March 9 — 12:00 am, 2006

A strong sense of nurturing found at top-notch provider

“It’s just love. You feel the love.”

So says Byling Moore, whose son, Walter, attends Porter’s Day Care and Education Center on Belfield Avenue in Logan.

“My goal was and still is to have a center that is an extension of their family,” says Porter’s director, Deborah Greasham.

Recent visits to Porter’s and to Childspace Too in Germantown revealed many common elements that typify a high-quality, nationally accredited early care and education program. (In this edition of the Notebook, you will find several articles addressing these elements.)

Much has been written to help families navigate through the child care maze to find the right early care and education experience for their child. These resources and the research you do are important. You have to do your homework. But nothing can take the place of touring a facility and getting that gut reaction – “This is the place for us!”

Most parents will tell you that you’ll know it when you see it. When you walk through the doors in a child-oriented center, you see adults sitting on the floor with kids. You hear them reading or playing together. The rooms are bright, clean, and filled with books and toys. It’s exciting to be there. It just feels good.

Physically, child care facilities vary, but the environment in high-quality child care settings often feels very similar. It’s all about the quality of the relationships – parents and staff; staff and children; staff and staff.

“We are a family. We pass it on to our families here,” says Darlene Porter-Davis, the financial director at Porter’s.

Mindy Barbakoff, Director of Childspace Too, on Greene Street in Germantown, echoes those words, “It’s all about friendship, camaraderie, and family.”

It is hard for relationships to develop when your child has a new teacher every six months. Staff retention is challenging and crucial for any high-quality early childhood program. Yet, at both Porter’s and Childspace Too, you would be hard-pressed to find a teacher who has been there less than five years. In fact, it might be easier to find a teacher who has been there almost from the day their doors opened for business: 25 years for Porter’s and 13 years for Childspace Too.

Barbakoff attributes Childspace Too’s low staff turnover to several things: good benefits, professional development opportunities, a family-friendly workplace, a good working relationship among staff, and participatory management practices.

Greasham makes the same points. She wants her staff to feel that going to work is like coming home.

A strong family-school bond develops when families are comfortable and confident leaving their children in someone else’s care, are asked about their child’s home routines and family interactions, and are given feedback about the child’s day at school. It is this communication back and forth that builds trust and allows parents to openly share their concerns with the teachers and be part of the “team” to create the best learning environment for the child.

At Porter’s, parents and other family members are encouraged to volunteer in the classrooms. They’ve even turned it into a competition among classes. The classroom with the highest number of volunteers wins a prize or a party.

Childspace Too also encourages families to get involved in their program. However, they find their greatest success comes from holding social events after hours so working parents have more time to relax and interact with the children and staff.

Relationships can only develop when teachers are actively engaged with the children. Even the furniture is designed to assure that engagement. That means, for example, rocking chairs and sofas – for cozy conversation and reading – not the typical schoolteacher’s desk. Caregivers play and read with the children, at the table or on the floor – even with the babies. They take advantage of every learning opportunity that presents itself.

Children thrive in an environment where they are loved and nurtured. A strong sense of nurturing suggests teachers are well trained and prepared to respond to individual children as well as to the group. This sense of nurturing might be the first and longest-lasting impression you get when you enter a high-quality child care program.

The next time you’re at a child care program or looking for a new program, ask yourself this question: “Do you feel the love?”

Both Porter’s and Childspace Too voluntarily gained accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and achieved a STAR Four designation in Keystone STARS, the Pennsylvania quality rating system.

For more information on child care quality, Keystone STARS, and accreditation, view these related articles from this issue of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook:

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