Educator Spotlight | Denita Dinger
Educator Spotlight | Denita Dinger
September 4, 2018 | Victoria Parikian
Denita Dinger | Kaleidoscope Play School
HiMama is improving learning outcomes for children zero to five. We support early childhood education because the sector is the most challenging teaching environment.
Low wages, lack of professional development and long days; HiMama's aim is to ease childcare management and support early childhood professionals.
The HiMama team firmly believes that early childhood professionals deserve to be celebrated and that recognition is important. Our Educator Spotlight is one way we are shining a light on the important and undervalued work of childcare professionals.
I have always, ALWAYS loved working with children. When I was little, I played house, child care, school – you name it. There was never a doubt in my mind as to what I wanted to do when I grew up! The decision to begin in this career field as a family child care provider happened out of necessity. I was pregnant, and my current job as an after-school care director would have made it hard to pay the child care bill, and so, I opened my own program. One thing led to another, and three books, numerous speaking engagements, three different programs and a total change in pedagogy later...here I am, a proud defender of play!! My journey is an important thing for people to know about. I graduated from college with the goal of being a Kindergarten teacher. Instead, I ended up opening a family child care business in 1998, with an emphasis on my preschool program. My goal was to phase out the all-day child care aspect and be a traditional preschool program in a few years. That goal wasn’t attained until 2014 after some drastic life-changes helped me to evaluate my priorities and put them in a different order. At this point in my career, I was providing care for 12 children 50 hours a week (in SD, providers can have 12 children with one adult), I had co-authored three books about the importance of play, I was speaking at roughly 20 events a year AND I was a mother to two wonderful teenagers and a wife to an amazingly supportive husband. My dad got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died 6 months later. This was a definite time to do some self-reflection and make some changes! This is when I closed my full-time program, and opened Kaleidoscope Play School. I now have one session that meets on T/W/Th mornings from 8:30-11:30. I speak at roughly 20-25 events annually, and the rest of my time is for my family. I have also added a summer camp to my programming for school-aged children. This has been a wonderful method of reminding parents that ALL CHILDREN NEED TO PLAY.
I found that when I made these changes, I was a better me, and my family and the children in my program have benefitted greatly!
Challenges in Early Education
Denita reflected on three challenges she faces in early learning environments:
Helping adults understand the value of child-led play. Deciphering the individual needs of each child as well as the unique way each child expresses those needs and meeting those needs. Leaving work at work. I LOVE what I do and have a very hard time leaving my work!
What do you think could be better about your work?
I wish I had an infinite budget to work with!
I find joy in observing children as they become more and more empowered. Hearing “I DID IT” from a child who had zero confidence when they first started in my program is one of my absolute favorite joy-inducing moments!
Relationships are at the core of what we as early childhood educators do. Relationships with children, and relationships with the parents. I view the parents as my teammates. We, as a team, are doing what is in the best interest of their child. In order to accomplish the feeling of team, as well as build a meaningful relationship, good communication is a necessity. I can tell during the interview process whether or not each family will be a good fit for my program, simply by the ease of communication. It is of utmost importance.
Denita's Career Goals
I am very fortunate to feel like I have reached the goals that I had for myself as an early childhood professional. I spend 1⁄2 my time working with children at my play school, and 1⁄2 my time working with adults through consulting at programs and keynoting/leading trainings at various events across the US and Internationally. I do have another book idea in mind that I hope to get written, but other than that... my goal is to never stop learning from children and other ECE professionals.
Another important thing to know about me is that I have not always been a defender of play. I have not always respected child-led play. I used to believe that play was simply a method for children to get their energy out, so then they could listen to me as I creatively taught them all the things they needed to know in order to be successful in Kindergarten. I am grateful for Bev Bos who first planted the seed in my head that perhaps I was under-estimating the importance of play. Finally, in 2010 my eyes were fully opened, and it is then that I began to tweak my pedagogy little by little.
Now, I am proud to say, my program looks nothing like it did 8 years ago. Instead of the children asking ME what we are going to do, I ask them. Instead of having a lesson plan book filled out ahead of time, with every single detail pre-planned, I now play how I will set the environment for TODAY. The “what will happen” part is now owned by the children. I do not yet know where the children will lead me until today is finished. And then, after today, I reset the environment, as necessary, for tomorrow, again not knowing WHAT will happen, as that part is owned by the children. I also am very much in-the-moment, and much of my “planning” happens on the go, according to the needs of the children RIGHT NOW. The learning is so much more meaningful and absolutely stunning now, in comparison to 8 years ago. I am so grateful that I finally admitted to myself that PERHAPS there was a better way!
Check out her blog here and catch Denita on Facebook at Play counts!
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