Ms. Vanessa Culp has been teaching infants and toddlers – and their parents – at the Meyerhoff Early Education Center at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC for over twelve years.
A blessing for so many young parents passing through the Meyerhoff, Ms. Vanessa’s kindness and support, her calm demeanor, and her nurturing soul are gifts that don’t go unnoticed.
There are so many terrific teachers at both of the J’s Early Childhood Education Centers. Vanessa is one of those teachers you want at the head of the classroom, or, in Vanessa’s case, down on the ground with your child, observing, smiling, laughing and playing.
“I love my babies,” Vanessa says with a bright smile.
“I like watching the babies and small children closely, and I love it when they watch you, and when they pinch and grab and smash small bits of food in their face,” she laughs.
Vanessa also tries to be very supportive of new families. “I help them move beyond the [parenting] books because babies need so much love and affection and parents have so many questions. I always try and provide good practical advice.”
A native of Baltimore, Vanessa started out babysitting for nieces, nephews, and neighbors when she was younger, then worked as a nanny for a time. She attended Sojourner-Douglass College in Baltimore for a 90-hour certification in child care, and completed a 45-hour certificate in infant/toddler training at Baltimore Hebrew College.
Vanessa’s entire life is devoted to kids, and her work doesn’t end when the ECE closes.
On the weekends, on her own time, and on a strictly volunteer basis, Vanessa works with teenage mothers and fathers in Baltimore City to help them raise their own children. She teaches the young mothers and fathers how to change diapers and manage their finances. She shows them where to go when babies need diapers, wipes and food, and teaches them about the responsibility of motherhood and fatherhood.
In working with the parents of the ECE infants, Vanessa sees her role as similar to that of a counselor. She helps to talk them through the struggles of raising a newborn – dealing with a lack of sleep, initiating good nutrition by introducing vegetables, teaching babies how to sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS.
The children Vanessa cares for now at the Meyerhoff ECE are 12-18 months, “And these kids are moving!” she says. “For this age group we baby proof certain areas because this group tries to taste and eat everything.”
Vanessa loves to get down on the ground with the young ones as they play with their cars, trucks and toys.
“I think it’s very important to let the kids go with the moment and enjoy themselves,” she says.
“We’ll sings songs and, at this time of year, have lesson plans about snow; we’ll let the kids feel flour, and if weather permits, let the kids bring real snow into the classroom and watch the ice melt. We invite a lot of sensory activity.”
Vanessa shares many memorable moments from her experience at the ECE. She fondly recalls one 10 month-old whose mother came in and said, “My baby has never been with anyone else.” The mother was nervous, but Vanessa calmed the child (and mother!) with ease. “Babies know who they are comfortable with,” she says.
Vanessa loves her work and loves the ECE. “This is a real community,” she says.
“When I had a car accident, parents gave me gift cards – for food, to Shoppers; this community is very supportive during hard times, and everyone looks out for each other.”
Vanessa has a lot of advice for young teachers who are new to the field.
“Young teachers must have patience,” she says. “Some days the crying will come and it will not stop. Some babies are teething, some are cranky, some are hungry, and you have to begin to know your babies!”
“Young teachers must also try to know their parents’ schedules and how they do things; and teachers, give your babies a warm welcome!”
“Then rock and sing and rock and sing, and let your babies go with the moment.”