Liza Garza bent over, helping a young infant eat at a small high chair

Lisa Garza

Lead Infant Teacher and Infant/Toddler Program Team Leader at Hickory Hill Academy formerly known as Kids Express Learning Center and President of the Greater Madison Area Chapter of the Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

I began my ECE career five and a half years ago after being a music teacher in the Kenosha and Madison area. As my desire to serve our Madison learning community in more impactful ways grew, I found my way to the early childhood classroom, dedicating myself to providing excellent infant/toddler care and education. It is also an honor to serve as president of the Greater Madison Area Chapter of the Early Music & Movement Association (GMAC-ECMMA). In this role, I have the privilege of organizing continuing education workshops for my fellow early childhood educators and building mentorship relationships with my colleagues in various leadership roles.

The continuing education workshops through GMAC-ECMMA provide early childhood care and education professionals with guidelines and suggestions on how to promote learning through music and movement activities in the daily life of an early childhood classroom. In prioritizing the health and safety of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are focusing on connecting our ECE community to virtual continuing education opportunities and adjusting our classroom practices to encourage learning through music and movement in the virtual and socially distant classroom.

My involvement with GMAC-ECMMA brings together three of my heart's passions: music and movement, learning through play and teacher development. In my classroom, we find that encouraging playfulness during music and movement activities strengthens the bond between child and teacher. Once that relationship is formed and nurtured, the door opens to developing early language skills through songs and fingerplays, physical coordination through instrument manipulation, social and emotional expression through movement, and much more!

Sometimes, when I tell people I am an infant/toddler teacher, they ask, “What do you teach them? They are just babies!” But that’s exactly it; they are just babies, new humans, so they are learning constantly! I simply reply, “I teach them how to be human. How to trust and have autonomy. How to cope with the many feelings humans experience in a day. How to be a friend.”

My work with children and families can be summed up in six words that a dear mentor-friend taught me: Love first. Everything else will follow. Compassion and empathy always take priority as my work deals with many “firsts”. Compassion for the young child experiencing the world away from their families and empathy for the parent leaving their child in the care of a new person, possibly for the first time. The aspect of my work and contribution that I am most proud of is the success of the children I have been incredibly lucky to have met over just the beginning of my career in this field. It is a true joy to watch the infants and toddlers that have come through my classroom frying bigger fish, as they say, as they graduate into preschool and elementary school programs.

It is no secret that the future of early childhood care and education is somewhat uncertain as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. My deepest hope is for our leaders and governing bodies state-wide to appreciate the incredibly significant impact our ECE professionals make on future generations. Specifically, I hope in the future there will continue to be the unique support required for the youngest learners in the infant/toddler classroom as so many families seek, require, and deserve the highest quality care and education possible for their “littles.”