Treading new water: Child-care teacher honored for aquarium project

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

— Let's talk about tummy time.

Janesville teacher Brenda Eden knows how important it is in her infant room at Lutheran Social Services child-care center, which is called Child's First.

During tummy time, babies lie on their bellies to play while Eden supervises. As they lift their heads, they strengthen their necks and back muscles.

"It helps them learn how to crawl and sit up," Eden said. "It promotes fine motor skills, like eventually holding a crayon or a pencil."

Even after 15 years at the center, Eden gets goose bumps when she sees children reach developmental milestones. But she knows that babies don't always like tummy time, so she came up with a clever idea to calm them: an aquarium at eye level for infants.

"With the aquarium sitting on the floor, they will be taken in by the beautiful colors of fish," Eden said. "They may just forget that they are on their tummies."

Eden envisioned an aquarium for her classroom for six years but had no money to make it real. Then she applied for an award from The Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation, which honors child-care teachers for excellence and dedication.

"We do this because society undervalues their contributions," a spokesperson for the foundation said.

Earlier this year, Eden was among 52 child-care teachers in the United States and on U.S. military bases to get cash awards. She received $500 to buy and stock a 30-gallon aquarium and another $500 for herself.

Already, she has the aquarium on the floor in her room and plans to stock it with colorful fish, including angelfish.

"We are constantly trying to make this room the best for the kids," Eden said. "I get excited when I think of the aquarium sitting on the floor with my infants watching the fish swim."

She has contacted the state licensing agency and is waiting for final approval of her aquarium, which has a secure lid.

"Safety is No. 1," Eden said. "I'm probably the first one who ever put one on the floor in a daycare center. We are treading new water."

While babies need tummy time for development, they are put on their backs to sleep if younger than age 1, Eden said. Stomach sleeping is widely recognized as a key risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome. A public health campaign launched in 1994 got the word out that the safest way for babies to sleep is on their backs, she explained.

Eden's day revolves around the needs of eight infants, ranging in age from 3 months to 8 months. Some are starting to eat solids. Some are crawling and some are just learning to roll. Their cribs are placed along the wall to keep the middle of the room open for exploration.

Eden changes diapers and makes sure the children are fed. She also reads stories to them and gets them involved in art and sensory projects, including painting with their bodies, hands and feet.

"Parents are always impressed with the wonderful art Brenda creates with the children," said Lisa Krebs, who worked with Eden for a while in the infant room. Krebs describes Eden as a mentor.

Eden's program supervisor, Katie Murphy, calls Eden "a living example of dedication."

"Upon walking into Brenda's classroom, you feel a sense of care that goes beyond just diapers and bottles," Murphy said in a nomination letter for the award. "Brenda works hard to provide well-rounded care through changing the toys and décor in her classroom to match her themes and to provide an array of sensory experiences for the children."

Eden's enthusiasm is visible.

"You will always find me with an infant by my side engaging in an experience," she said. "Both of us will be smiling and laughing."

She views her award as a professional pat on the back.

"I've been in the child care field for 30 some years," Eden said. "A lot of people think we are just babysitters. But we are so much more."

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

Last updated: 10:41 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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