Jen Nelson has a message for parents looking for child care: it’s OK to be a snob. It’s OK to expect more out of your current provider, too.
As the sole proprietor of Nurture and Nature Family Child Care, Step Up to Quality’s first rated child care provider, and the first in-home program to make it to Step 5, Jen practices what she preaches. She expects more out of herself every day.
Even though on paper it might sound like Jen breezed her way up the Step Up to Quality ladder, achieving all five steps in six months, it was a challenge.
“No one likes people telling them what they’re doing wrong or what they need to improve on. Honestly, you get a little angry about it,” she said. “But you quickly get over it and start making things better.”
At first Jen thought Step Up to Quality might be more geared toward child care centers and not in-home care. But she worked with her Step Up to Quality coach to personalize the journey to the Step 5 rating, including using the observation tool that is specific to family child care homes.
“When I set my mind to something, I find a way to get it,” Jen said.
In the last few years, Jen has made lots of little changes. She started parent/teacher conferences. She has a monthly rotation schedule for her wall displays. She put up pictures of what vegetable or fruit will come out of the plants in their garden – and also has the name listed in English and Spanish.
These little changes have added up to a lot.
“I’ve noticed a difference in the way the kids talk. And I didn’t think about modeling the way I talk as much before,” she said. “The program changes kids, and it’s changed me.”
She makes the smallest of moments into tiny lessons. If the kids are having crackers for a snack, she might talk about the rectangular shape, or she might make it into a subtraction lesson as the kids eat.
“That’s what I’m most proud of, those little things. Especially when one of the kids says, ‘I’m sorry,’ or ‘do you need help.’ When one kid comforts another, it warms my heart. It makes me want to learn more and more,” she said.
Even after being a child care provider for 33 years, Jen still has the energy, the motivation and the thirst for knowledge to continually improve.
Because she is the only teacher at her in-home center, looking after as many as eight kids, she uses nap time (and some evenings) to study and network online with fellow child care providers to be better every day. After her Step Up to Quality work was finished, she decided to get her associate’s degree. She graduates this fall.
“I was able to do my practicums and observations here, and it ended up being great for the kids, too, to incorporate that into their lessons,” Jen said.
She tries to travel to conferences and meetings to learn from others all across the region and nation. She plans on diving into a bachelor’s degree program next year, too.
And she has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Jen and her husband have five children, and seven grandchildren, all of whom live in the Omaha area.
“I never thought to myself that after my kids were grown that I would quit, or anything like that,” Jen said. “I’ll keep doing this until my body gives out. I just love it.”