assistant, child life specialist or child advocate.

To learn more about the program, including news, videos and photos, check out DCTC Child Development Instructor Dawn Braa’s blog.