Finding Quality Child Care – The Day – May 9, 2013

One of the most important decisions a parent will make for a child is whose care the child will be placed under when the parent is at work or otherwise unavailable. A savvy parent will want a safe, stimulating learning environment that allows the child to grow, learn, have fun, make friends, and engage in age-appropriate activities with peers and interested adults.

Engage

Linda Stuhlman, who has run Red Barn Children’s Center in Clinton with her husband since 1979, says. “One of the first signs that a child care establishment is a good place to send your child is that the teachers are engaged with the kids.”

Engagement needs to be purposeful and go beyond mere babysitting or half-hearted entertaining. Stuhlman says, “There should be some intentional teaching on the part of the teachers. Meaning, they’ve made lesson plans and they’ve thought through what might be good activities for children. Not only should they be age-appropriate and planned out, there should be some built-in assessment. For instance, let’s say the children are playing restaurant. Are some children not participating? If so, is the teacher trying to help and encourage them to be part of the group?”

Once you’ve sussed out the level and quality of attention the children are receiving from those charged with supervising them, look around. Stuhlman says, “I would say as a parent, you’d want to look at the environment. Does the environment look safe? For instance, are outlet plugs protected? What’s accessible to kids? Are there obvious built-in safety factors ensuring children are observed at all times and not allowed in areas where they can’t be seen by the teacher?”

Of course the children should be It’s not enough that the children create projects. A lot about the child care center can be determined by the balance of creative freedom and guidance given to budding artists during creative time. “I would say look at the materials, look at what’s on the wall in the classroom. You want to see artwork that’s made by the children, not the teacher.”

Assess

Red Barn offers a school year program and a summer program. “In the summer we get children from Branford to Old Lyme participating, whereas during the school year they’re mostly Madison, Clinton, Killingworth, and Westbrook children,” Stuhlman explains.

Stuhlman swears by something called the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) to measure the quality of several program elements, including the artwork you see on the walls. “With that scale, you look to see if the artwork is creative in terms of ‘make one that looks like mine’ or if the teacher fixes the child’s project.”

According to the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in North Carolina, which developed the scales, “Our scales are designed to assess process quality in an early childhood or school age care group. Process quality consists of the various interactions that go on in a classroom between staff and children, staff, parents, and other adults, among the children themselves, and the interactions children have with the many materials and activities in the environment, as well as those features, such as space, schedule and materials that support these interactions.”

Indeed, when it comes to creative projects, there are also the materials to consider. Stuhlman says, “A child care center shouldn’t have a ‘toy-store approach,’ but it should have some materials that are easily accessible to children, always things that they could draw and write with. There should be things like scissors, a math center set up where there are tools for counting. There should be science objects like collections, there should be observable things that are live, like plants. All of these things should be of interest to the children so that their curiosity is piqued.”

Set a Routine

As anyone who has ever cared for a child knows, it is crucial that structure and routine permeate the day. Stuhlman says, “The child care center should have some kind of routine or schedule so that there’s a flow to the day. The flow usually is that there’s a meeting time, open play, work time, then there’s gathering time for story and music, there’s gathering time for snack, there’s gathering time for lunch. At Red Barn we have a picture schedule with pictures of the children in the class. We would show that to new people entering our space because it shows the intentional teaching, that we have a specific schedule here and we’re going to follow it.”

She adds, “We find that children feel more emotionally safe if they know what’s going to happen next and for little kids who are just starting off, to know how long it’ll be before their parents or their caregivers come back to pick them up. Sometimes at the beginning of the year, we show them pictures and say, ‘We’re going to do this, this, and this, and then Mommy or Daddy will be here.’ So the schedule and routine (at a child care establishment) is very valuable and that should be obvious.”

Go Outside

After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Stuhlman says some proponents of strictly indoor play have come out of the woodwork. Even though the gunman in that instance was able to enter the locked building, the thought is that keeping kids inside will help protect them from unknown threats.

“There needs to be outdoor play,” Schulman stresses. “It’s exceedingly important and some places have taken it away. I’ve been getting a lot of questions because of Sandy Hook about our safety procedures. And I’ll say, ‘Well, children need to play outside, and you can lock the doors to your classroom building but you’re not going to eliminate going to the playground, and no child should have to live without the ability to play on the playground with groups of children in their school.’ Kids should be able to do group things outside like parachute and kickball ride tricycles, swing, and play in the sandbox. Children learn by play and that includes messy outdoor play.”

She provides an example from her own center. “At Red Barn we have a worm farm. You could take the worm farm inside, but you’re not going to get the same effect as if it were outside under a tree where you can put dead leaves into it for them to eat instead of compost.

“There have been books written about nature deficits, and kids even in cities can enjoy gardening and that kind of thing on rooftop playgrounds and rooftop decks. You can’t keep kids inside just to keep them safe.”

Golden Rule

Stuhlman says that any child care establishment should emphasize safety and kindness to others. “Our basic rules at Red Barn are to be safe and be kind,” she points out. “Children can be taught a lot about those things. With the ‘be kind’ rule, we try to teach children to recognize their emotions and deal with them and learn to negotiate with one another. That’s kind of built into our program. An observer going into a setting would want to see some evidence that children are being taught how to get along with one another.”

Red Barn Children’s Center is located on Kelseytown Road in Clinton and can be reached by calling 860-669-7246 or visitingwww.redbarncc.com.

Published in “The Day – May 9, 2013

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