For 28 years, Diann Gano has run a child care business out of her home in Rock Island, IL. Since the day she started, she has worked to keep up with new research and knowledge about child development by taking courses, receiving certifications, and even earning a master’s degree to help improve the care she provides to young children.

“One of the challenges of family child care is that we are isolated in our homes, working 70 hours per week,” Gano said. “We have really needed a network of other professionals to help us feel connected, get encouragement, and share ideas. It’s the nature of the job — we don’t have a lounge where we can visit with other teachers.”

Now, that network has arrived.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 12.41.45 PMIn partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, Erikson Institute has developed and driven the launch of an innovative new website called Town Square to connect family child care professionals in Illinois to a wealth of resources that are developed and curated by Erikson. The site will offer opportunities for professional development and also make it possible to connect with other professionals to share information and advice.

Town Square’s content is focused on the needs of those who provide care out of their homes, known as family child care professionals. This group includes about 10,000 licensed providers in Illinois plus many more who are license-exempt as well as relatives and friends of families. Town Square’s design and resources reflect the input of working family child care professionals, who collaborated with Erikson’s Distance Learning and Continuing Education team during the development process to offer insight into what is important for an online community.

The project was made possible through a federal “Race to the Top” Early Childhood Learning grant and a partnership between Erikson and the state of Illinois. Erikson’s role has been to oversee the initial development of the website and to produce an archive of resources by creating original content and also through curating selected materials from respected outside sources.

“Drawing on our knowledge of innovative distance learning methods and expertise in the field of child development, we wanted to help create a site that brings together an extensive range of resources for family child care professionals,” said Angela Fowler, director of the Family Child Care Professional Development Project at Erikson. “Our goal was to build a virtual community for providers of family child care that recognizes the important role they play in the entire system of early childhood education.”

Individuals can create profiles that enable them to log in, access content, and connect with others through forums. The homepage has a “cork board” design that allows for customization, and users can populate their pages with videos, stories, and professional development resources that apply to their personal needs. From the homepage, users can find links allowing them to “watch,” “discover,” “discuss,” and “grow.” Following these links leads to:

  • Videos to learn about best practices in family child care. Topics include “Supporting positive group play” and “Clean-up routines.”
  • Modules, webinars, and other professional development tools created or selected by Erikson to help providers develop new knowledge and keep credentials up to date.
  • Articles and child development handouts from authoritative sources like the Center for Disease Control and National Association for Family Child Care, as well as Erikson perspectives.
  • Discussion forums where family child care providers can share ideas, ask questions, and connect with others in the field. The forums also provide a “swap meet” section for sharing materials and supplies.
  • Blog entries written by family child care professionals.

To professionals like Gano, credibility is important. Family child care professionals want to know that the information they are receiving and sharing is contributing to their ability to foster healthy child development through their practice.

“One of the benefits of Town Square is that all of the content is filtered through the lens of Erikson, meaning family child care professionals have access to a trusted source of information backed up by research and knowledge of best practices in the field of child development,” said Chip Donohue, Erikson’s dean of Distance Learning and Continuing Education.

Town Square’s content and opportunities for interaction and collaboration are also intended to help instill a sense of confidence among family child care professionals. The more comfortable they feel about creating an environment that fosters learning and growth, the more children benefit, Donohue said.

Those who sign up for Town Square will receive regular email updates about new resources on the site, while Facebook and Twitter pages for Town Square will provide additional information.

“I’m so excited to be part of Town Square,” Gano said. “With Erikson’s expertise driving it, it really has the potential to change the dynamic of family child care in Illinois.”