Hidden in an Ellicott City office building is a haven for young kids and the adults who work with them.
The room must be the only office in Morgan Stanley's U.S. 40 building that has party streamers and bright paper fish hanging from the ceiling. While children play in a cozy corner with toys and books, adults - whether they are teachers, child care providers or parents - can browse through curriculum ideas and videos on learning styles, or make die cuts and laminate artwork.
But the Howard County Child Care Resource Center is more than an appealing resource room.
"Our underlying goal is school readiness, but also the health, safety and well-being of children," said program manager Debbie Yare.
Part of the county Department of Citizen Services, the 3-year-old center is funded by the state, county and grants. One of 13 centers in the Maryland Child Care Resource Network, it serves three groups: early childhood educators, child care workers and parents.
Many parents attended a recent class titled "Tips and Tricks of Toilet Training, Biting and Bullying." Other classes are for people who want to start a business in at-home child care.
Most classes are taught at the center, but trainers hired by the center also teach parents and educators at public and private schools.
Seven child care workers and two early childhood teachers attended a class last week called "Motivating Young Children: Use Their Interests/Strengths in Planning." The class facilitator, Laura Brown of Columbia, is an early childhood consultant who has been teaching through the resource center since June.
Before class, her students, one of whom had been working with children for more than 30 years, browsed through activity books. One showed Brown an idea for a fabric-covered box large enough for a youngster to sit in. Brown liked the idea because of its combination of texture and individual space for a child.
As the class began, Brown and the students talked about choosing activities and crafts for children based on their needs and personalities, not because something is cute or appealing to the adult. "We need to be able to let children share what they know and are good at it in a variety of ways," Brown said.
Linda Behsudi, the center's training coordinator, said people who attend these workshops "really want to expand their knowledge. They truly become interested in topics and want to learn more about it."
"We're just into training in regard to working successfully with young children," she said.
A new initiative that goes beyond training is the center's Early Care and Education Leadership Institute. On Sept. 21, Yare is organizing "A Summit for Leaders and Future Leaders in the Field of Early Care and Education."
"This is kind of an introduction of how to get involved in early childhood leadership. It would be to set the course of where we're going with young children" in Howard County, Yare said.
A flier advertising the conference reads, "It is very important to continue to foster the growth of quality early care and education by increasing the number ... of early childhood leaders in our community."
Open to anyone who works with young children, the one-day summit will feature Dr. Sharon Lynn Kagan as keynote speaker. Kagan, an expert in early childhood education, is known for her expertise on "multiple intelligences" - the theory of eight core areas of intelligence.
But the summit is just a beginning for a yearlong program. Yare is planning seminars during the next 12 months on four areas of leadership: advocacy, community, instruction and administration. Participants also can work with trained mentors to help accomplish their goals.
The objective of the leadership program is to motivate teachers, child care providers and parents to improve life for the county's youngest residents. "When a child is in a high-quality child care environment, it helps prepare them to enter school ready to learn," Yare said.