Program provides training on care

Grayson Smith, then age 2, works his way through a puzzle at Butterflies & Frogs Childcare and Preschool in Fayetteville in this May 5, 2020 file photo. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which in June 2023 ranked Arkansas as No. 43 nationally in overall child well-being, made access to child care the foreword of the 2023 report, highlighting data that isn't directly factored into a state's child well-being score. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Grayson Smith, then age 2, works his way through a puzzle at Butterflies & Frogs Childcare and Preschool in Fayetteville in this May 5, 2020 file photo. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which in June 2023 ranked Arkansas as No. 43 nationally in overall child well-being, made access to child care the foreword of the 2023 report, highlighting data that isn't directly factored into a state's child well-being score. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

For Arkansas childcare professionals seeking continuing education hours, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture's Best Care program will provide 28 in-person professional development training sessions throughout the state in 2024.

"The first five years of life is a period of rapid and intense development," said Rebecca Simon, extension program associate for Early Childhood and Family Life for the Division of Agriculture.

"Research has found that during this time, children build critical foundational skills that profoundly influence their later health, ability to learn, social relationships and overall success. High-quality early childhood environments are critical to supporting child development and learning. Our programs offer research-based, unbiased curriculum for childcare providers using three different delivery methods," Simon said.

Best Care is offered free statewide through the Cooperative Extension Service, the outreach arm of the Division of Agriculture, in partnership with the Arkansas Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education. The program began in 1997 as a pilot program and has been funded by the Arkansas DCCECE since 1999. The program also receives funding from the Arkansas Department of Education's Arkansas Better Chance program.

Arkansas childcare providers are required to earn at least 15 hours of professional development each year to "enhance the quality of care for children birth to age 9," Simon said. To help meet this need, extension offers four grant-funded childcare training programs: Best Care, Best Care Connected, Guiding Children Successfully and Best Care Out of School Time.

In 2023, extension Family and Consumer Sciences agents provided 10 hours of Best Care professional development to 1,989 participants through 27 in-person trainings offered statewide. Through Best Care Connected, which is an online program that offers five hours of professional development, agents reached 1,384 participants.

Guiding Children Successfully, an online or self-paced correspondence program, offers 38 hours of continuing education for parents, foster parents and childcare educators. In 2023, 1,482 participants earned more than 10,000 training hours.

The Division of Agriculture also offers five hours of professional development through Best Care Out of School Time, an online program, to better meet the needs of childcare providers who work with school-aged children in after-school, summer and camp settings. In 2023, this program reached 3,380 participants.

Simon said that through providing these trainings, county Family and Consumer Sciences agents connect with their communities and become trusted resources.

"County Family and Consumer Sciences agents are instrumental in the continuing education of the childcare professionals in their communities to ensure that children are receiving quality care," Simon said. "Agents often say that because of providing training to these professionals, they are better able to create positive connections within their communities and are asked to provide additional programming in child development, nutrition and health."

Katie Cullum, White County Family and Consumer Sciences agent for the Division of Agriculture, said more than 90 childcare providers attended Best Care training in White County in 2023.

"I think our providers like Best Care because we are local, they can get 10 hours in one day, and the material is great," Cullum said. "We have many providers who come back year after year. I've had multiple people call or email to ask, 'When is the next training?' so that they can get signed up. Each year is different, and they learn about a variety of topics that will help them as providers, whether they are new or experienced."

Simon shared a comment from a Best Care participant following a training on observation skills in early childhood: "This section really dove deep into teaching us how to observe and take notes on our students," the participant said. "I personally like those different methods of observation that were presented. I shared those methods with my staff so that they can start using some of the different methods during observation periods."

Another participant shared that after completing a training focused on creating active classrooms, "I have implemented a creative active classroom by adding more activities for learning and growing that are fun and exciting. Creating active classrooms is very important to keeping children healthy and happy."

In 2024, Simon said Best Care will cover topics including Saying No to Time Wasters, Stress Management, Eating with Ease, Breastfeeding Information in the Early Childhood Setting, Fun Ways to Teach Math, Family Wellbeing and more.

Anyone interested in Best Care training should contact their local Family and Consumer Science agent at uaex.uada.edu/counties/ for information about upcoming training in their area. More information about Early Childhood Professional Development opportunities in Arkansas can also be found at uaex.uada.edu/life-skills-wellness/child-care-providers/.

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact a local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu.

Rebekah Hall is with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

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