a picture of Gisela Alt reading to children

Gisela Alt

Preschool Teacher at Little Red Preschool in Middleton, Wisconsin 

I've always loved working with children, but really became interested in the early childhood years after taking a psychology class in high school. That was in the mid 90’s, when there was a lot of new research coming out about neuroplasticity and critical periods of human development. I was fascinated by the studies on child development in babies and young children.

The connections our brains make during these early years become the basis who we are for literally the rest of our lives. Think of a building being designed – any engineer will tell you that without a solid foundation, the building on top would not be structurally sound. The early childhood years, from birth through age five, builds this foundation and frame in a person's life. What draws me to the field of early childhood the most is knowing that the skills these children are developing will go on to not only influence their life’s journey but also influence our global society decades from now.

I spent several years working as a nanny for multiple families before working in an early childhood center in 1999, and I've been involved in the field ever since. I've been a teacher at Little Red Preschool for six years now. I've worked with all the different age groups at Little Red, but my favorite is the 3- to 4-year-olds. The growth that they go through is just astounding, from language development and communication to social skills, emotional regulation, and physical development. Children are naturally empathetic, curious, and innovative. They teach me as much, if not more, than I teach them.

I'm incredibly grateful for the families at Little Red who have all been incredibly supportive and involved with their kids and the school. As a single mom, I know how hard it is to leave your child with someone else every day and it means everything to have a child care provider who loves, understands, and teaches your child.

Our school is all about community, not just in terms of the individual child and classroom level, but also through the familiar surroundings our children see every day. We have a close relationship with the Middleton fire department and police department, the public library, even the diners and locally-owned shops within walking distance. We coordinate with the school district for early intervention services, so children receive services they need, and already have a support system set up when they transition into kindergarten. We also keep in contact with agencies like the state Department of Children and Families, the Middleton Outreach Ministry, and Child Protective Services, so that we can support children and families in need.

A big part of my work is advocating for children and families. The Early Childhood field in the U.S. in particular is in crisis. We're the only industrialized country that doesn't offer some form of paid family leave. The average cost of full-time care for young children in care centers is higher than the average cost of in-state college tuition. But the wages of early care and education workers don't reflect the importance of the work. A Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education is the college major with the lowest projected lifetime earnings and the median child care worker wages don't meet the living wage threshold for a one-child single adult in ANY state. These issues combined with the fact that many preschool teachers are retiring soon is worsening the preschool teacher shortage issue.

The lack of support for young children and families in the U.S. is dismal and needs to change. While our own kids will always be an individual responsibility, their well-being should also be recognized as a national economic and social priority. I think the pandemic has made a lot of people realize that child care is not a social service but is a part of infrastructure. Progress is being made and awareness is developing, and that gives me great hope for the advancement of the field.