When it comes to caring for infants and toddlers, every detail matters, Craig resident Judi Whilden said.
Everything from the way a child is spoken to when having its diaper hanged to the spatial layout of a room when they learn how to crawl can be a part of a baby’s learning and development.
And although Whilden admits she didn’t have all the answers when she had her own children 20 years ago, her experience and recent training has given her the opportunity to pass on the importance of quality, responsive care to other early childhood care providers.
Whilden, who has owned and operated Sunrise Kids Preschool & Child Care for 16 years, is the newest certified instructor for the Expanding Quality in Infant and Toddler Care Initiative in Northwest Colorado.
EQIT, launched in 2000 by the Colorado Department of Education, is a professional development program for home care providers and child care centers who are responsible for children 3 years old and younger.
Whilden joins Janet Martinez, of Craig, who has been instructing the 48-hour program to local providers for eight years.
So far, 70 participants have gone through the program in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, and the class will be offered for credit through Colorado Northwestern Community College in the fall.
“I love working with caregivers, and I love this initiative,” Martinez said. “I really believe in it and believe in giving quality care. The education and support that it gives people in the field… they don’t get a lot of kudos for what they do. I don’t really think people understand the training that goes into home care.”
Whilden and Martinez are in the process of leading a class of nine providers through the program, many of whom work in a new early childhood care center in Meeker.
The training is free to providers who don’t take the course for college credit.
“It’s a fabulous initiative,” Whilden said about EQIT. “It’s fabulous because it introduces people to the idea that starting at zero — starting at birth — babies learn, they have feelings ,and they need to express themselves. It helps the adults learn how to read cues and improves quality care for our infants.”
In addition to 16 classroom sessions, Whilden and Martinez also coach their students on site, working with the care providers in their work setting and helping them apply EQIT concepts when interacting with infants and toddlers.
“What it offers is tools that people new to the field haven’t acquired or experienced yet,” Whilden said. “There is a lot of information, and it’s not a lot of what comes naturally. Zero to 3 is the biggest time for brain development. It’s really amazing how much they learn. But if you’re a care provider, even if you have a ratio of one (adult) to four (infants), that’s a lot to deal with. They don’t all express themselves in the same way.”
The EQIT curriculum exposes providers to concepts such as reflection, connecting with families and speech and literacy development.
Whilden said the state will soon make the program a requirement for all early childhood center directors, including those who don’t work with infants and toddlers, such as at Sunrise.
Martinez said when CDE launched the program, it was responding to a statewide crisis in early childhood care.
“They said we had to fix this quick,” Martinez said. “Because the quality of care was so poor. They wanted to improve it quickly.
“It is vitally important that we invest in the care of our young children. Quality is essential. By meeting the needs of children in the early years, we will prevent problems in adolescents.”
And care has improved, Martinez said.
She said licensers have told her they have seen a difference in the quality of early childhood care providers since the initiative has brought attention, funding and support to the field.
For Whilden, teaching adults is a new experience, but a fruitful and fulfilling one for her and the rest of the community.
“It basically teaches them how to give responsive care in a safe and healthy environment,” Whilden said. “And it expands my knowledge and allows me to give back to the community that has given me so much in the last 16 years. I know every one of my students right now can do it because they have the passion. They want it. And we’re giving them the tools.”