Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas (CCANA) is a resource and referral agency serving 14 counties in Northcentral Arkansas.  CCANA provides professional development to early child care educators and is always looking for quality, researched based classroom tools to share with the teachers.

Consistently our number one request for assistance in the classroom is for behavior guidance or managing difficult behaviors. Too often teachers are at a loss in helping children cope with trauma based and/or difficult behaviors; they simply do not have the training or tools available in the classroom. Positive social-emotional development carries important benefits for all children and particularly for children from low-income families and young children with developmental delays or disabilities who may start school behind their peers. So in looking for a “tool” to help our teachers and children we discovered Mutt-i-grees, and our staff instantly appreciated what Mutt-i-grees had to offer.

CCANA operates a satellite office in Conway, Arkansas and was able to connect with Ms. Judy Clay through staff there. Judy is retired from being a special education teacher and early childhood education director of the Arch Ford Educational Cooperative.  While at the Cooperative Judy supported and taught Mutt-i-grees to multiple facilities, and has served in the capacity as Arkansas liaison to the developers at Yale University. With Judy’s guidance we piloted Mutt-i-grees in a child care facility in Conway.  The teachers loved the Curriculum and all of the children “adopted” their own special puppy for the classroom. The pilot was such a great success that we wanted to share this new “tool” with classroom teachers in all of the counties that we serve. However, as most things do, it came down to funding.

CCANA is always looking for grant opportunities, and fortunately received a grant from the Independence County Public Education Foundation for $6,000 to provide Mutt-i-grees Curriculum to 20 preschool classrooms within the county.  We visited seven different child care facilities, shared our vision for this project, and were so excited to receive positive responses from all of the directors and teachers. Then we got busy and ordered the Curriculum kits, take home kits, and of course our puppies.  We even got our local McDonalds to donate our “pet carriers” for each child to receive when they adopted their pet. After attending a train-the-trainer and diving deeper into the curriculum ourselves we were ready to launch Mutt-i-grees in our county. Not only did we have 20 classrooms wanting to participate, four additional classrooms asked to please be part of the project too.  After securing additional funding we now have 24 classrooms using the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum. CCANA will be delivering training and technical assistance to the participating classrooms. 

“The stitching came out of one of the puppets so the teacher made a lesson out of it:  they went to the “vet” and had the puppy puppet taken care of and stitched back together with a bandage, and she put a coffee cup on for the cone.  Then she had a lesson about caring for an injured puppy or other pet. It was fabulous!! We are doing good things in Arkansas!”

Debbie Mize, Director for Child Care Aware 

Each classroom was given journals to record their implementation process, pros and cons, and asked to document how the Curriculum is being used and received in their classrooms. We also asked teachers to record any outcomes they experienced in classroom behaviors and how using the Curriculum has impacted the children and families. 

Mutt-i-grees National Trainer Judy Clay conducted a Mutt-i-grees Train The Trainers workshop for Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas. The training consisted of an overview of the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum and of the recently published Mutt-i-grees at Home, for parents and other family members.

Judy has been involved with Mutt-i-grees since its inception. In her capacity as Director for Preschool Special Education, she led the implementation of Mutt-i-grees in school districts across the county. She received training at Yale, was certified as a National Mutt-i-grees trainer and conducted training workshops in several states. She recently retired from her position as Director of preschool Special Education but continues in her role as Mutt-i-grees National Trainer.

For the Northcentral Arkansas Workshop, participating preschool directors learned about the rationale and focus on the Curriculum, which leverages the transformative power of the dog to enhance children’s social and emotional skills.  Working in small teams, each team reviewed and then taught a lesson to the whole group. Make-and-take activities were available and served to further demonstrate how to implement lessons within classroom settings. 

After the training, the participants commented that they felt comfortable with the curriculum and were looking forward to implementing Mutt-i-grees in their centers.  The Mutt-i-grees at Home was reviewed and well received and will serve as a resource for both parents and teachers.