Caring for young children can be a challenge in any given time — and especially so during a pandemic. Thankfully, there is no shortage of local support and resources for those who need it, helping show parents and families that child care is not only possible but a joyful experience.

Rise for Baby and Family, located on Washington Street in Keene, provides child care and early intervention programs for infants and toddlers.

One way the organization helped families since COVID arrived was by keeping its doors open, with COVID safety protocols in place. All staff are masked with the exception of those working with the youngest children, temperatures are taken of all who enter the building, and classrooms are separated indoors and outside.

“If childcare closes down it’s such a problem for working parents,” said Pat Payne, Rise outreach coordinator. “Not every parent is able to pivot to working from home. We wanted to do everything we could to minimize those kinds of disruptions.”

Rise offers two more areas of support during the pandemic: one is provide such benefits as gas and grocery gift cards, holiday gifts for children and technology for families who need access to virtual medical visits for early intervention to those in need through private donations and funds from the Monadnock United Way.

Another resource Rise delivers to parents is through The Monadnock Alliance For Families, a group of child service organizations in the region. The group hosts a Facebook page that keeps families notified about upcoming events such as play groups for young children and caregivers, and parenting classes.

Another resource for families and caregivers of young children is through Joyful Beginnings, a program of Sophia’s Hearth Family Center that is an online community providing support and resources for parents and families of children pre-birth to age 3.

Sophia’s Hearth is internationally recognized for its specialized approach, inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner and Emmi Pikler, which honors the dignity and natural development of the child.

Laura Beatty, Joyful Beginnings program director, explained Joyful Beginnings was one of the founding parent education programs that began at Sophia’s Hearth Family Center more than 20 years ago.

“Through changes in staff and putting energy into child care, (Joyful Beginnings) programs started to dwindle,” she said.

In July of 2019 it was decided the Sophia’s Hearth pillar of services: child care, teacher training and education — needed to be built back up.

“They didn’t want to abandon in-person work but move the (education) focus into an online platform,” said Beatty, who was brought on as program director last fall.

The Joyful Beginnings website, which is in development and will be launched in May, will offer a five-module introduction to program methods and philosophy as well as blogs, podcasts, videos, groups, workshops and a Welcoming Your Baby package. It will be membership-based but a lot of content will be offered for free.

“Once we get that to a good place we’ll revisit in-person education now that we’re all feeling a bit safer with more people having been vaccinated,” she said. Sophia’s Hearth has also continued to run child care services with smaller class sizes and masks for all adults. Visitors to the building are limited to 'essential only' and they are required to wear masks.

Programs for teachers have also moved to a distance learning model with the hope to gather this summer.

The member site will provide parent workshops on a variety of topics, including how to take time to be present with your baby, newborn sleep, attachment and anxiety, and a creative writing workshop for mothers to write their birth story.

There will also be virtual parenting groups for those welcoming a new baby and another for first-time parents as well as a group for general parenting support and another for mothers.

The welcoming package will include virtual (and eventually in-person) prenatal support and support from a newborn specialist, prenatal yoga and postpartum support.

Down the line, Joyful Beginnings plans to include a page featuring such activities as instructional videos on puppet making, songs and lap games.

“We’ll offer a wide array to start with and we can go in any direction,” said Beatty. “There’s no one right way to do these things. We wanted to be responsive and include different voices and perspectives.”

The ultimate goal of Joyful Beginnings is to give parents the resources to learn and empower them to do these things themselves and help show them they are not alone.

“Parents don’t think they have the skill set or confidence — they think it’s the work of the early childhood educator or teacher,” said Beatty. “It’s about finding that joyful time with your child.”

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