Early childhood conference attracts record crowd

September 11, 2018

A record-breaking crowd who work in early childhood ministries across the Archdiocese attended the annual conference, titled “Let the Children Come,” on Aug. 10 at St. Dominic Center. Photo by Annette Baird.

HOUSTON — A record crowd of more than 300 people who work in early childhood ministries across the Archdiocese attended the recent annual conference, titled “Let the Children Come,” to hear from experts on a range of subjects, from effective discipline and intentional teaching to developing a conscience and addressing different learning styles. 

Conference organizer Charleen Katra put the high attendance down to an earlier start date, prior to the start of school as opposed to early fall, and a roster of high quality and knowledgeable presenters, among them experienced early childhood educators and college professors.

“We had to turn people away,” Katra said, associate director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. “People registered sooner and faster.”

Katra said the conference, now in its 18th year, not only is an opportunity to bring early childhood educators together to develop their skills and give them the resources to work with young children, but it also demonstrates the Archdiocese’s commitment to delivering quality, faith-based early childcare options. In addition, she said the conference provided an opportunity for early childcare providers to network and share ideas.

“It’s very important to meet the needs of Catholic families — they need these programs,” Katra said of the early childhood ministries, which come under her office. “They are affirming the children’s, hence the family’s, Catholic identity.”

In her presentation about how children build a conscience, Dr. Rhonda Richardson, owner of Richardson Educator Consulting Services, talked about the need for early childhood teachers to help children from infancy develop a moral sense or internal voice that directs them to act with kindness, respect and fairness. She said it starts with the connection teachers make with young children from the time they enter the room and the ability of teachers to ensure young children feel safe. 

“These early years are a critical time period during which there is the biggest brain growth, where brain structure is developing and synapses are connecting,” said Richardson, a former early childhood teacher, administrator and college professor. 

Richardson said it is through positive experiences like smiling, laughing, hugging, sharing, guiding and dancing from loving and caring adults that help form and strengthen pathways in a child’s brain to form a conscience. She said early childhood teachers have a great responsibility to do their part by being present, showing warmth, love and affection and demonstrating strength. 

“It sets children on a trajectory for life and instills a desire to bring happiness into the lives of others,” Richardson said. 

Richardson acknowledged that teachers and carers are going to feel stressed at times. And when they do feel stressed, she said they should, when possible, take a time out to calm down.

“Calmness is your super power,” Richardson said.

Richardson was one of almost two dozen experts in early childhood education who made presentations at the conference. Debbie Elder, a best-selling author, international speaker and trainer who has 31 years of experience working with children, teens and young adults, delivered the opening address.

“The conference offered great professional development that is relevant and was a good reminder of how to be with children,” said Ana Hernandez, who works at St. Theresa Memorial Park Early Childhood Center.

In Brief

More than 300 preschool teachers, faith formation instructors and administrators from across the Archdiocese gathered for the “Let the Children Come” conference for staff development on Aug. 10 at St. Dominic Center. The annual event, intended to strengthen professional skills and personal formation, addressed the core knowledge areas specific to those people in the Archdiocese who work with children from infancy to five years-old.

The core knowledge areas included: child growth and development; healthy and safe environment; professional practice, methods, curriculum; guidance; family and community relationships; cultural and individual diversity; observation and assessment; professionalism; faith formation.

For information about the Archdiocese’s early childhood programs, contact Charleen Katra at ckatra@archgh.org.