Field Notes: A Visit with Robyn Reed, Director of Lil People Learning Center

as interviewed by Monica Marshall, Communications & Data Liaison

1. Why did you start your program? / What is your mission?

I didn’t find corporate America fulfilling and I wanted to make a difference. Also, I was new to the community, had 2 young children and noticed there weren’t any quality ECE programs near me.

2. How many people are on your staff?

6 teachers.

3. How many families do you serve?

Ideally, Lil People Learning Center has 49 children when maxed out. Right now (as of the time of this interview), we have 35 families, although some have siblings.

4. What specific improvements to your classroom/playground have you achieved the past program year? What levels have you gone up the past program year?

My program went from a Colorado Shines Level 3 to a Level 4. Teachers got some professional development. Some went back to school to get their associate’s degree. I have 4 teachers with director’s licenses. I pushed a lot on education of the teachers.

5. What is a favorite lesson or skill you teach?

Social skills. When the children have social skills, academics come more naturally. It teaches them how to interact.

6. What has surprised you most about working in early childhood?

I initially wanted to work with children, but this overflowed into working with families and the community. I work with a lot of traditional and nontraditional families. I work with therapists, speech pathologists and a lot of other different professionals to help one child.

7. How do you get families involved in the development of their children?

It is a challenge. Many parents work 9 to 5, and by the time they are finished, they aren’t available mentally and emotionally. I try to be inviting to parents. I make activities to implement at home to extend learning at home.

8. What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your program?

I am concerned about the number of homeless children – it has quadrupled. Many are living in temporary housing with extended family members. When the children don’t have a solid foundation, it affects them.

9. Are wages for early childhood teachers a challenge for you? If so, how?

Yes, it is a challenge. It is a highly regulated field, there are high expectations. You must continue your education. I know that they can make more money working in fast food. You are working with children and dealing with parents, which is extremely challenging. But I am a small business and can only pay so much.

10. What is unique about your program? / What makes you different from the rest?

My program is transparent – I encourage parents to come in at any time. We have a high sense of integrity. Families really trust this program, which is very important because if a child is experiencing difficulty – if things are happening at home – they need to be able to tell us what’s going on. If there is no trust/communication, you’re always guessing what’s going on.

11. What’s your best method of handling a child’s challenging behavior?

Initially, I try to redirect the behavior. I try to talk to them. It’s amazing what they can tell you. I like to create a relationship with them so that when they’re mad, they will come to me and they trust me. If that doesn’t work, I try to create a relationship with the family.

12. How have the coaches/navigators helped your program?

Luisa (Quality Specialist) worked diligently to get us from a 3 to a 4. She developed relationships with the teachers and fought through some resistance. She helped navigate funds and everything else so they could be ready for the rating.

Chinazo (Quality Navigator) always calls and confirms, she answers any questions. She is motivating. She helps us spend our funds on program enhancements. She does all the leg work and she does it quickly.

13. What do you want the community to know about your program?

That we are here, and we have been for 15 years. We want to have a strong reputation in the community. We are here for families and their children. We want to remain a strong part of the community. Children come first, but we embrace families as well.

14. What’s the best advice you’ve received about working with young children?

To understand that they are little people. They have thoughts, ideas, emotions and we need to respect that. Instead of being everything to them, let them be everything to themselves. They are individuals. We shouldn’t try to fit them in a box. They each are unique little flowers and we need to help them blossom.

15. What are your goals for the future?

I want to continue in childcare and continue to grow. I want to maintain a presence in the community. I want to strengthen partnerships with the school districts because my students feed into them. I want to broaden services and resources, especially for homeless families.

Editor’s note: The interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.