Step Up To Quality Stories

Step 5 spotlight: Natalie Hanna explains how Step Up to Quality benefits her family child care home

Meet Natalie Hanna, director and owner of Natalie’s Child Care, a family child care home in Kearney, Nebraska. This Step 5 provider has been with Step Up to Quality since the beginning, so we gave her a call to learn more about her inspiration to join the profession and her Step Up to Quality journey.

What inspired you to become a child care provider?

I was raised as an only child by my struggling, divorced single mother. For the first seven years of my life, my mother tried to make ends meet while working the overnight shift at a local factory. When she was sleeping during the day or at work overnight, I was left at Karen’s house, a family friend with four young boys just down the road who graciously opened her home to me. I called Karen my “mom” and my maternal mother “grandma.” She played a vital role in shaping who I became.

Karen was the role model I didn’t know I needed — she included me in family pictures, holidays and vacations. I never felt alone. Karen was the best listener; she would either drop what she was doing or would magically multitask to converse with me at the same time.

These qualities would help push me to better myself. While raising five children under her roof, she was also attending college courses. This was something I admired, as no one in my family had ever attended a vocational university or post-secondary school. I knew if Karen could accomplish so much as a mother and mentor, I could as well.

What is your child care philosophy?

My philosophy as an early childhood educator is to provide a loving, nurturing and supportive family setting for each child while their parents are away at work. I believe that each child is a unique individual who necessitates a secure, caring and stimulating atmosphere in which to grow and mature emotionally, mentally, intellectually, physically and socially.

Children learn through their play with age-appropriate activities, toys and materials. Each child is an individual and needs to be treated as such. They come in all shapes and sizes and at all stages of development. I help guide them through each developmental stage and build upon them. I specifically monitor each child’s progress with their large and small motor development, coordination, interaction with peers and communicating in the physical domain as well as assisting with language and cognitive development.

How did you learn about Step Up to Quality? Why did you decide to join?

I learned about Step Up to Quality when it was first introduced. I was initially skeptical, because it seemed like it was geared more toward centers than in-home child care. After doing more research, I learned it was an initiative for any type of provider to elevate their child care career. And I realized that, if I was already doing these high-quality practices, why not get recognized for it, and why not take my child care offerings to the next level?

It was also very impactful once I started seeing in-home providers being rated as Step 5. I was offering the same kind of program, so why not jump on board? There’s nothing to lose, and the Step 2 trainings were required by licensing anyway. And now, through ARPA funding, trainings are temporarily free. The incentive is phenomenal.

You’ve gone through the rating process two times. How does it feel to have achieved and maintained the Step 5 level?

The feeling of accomplishment, acceptance and recognition really helps affirm and promote the early childhood profession.

For me, going through the rating process the first time took six months, which can take the average provider up to two years. I know that isn’t the traditional process for most people, but it’s totally doable if you want to move quickly. I love that you can move at your own pace with Step Up to Quality.

Going through the rating process the second time, I knew what to expect, and it’s way faster. I kept my high-quality practices in motion, so when it came time to re-rate, it was basically filling out paperwork and updating a few things. There wasn’t a whole lot to change.

In what ways has Step Up to Quality helped boost the quality of your child care practices?

Step Up to Quality helps define and set benchmarks for high-quality environments and experiences for family child care providers. It outlines and breaks down the steps into manageable bits, and it’s up to you as the business owner to decide your path.

Having a coach that was relatable and totally knowledgeable in family child care was especially beneficial to me. She would give me ideas, but I was the one in charge. At the end of the day, it was my business, and I was completely in control. Coaches are not judging you, they’re there to completely support you.

What words of encouragement do you have for providers who are considering joining Step Up to Quality or are still working through the steps?

You have nothing to lose but everything to gain! There are benefits throughout the rating process, and you’re getting recognition for providing higher-quality care. It sets you apart.

And there’s such a great feeling of satisfaction knowing that you’re doing the best that you can as an in-home provider and are serving the people of your community. There’s no reason not to enroll!