Early Childhood Education in Santa Monica: Early Childhood Directions

April 3, 2023 9:05 AM
by Ivy Chang

The first years of life are the best time to ensure a strong future for all Santa Monica children. Early education advances equity and is essential for thriving families and communities. Whether children begin care as infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, Santa Monica is home to a wide range of early learning programs, with varying curriculums, hours, and costs.

Enriching and safe care should be available to all children, regardless of their family’s income, needs, race or ethnicity, or the languages they speak. Connections for Children, our local Child Care Resource and Referral agency, can help you find a program that meets your needs and determine if you qualify for funding to help pay for it (connectionsforchildren.org or (310) 452-3325).

Our communities are stronger when every child is healthy, safe, and engaged in early learning. Read on to learn about the passionate and diverse professionals doing this important work in Santa Monica. This is part 11 of a series.

Program Name: Early Childhood Directions

Program Director: Laura Benavente

Ages of children served: 3 months to 5 years old

Operating Hours: Monday - Friday (7 a.m. - 6 p.m.), year-round

Brief History: Early Childhood Directions (ECD) has been a part of Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica for over 30 years. The NAEYC-accredited center provides early childhood education to children of healthcare workers from Providence Saint John’s, UCLA, Cedars Sinai, Kaiser, USC, and the VA, and is also open to other Santa Monica families.

Why is it important to think of early childhood education (ECE) as a profession, rather than simply “babysitting”?

I really think ECE comes down to educating our families. Our early childhood center is where a child develops for the first five years. Parents are not dropping off their children only for us to watch them, feed them, and change their diapers. We are molding children’s development and educational aspirations for years to come. The importance of early care and education is often overlooked or underrepresented. Those of us who have been in the field for years need to educate ECE students who are entering the field, as well as promote our workplaces as early childhood centers rather than only childcare services for families.

Can you share how your passion for early childhood education started?

I think back with gratitude for the opportunity to enroll at Santa Monica College (SMC) and my decision to check out an early childhood class. What inspired me was having the best teachers, and my eyes were opened to how much you can do when working with children. I looked up to my mentors and directors because I wanted to be a good administrator and director when I got to that point. I learned to be hands-on in the classroom, working with children alongside other adults and co-teachers, and learning to respect different points of views of families, cultures, and backgrounds. I learned to take families and children as they are, being open to everyone, and to work with respect and dignity as an educator.

What is it like to work as an ECE provider in the city where you grew up?

It feels like coming full circle. My mom has worked in Santa Monica as a housekeeper for almost 40 years. I would wait for her at the Santa Monica Public Library as a kid and think to myself, one day I can be something that my single mom will be proud of. Now, we’re trying to help families in Santa Monica raise their young kids to be good citizens and people. We’re trying to teach and model good values as we have important roles in the lives of young children.

At our center, most of our staff have had the opportunity to have our own children in the program while we were teachers and administrators. We understand the role of the young child and the educator. Sometimes you’re a parent, and sometimes you’re a teacher and, while challenging, that opportunity is priceless. Many of our kids are now in high school or college, and we see that our program gave them a strong foundation to be the people they are now, as well as the people they are still developing into.

Please contact Early Childhood Directions directly at providence.org/locations/socal/saint-johns-health-center/child-and-family-development-center/early-childhood-directions or (310) 829-8679 for more information.

Past blog posts:

How Early Childhood is an Investment in the Future

3 Reasons Why Early Childhood Matters in Santa Monica

Homepage for ECE Blog Post Series

Authored By

Ivy Chang
Senior Administrative Analyst