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10-19-04 Big benefits start for littlest in area

By Shelley Grieshop

  COLDWATER -- Six area childcare facilities and two local homecare providers have been chosen to participate in a statewide program for infants and toddlers.
Three-month-old infant Summer Wilson smiles as nursery caregiver Carol Steinbrunner plays with her at Stepping Ahead Learning Center in Coldwater. The childcare center is one of six local facilities and two area homecare providers that qualified to participate in First Steps, a state-funded program for infants and toddlers.<br>
  "First Steps," a state-funded program, promotes school readiness in infants and toddlers by strengthening the knowledge and practices of their caregivers.
  The childcare centers who've qualified include: Stepping Ahead Learning Center and Two By Two Child Development Center, both of Coldwater; First Steps Development Center, Fort Recovery; YMCA Learning Centers in New Bremen and Celina; and TLC Learning & Childcare Center, St. Marys.
  Also, two homecare providers -- one each in St. Marys and Wapakoneta -- qualified to implement First Steps.
  The qualifying agencies do not pay for the additional training and resources, and in turn, no fees are passed on to their clients other than the normal childcare charges.   "It's a wonderful opportunity for us to further develop our program with infants and toddlers," said Chris Buschur, owner of Stepping Ahead. "As a parent, and on a personal level, I feel like we're giving our youngest clients the best care with the best information and training available."
  First Steps is funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant and focuses on the importance of responsive relationships, optimal environments and experiences taught to infants and toddlers by their caregivers. The program benefits infants 6 weeks old to 3-year-old toddlers.
  Buschur said First Steps uses a variety of education tools such as sensory and language arts activities to teach the smallest students.
  "Some are as simple as hanging pictures around the infant and toddler classrooms, some with words, some not," she said, adding that parent communication skills also are a big focus of the program.
  First Steps also trains caregivers to promote good language skills, she said.
  "This is such a crucial time for these little ones when they really begin to develop their vocabulary. They learn fast to imitate people around them," Buschur said.
  Rita Hilty, a designated infant and toddler specialist from YW Childcare Connections in Lima, is the adviser for those who qualified locally.
  The pilot program is backed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Bureau of Child Care & Development in partnership with the Ohio Child Care Resource & Referral Association.
  The local agencies participate in monthly training meetings and are given access to library materials and a variety of other educational sources through the state.
  Currently, there are 916 qualifying childcare classrooms and homes across Ohio participating in First Steps, which will complete its pilot year in June 2005. More than 300 of those who qualified are homecare providers.
  Deloris Bailey, childcare administrator at the YMCA Learning Center in Celina said the program is a win-win for everyone.
  "I believe the best part is they provide the training for our staff and periodically evaluate us, critique us. That helps us to better ourselves and our program, to know that experts are there to give us advice," Bailey said.


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