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Getting off to a good start

Since she became a Head Start Child Care Provider, Lina Palencia says she’s received a lot of helpful training and support to run her home daycare program.

But to create the perfect stand to prop up an egg for a toddler to paint, she didn’t need any help at all.

“I’ve had years of experience,” Palencia said as she pushed an egg through the bottom of an upside-down Dixie cup and placed it in front of 3-year-old Madeline.

This is just one of the many tricks Palencia learned as the mom of three boys — her youngest is a sixth-grader at Sidney Glen Elementary, her oldest a South Kitsap High School senior — and from her nine years as a daycare provider.

Another of those tricks was how to quickly clean food coloring from the small plastic table in her kitchen Wednesday morning where Madeline, otherwise known as “Maddie,” had just colored eggs with Stephany, 5, and Matthew, 2. Now with the table clean again, all three sat down to give it a fresh coat of color, along with their clothes, faces and hands — and a bit more on the eggs.

“I tell their parents to put clothes on them that they don’t mind getting dirty,” Palencia said, as she tried vainly to scrub the deep green off Matthew’s fingers.

The egg — and finger — painting was just one of the activities Palencia had planned to teach the children about spring, her theme for April. Earlier, she planted sunflower seeds with the children, and today she showed them the little green shoots sprouting from their soil.

These monthly themes and corresponding activities are only part of the Head Start’s Child Care Connections program, a relatively new partnership between childcare providers like Palencia and the federal- and state-funded program designed to help economically disadvantaged children succeed in school.

“The thrust of the program is helping the children be ready for school,” said Pam Nodus, who oversees the Head Start partnerships in Kitsap County as a coordinator for Olympic Educational Service District 114, including South Kitsap providers like Wanda Hightower and Kelli DeSoto, along with the childcare centers Learning Tree daycare and Creative Kids Learning Center.

To be chosen to partner with Head Start, child care providers need to have eligible clients — children from low-income families who are 3 or 4 years old — but more importantly, Nodus said, provide a solid, nurturing environment for the children they supervise.

Each provider must be state-licensed, Nodus said, and also have a primary associate’s degree in early child development or a Child Development Associate certificate, or obtain one within six months of being chosen.

Before accepting a provider, Nodus’ office also interviews each one and makes several visits to his or her daycare to observe their interactions with children and the environment they create.

“A lot of the questions we look to answer are, ‘How many hours a day do they have the TV on,’ and ‘Do they provide learning activities or a lot of books instead,’ ” Nodus said. “We’re really big on literacy.”

Nodus said providers should not just offer plenty of active learning opportunities, but an safe and supportive environment overall.

“A lot of the things we look at are the same things licensers may be looking at, such as the setup of the house and the safety of the furniture,” she said, but even simple things such as providing healthy meals, making sure kids wash their hands after using the restroom and giving each child their own bedding that isn’t shared with others for nap time are very important, as well.

Once a provider partners with her program, Nodus said he or she is given a variety of educational materials, monthly training sessions and a monthly stipend to pay for what they provide to each Head Start-eligible child.

“Whatever we use our money for should support the Head Start standards,” Nodus said. The list includes the books, art supplies, puzzles, and even the digital camera providers can borrow on a rotating basis from her office. Though much of the material and reimbursement is geared to help the Head Start children, Nodus said all the children involved glean benefits from her program, especially from the education and support the child care providers receive.

Palencia said she is very grateful for all of the support provided by Head Start, which she heard about while taking continuing education classes.

“It costs a lot to buy my supplies,” said Palencia, watching the three small children quickly going through a dyeing kit, a set of paints and a dozen eggs in less than an hour.

But what she is most grateful for by far is the training she receives from the program.

“Without the training, I would just be like a babysitter,” Palencia said. “But with it, we’re more like pre-school teachers, instead of having the children just watching TV.”

Palencia finds ways to infuse learning in every activity, asking the children to name each color as she poured out the dye and paints, showing them how to create new colors as well. Even when she sat the children down for story time, she had them counting and pointing out objects for her in the room.

“She uses every moment with the children as a learning experience,” said Nodus, explaining that the program used footage of Palencia working with her children to represent the program in an informative video recently.

And Palencia keeps striving to improve her own education, as well. She is attending Olympic College to earn her associate’s degree in early childhood education, helped in large part by a scholarship by the state’s TEACH (Teacher Education and Compensation Helps) program which helps child care providers pursue their early childhood education.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to help children, to prepare them for kindergarten,” said Palencia, who began taking care of children while living in Navy housing in Bremerton, and became a state-licensed provider after buying her house in Port Orchard a few years ago.

But “preschool teacher” is just one of the many hats Palencia wears in the course of a day. She becomes many things to the children she sees for several hours each weekday, most for several years.

“I feel like mom, auntie, and teacher,” Palencia said. “I feel like they’re family.”

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