It’s about 8:15 in the morning at the Petersburg Children’s Center. Some of us might be thinking about another cup of coffee but these toddlers are ready to dance.
They are curious about everything. Sitting with a microphone in the corner does not go unnoticed.
“What’s that? What’s that? What are you doing?” they ask me.
By the end of the first song, one of the toddlers wants to put on a princess dress. Then another toddler wants to and another.
The kids range in age from 18 months to three years old. The youngest ones are just starting to learn important words like please and thank you. Running the room is teacher, Theressa Phillips.
“I think their biggest issue at this age is not being able to communicate what they want,” Phillips said, “and I think that really frustrates them and that’s the basis for most fits and most problems in the room is they are trying to say something and they just don’t get their point across.”
The key is communication. Phillips says trying to understand the issue from the toddler’s perspective helps especially with the young year-and-a-halfs just joining the room.
“If you acknowledge their feelings like, ‘I see that you’re sad or I see that you’re upset’, then they understand, ‘oh, at least she knows why I’m mad right now’,” Phillips said.
I ask Phillips what the toddlers can do by the time they are ready for the next classroom.
“By the time they’re ready to move up they can do all sorts of stuff independently,” Phillips said. “They can use a lot more words, they can do a lot of stuff themselves, they can put on their clothing by themselves and they’re definitely better at concepts like sharing and knowing what’s expected of them.”
Phillips received the Infant Toddler Teacher of the Year award at a regional meeting of early childhood educators in Southeast known as the AEYC conference in Juneau. Phillips says she had no idea it was going to happen.
“I was so surprised and slightly shocked, I was shaking up there,” she said. “I was obviously very excited and very happy, but yeah, completely not expecting it at all.”
Executive Director of the Children’s Center, Brandi Heppe, nominated Phillips along with another teacher at the center. Heppe says Phillips has the skills for the challenging age group that can’t talk much but thinks and feels a lot.
“Just watching her with toddlers–toddlers is not an easy job to have–and just the way she takes the kids and teaches them and plays with them and makes them feel loved is just amazing,” Heppe said.
Back in the classroom, Phillips helps the children transition into meal time.
“Ok, friends, I want you to put all of your dress up away so we can have breakfast,” Phillips said.
She corals the toddlers to the sink to wash up and then to nearby tables to sit and eat yogurt, granola and peaches.
Phillips isn’t the only Petersburg Children’s Center staff that has been recognized by the regional association. Three others have received Teacher of the Year awards for different age groups in recent years.