A Case for Child Care in Kalispell, Montana

One of the main initiatives for the Discover Kalispell Chamber is child care. As part of this, we’ve been shifting the way its thought about from child care to early childhood education. When it comes to caring for, raising and educating the next generation, the individuals who work in child care play a vital role. And while the Discover Kalispell Chamber is focusing on growing interest in child care as a career – as well as home-based child care options and employer-supported child care – we want to be sure you heard about why it’s important from someone beyond the chamber.

To do so, we sat down with Leigh Ann Downie-Economy with Growing Roots Early Learning Center and asked her a few questions. To get a glimpse into the life of a professional who works in early childcare education, check out the interview below.

How would you describe child care as a profession?

Child care is a highly unacknowledged profession in that we are caring for young children during the most formative years of brain development. The profession, to me, goes far beyond “caring” for children. It involves helping each child develop to his/her fullest potential in every developmental category, it is educating parents on how to encourage the same development at home, and it involves advocating for change in our profession – recognizing the importance and value in what we do.

What do you love most about providing child care?

I love everything about my job! I love watching little minds seek out learning opportunities, I love the pride and excitement a child feels when they master something new, I love the hugs we receive each day and the trust families put in us to provide quality programs and love their children the way they do at home. I also love watching staff in the same light. Watching and helping them grow their wings and then explore as they take off in flight.

Can you describe your average day?

There is no average day! Some days are smooth sailing and filled with routine, fun and learning. Other days we’re short-staffed and running like chickens with our heads cut off. Every day is coming to work with a smile on your face and leaving stresses of life in the car to be 100% present for children.

What are the misconceptions people have about child care?

I think people think all we do is babysit and that anyone can do the job, which in fact is very far from the truth.

What are the best parts of your job?

There are lots of great parts, like watching children and staff develop and flourish. Personally, I have felt so blessed to have my children and now my grandchildren grow up with me there knowing I never missed a thing with them!

What do you wish more people knew about child care as a profession?

First and foremost, I would love to take the word “daycare” out of vocabulary in general. Even child care doesn’t give it enough credit. Preschool at least has the word “school” in it; “early childhood” is even better!

What led you to going down this professional career path?

Circumstance really. I took a job as an infant teacher way back in 1989 and my love for the industry just kept growing!

What are some of the challenges you see in the child care industry?

Salaries and finding people to make this a career despite the wages is the biggest one.

What encouraged you to get into this industry?

My passion for the work and the ability to raise my kids with me while I work. I think I continued my education in the field to the master’s degree level to ensure my marketability and ability to financially take care of my family. Prior to my working in the valley, the industry in California was looked at in a much more professional way. I would really like to see some change with this in Flathead Valley, including more people going through college ECE (early childhood education) programs and really viewing the industry as a valued profession.

What’s your best advice for people who are looking into child care as a career?

Go to college or at least take classes in ECE. Then, find the right fit. Find a director who will be a mentor to you – someone whose passion is contagious and wants to help you grow your wings and will take pride in you as you fly!

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