Virginia Quality Helps Local Childcare Reach New Levels of Excellence
Every parent wants a high quality daycare. But figuring out which daycare centers, preschools and home childcare providers are reaching that benchmark can be hard for the first-time parent. One easy way to check for quality is to look for signs that your center or preschool works hard to bring nature into the classroom. Here’s how one local daycare does it.
“In the last year we’ve started a program called Children in Nature to make sure all of our teachers are intentionally making sure our children are not nature deficient,” says Lisa Pendleton, Director of the Childcare and Learning Center in Washington, VA.
“For example, we use a tree study theme that we fell in love with from The Creative Curriculum by Diane Tristen Dodge. Each child picks out their favorite tree and visits it throughout the different seasons. We take pictures of it, make tracings and rubbings of the leaves, look to see who lives in the tree and then learn about them.” says Dana Petto, Virgina Quality Regional Coordinator at Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area. “It can be as simple as hanging a mobile made of sticks and leaves above the changing table, or putting up pictures of nature rather than Dora The Explorer,” says Petto. “And of course, it’s important to make sure your child is getting regular time outside, especially as an infant or toddler.”
A toddler filling the bird feeder at The Childcare and Learning Center
Pendleton agrees that it’s important for even babies to have contact with nature. “For infants, we make sure every class has bird feeders the children can see through the windows. It’s a wonderful way to get the children through drop-off.
They love to go see who has come to eat their food and forget to be upset that mom or dad is leaving.”
“We make sure our infants go outside. Christina Loock, our Children and Nature Coordinator, carries them out to touch and smell the outdoors. It’s a great opportunity to describe what they are seeing to them and adds some rich vocabulary to their experience.”
The Childcare and Learning Center is one of the more than 60+ childcare programs that Petto works with through the state-funded Virginia Quality program, under the direction of Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area. Each childcare works on four nationally recognized standards with the help of Petto’s team of mentors. To check out the standards and to see if your childcare is participating, go to
Quality Childcare Checklist
If you are looking for childcare, you can use the quality childcare checklist developed by Smart Beginnings. The checklist includes about 25 benchmarks to look for, including:
Are children taken outdoors daily?
Are families allowed to visit at any time?
Is artwork displayed at the children’s eye level?
For the complete list go to www.smartbeginningsra.org
Why Do Children Need a Relationship with Nature?
According to Richard Louv, spending time indoors is associated with depression, obesity and attention deficit disorder. Kids who have direct access to nature are better learners, have increased attention spans, and lower stress levels. When you are at home, have your child help you plant seeds or pick tomatoes. Let your kids get down in the dirt. Point out trees and bushes and show them bugs.
Mealworms are a terrific way to study nature throughout their lifecycle.
Sponsored by Smart Beginnings. Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area is a coalition of local businesses, public and private agencies and individuals working to address the issue of school readiness in our community. Smart Beginnings works to build and sustain Virginia Quality to support parents and families as they prepare their children to arrive at school healthy and ready to succeed.