Last week I attended the Manitoba Child Care Association’s 34th annual conference. I eagerly anticipate this conference every year. Originally I just went on Saturday but I soon added Friday and then Thursday as well. I know many providers believe it is too expensive to pay for three days of conference and lose two days of income as well. The cost adds up to nearly $600 and it cuts my weekend ‘down time’ in half but there are so many benefits as well.
Conference is an incredible learning opportunity with keynote speakers and workshop presenters from near and far. This year I enjoyed a wide variety of workshops with topics including art, science, music, outdoor play, physical activity, fear and much more. I got to paint pictures, play in dirt, engage in conversations, and use my imagination. I got to dance and I was introduced to my new favourite song – “Beep, Beep” – which is actually an old song but it is new to me and what a wonderful way to teach rhythm and tempo.
Certainly there was a lot of information that I already knew but conference offers more than just information. There is another very meaningful aspect; networking. I believe that for family childcare providers in particular networking is an invaluable tool. We work alone and even though some providers regularly connect with others in their area many still continue to work in isolation. Family childcare providers don’t have a lot of opportunity to problem solve with or bounce ideas off coworkers the same way those who work in centres can.
Conference allows us to connect with not only others who work in similar positions but also with people who work in other areas of the childcare field. Play and collaboration with peers is just as important for us as it is for the children that we care for. It is how we learn, how we reach the elusive ‘Ah Hah’ moment.
In between presentations on the final day of conference I had the opportunity to reconnect with a colleague whom I hadn’t talked to in a long time. We did some reminiscing and discussed how things had changed since we last met. I told her how I was looking forward to some new adventures this summer since I will have on of the oldest groups I have ever had. She shared some stories about the antics of one of her school–age children.
Our conversation progressed as we contemplated why the school-age children seem so different now. We weren’t complaining but we have noticed a shift in the mood of most of the older children that have been attending our programs. They seem to really enjoy being a part of our mixed age groups. They willingly participate in activities with the younger children instead of demanding separate more ‘grown-up’ activities.
We wondered if it was because we are seeing more ‘only children’ with little experience with young children. Do they miss having younger siblings? Then I asked if maybe it was because we let them play….There was a moment of silence as we let this fact sink in. Yes, I think that is what it is.
We know that play is essential for learning to take place and it doesn’t matter how old you are. Play is just as important for us as it is for the children we care for. Play and learning together – that is what conference is.