Preparing early childhood educators around the world

Professional development system now online for all to use

By Janet Kiplinger Ciccone

Staff Sergeant Misty Hobbs perched on a tiny chair, reading to her four-year-old son Jackson and his classmates. Jackson touched her arm as she turned the pages, excited to have his mom at center stage.

Hobbs often visits the Wright Field North Child Development Center during her lunch hour, as do other parents stationed at Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. She’s glad the center is nearby. Her husband, Mark, works nights and her work sometimes calls for an early arrival. Just how important is the center in their lives?

mom-son“It’s huge,” Hobbs said. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do and have such a great education for our child without this center.”

She appreciates the teachers’ skill, which has Jackson counting and starting to read. She also appreciates the sense of community. With no family nearby, she, Mark and Jackson bond with teachers, staff and others using the center. “It’s like a family unit,” she said.

Hobbs finishes the story and Jackson runs off to play with his friends. Now she can concentrate on her mission, trusting that he is well cared for, learning and having fun.

Her trust is well placed, especially now that a team of Ohio State experts, led by EHE’s Cynthia Buettner, associate professor of human development and family science, has created the Virtual Laboratory School (VLS). The online professional development system is a new approach to learning and updating skills for the more than 30,000 child and youth care professionals working on military installations worldwide.

Ohio State benefits military families

Every day, the United States military child care system nurtures more than 200,000 children while one or both parents serve the nation. Respected as one of the best systems in the country, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) programs still experience staff turnover at the high rates found in other child care programs.

“More than one-third of the care professionals are spouses of military personnel,” Buettner said. “The frequent transfers faced by military families create a need for new employees, which calls for a responsive, research-based, technologically advanced professional development system.”

Barbara Thompson, director of the DoD Office of Family Policy, said, “Tapping into experts in the multiple domains of child development, adult learning and technology has made the VLS a state-of-the-art professional development platform.”

A model for the nation

The Core Content of the VLS consists of 15 courses, 13 of which align with the competency standards of the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential used in early care settings worldwide.

Cynthia Buettner

The Core Content courses are organized into tracks: direct care, training/coaching and management for center-based care, plus a track for family care providers. The direct-care courses are tailored by developmental age — infant/toddler, preschool and school.

“We designed the VLS to empower professionals to build their knowledge and skills around research-based practices in child and youth development,” Buettner said. “The content is supported by authentic, high-quality videos that model best practices. Activities are included to further learning, as well as resources to apply immediately in the classroom.”

Necoleia Friend, supervisory training and curriculum specialist for Child and Youth Programs at Wright-Patterson, is eager to use the VLS when it officially launches.

With 16 years of experience in military child and youth programs, she sees it as a great way to change professional development for new and seasoned staff.

“For the training team, the VLS is going to give us flexibility. We have to track teacher progress manually now, but the VLS has a tracking system,” said Friend. “You just push a button and see the progress. It frees us up to be in the classroom.”

“The VLS will also support children and families as they move from one installation to another,” said Buettner. “Early childhood research shows continuity is important for children.

“The VLS prepares teachers at different installations to speak the same language and use uniform approaches. The lives of families who move often will be smoother.”

Another benefit: the skills apply to both military and civilian populations. Military spouses in particular gain a professional development opportunity. If they transfer to another installation, they can continue with the modules where they left off.

“The VLS is a great way to set a model for quality child care,” Friend said. “Not only are military children going to benefit, any community whose programs or professionals use it is going to benefit. It’s really setting the bar high for quality child care.”

DoD’s Thompson summed up: “The VLS places DoD in the position of ‘leading the way’ in professional development and supports the field of early childhood.”

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