At Providence, supporting our caregivers means supporting their kids

September 13, 2021 Providence Health Team


Key takeaways:

  • Providence believes that supporting our caregivers starts with caring for their kids.

  • The ECD program at St. Johns uses their play-based education approach to go beyond traditional learning.

  • The pandemic has many challenges for educators, but the teachers at the ECD remain committed to safely caring for kids.

Providence believes it's vital to support our nurses, doctors, clinicians, and staff members by supporting their children. We understand that our essential workers can provide the best care for our patients when they know their kids’ minds, bodies, and spirits are receiving the best care, too. Thanks to a Providence early childhood program, children are nurtured in a safe environment — even during a global pandemic.

The Early Childhood Directions (ECD) program at Providence St. John is a NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) developmental childcare program that takes early childhood education to the next level by fusing education with play. Every day, the staff of educators finds ways to create engaging learning adventures for our staff members’ kids. Just as important, ECD has supported (and continues to support) families with healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These educators are inspiring and safeguarding the next generation — here’s how.

ECD goes beyond caregiving to educate in unique ways

If you were to stop by the Early Childhood Directions (ECD) program at any time, you’d find a bright, active environment where every classroom features new, age-appropriate ways for kids to learn. The goal here isn’t to keep kids busy — it’s to provide an atmosphere that sees each child as a special person who can flourish with high self-esteem and a growing quest for knowledge.

In one month, you might find:

  • The infants of Classroom A, led by teacher Yvonne, exploring the deep blue sea. They’re learning about sea creatures and having fun with beach balls — all from the safety of the classroom!
  • Older preschool children in Classroom B absorbing lessons from teacher Brenda about the letter of the week through art and sensory activities, rhymes, songs, and games. Or you may find them creating rain using shaving cream and water.
  • Younger preschool children in Classroom C engaging with teacher Alejandra’s lessons on the lifecycle of plants, butterflies, frogs, and spiders. Their studies might even end with a tea party inspired by the book “Miss Spider’s Tea Party,” which helps the kiddos practice kindness and good manners.
  • The toddlers with teacher Wiley in Classroom D focusing on shapes and colors and grasping opposite words like “happy and sad” and “up and down.” The tots could also be engaged in bird watching and learning new words like “nest” and “chirping.”

The best thing about these learning adventures, educational experiences, engaging activities, and “teachable moments” is that they happen every day in the ECD classrooms. Just as important, the classes are led by dedicated, caring teachers who understand the vital role they play in the lives of children as young as three months old.

ECD strengthens the foundation children need to grow and flourish

The ECD program has been operating for decades to serve the littlest members of the Providence community. They serve countless families from all walks of life and from all over the world with the goal to “… see [the children] grow,” explains teacher Brenda Cruz in a recent article. “I like to see them progress, to increase and enhance their skills that will one day support them in becoming successful and fulfilled human beings.”

How does the ECD team do that?

The center’s director, Laura Benavente, M.Ed., explains, “Developmentally speaking, our philosophy is really about kids being playful. Learning through play.” The ECD program doesn’t have a strict academic schedule or regimented day. Instead, they want children to learn in a supportive space that’s free and playful. “We let children explore and do a lot of hands-on activities — from the baby room all the way to the 5-year-old classroom. Yes, ECD also meets standards for kindergarten and will get them ready, but it’s all through the playful philosophy,” adds Benavente.

As their website states, educators at the ECD Program recognize that children do best when they initiate their activities. They’re encouraged to discover the world around them and create relationships with their peers and their teachers. Benavente notes that, “We really believe socializing and communication skills at every age are key.” Each child also develops skills in conflict resolution and dealing with areas of intra-personal growth.

Caring during COVID: ECD teachers stand with families on the frontlines

There are the frontline heroes during the pandemic: the healthcare staff and other essential workers in the healthcare system. And then there are the heroes standing beside them: the ECD staff who put their personal health at risk to come in each day so St. John’s parents and guardians can get to the COVID-19 battlefield. ECD is one of the most essential roles of all because they never waver in the knowledge that somebody must take care of the children — reliably, compassionately, wisely.

“When COVID began, everything — our processes, our teaching approaches — went out the window,” says Benavente. “Things were completely out of our comfort zone. Like not being able to respond to a child who came to us wanting a hug. Or having to make eye contact through face shields while we’re feeding the babies. The children try their best to stay distanced, but it’s very hard. Yet we adjusted and did what we had to, and our children still trust us.” Other adjustments included, for example, ECD resourcefully hosting a drive-thru graduation for their Room B friends and families.

According to research led by Yale child psychiatry and psychology professor Walter Gilliam, early education programs that stayed open were careful to follow infection-control guidelines to lower the risk of infections and outbreaks. Frequent handwashing, disinfecting surfaces, physical distancing, and keeping children in small groups that didn’t mix with other children also played a part to lessen infection rates.

Benavente asserts that the staff at ECD has continued to be highly vigilant and dedicated to safety. “This past year, during COVID-19, we faced many challenges and adversities,” she says. “But we continue to proudly provide services to the essential workers of Providence Saint John’s.”

For the youngest among us, ECD is leading the way to learning

Year after year, Early Childhood Directions serves countless families from all walks of life and from all around the world, and they do it with one common goal: to share the mission of Providence St. John. As constant support behind the scenes, the teachers at ECD strive to be positive role models, which is something they expect to do for generations to come. As Benavente says, “We’re proud to be early childhood educators and a team that loves and cares for the children — and each other.”

From tea parties to beach balls, counting to caring about nature, the kids at ECD are in the excellent hands of early childhood heroes.

Visit our Annual Report to our Communities page

To learn more about what we’re doing to help our caregivers and other community benefit programs, check out our Annual Report to our Communities.


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About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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