Blog

The children of Estes Children’s Cottage serve themselves sliced cucumbers family-style.

Written by guest bloggers Michelle and Cathy Tuttle, owners of Estes Children’s Cottage in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Our mealtimes are a part of our curriculum at Estes Children’s Cottage, and we enjoy sharing food experiences together. Our program philosophy is inspired by the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and we draw inspiration from their view on food and eating together. 

According to the Reggio Children book, The Languages of Food: Recipes, Experiences, Thoughts, “special care in offering tastes, in the food and attractive composition of the dish, in the aesthetics of table setting, the pleasure of sharing lunch with friends, and the opportunity to encounter the kitchen as a multisensory laboratory are important strategies for creating a welcoming atmosphere for all and highlighting the individual in the group.” 

One of the centerpieces created by the children of Estes Children’s Cottage.

They view the kitchen in each school as “a place of life and of possible relationships, a vital space inhabited on a daily basis by adults and children, a space for thinking and research and learning.”

During the past year, we have explored expanding the children’s involvement with our mealtimes by adding a new ritual of allowing the daily table-setter to design a unique centerpiece for lunchtime. The children now gather items and request that they are used as a centerpiece.

Based on the children’s interest, we’ve created opportunities for helping that include bringing breakfast from the kitchen, putting away clean dishes in the morning and removing dishes from the table after lunch. The older children developed a growing interest in talking about our menu, the food offered and the kitchen where our food is prepared.

The parents and children of Estes Children’s Cottage watch Robert show how to cut butternut squash.

Since we often reference Robert when talking about how some of the dishes we have are prepared, the children wanted to know more about Robert, the manager and chef at the Chapel Hill kitchen for Child Care Services Association’s Meal Services Program. They had many questions for him, including what he looked like and his favorite foods to prepare and eat. We gathered the children’s questions and mailed a letter to Robert. He sent back his responses, complete with a picture attached. 

We wanted to nurture the children’s interest in the kitchen and grow the relationship. Our oldest group of children was then able to travel by town bus on a field trip to see the kitchen in action. We were accompanied by a couple of the children’s parents as well.

Robert showing the children of Estes Children’s Cottage the equipment in CCSA’s Meal Services’ Chapel Hill kitchen.

They observed the food preparation process, saw some of the tools used in the kitchen and even taste-tested a new recipe the kitchen staff had prepared for the occasion. They now have a visual of the kitchen, the staff and a lot of what goes into making our meals, as well as meeting and forming relationships with the kitchen and staff.

After the bus ride back to the Cottage they were able to share “insider information” with the other children about what they had observed and seen. 

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Child Care Services Association works to ensure affordable, accessible, high-quality child care for all young children and their families by supporting our future leaders—young children—and those that educate them. And we’re always looking for fresh ideas and new ways to do just that. Each semester, CCSA hires interns from surrounding colleges and universities to help drive our goals, better understand our communities and support future leadership. This spring and summer, we had three incredible future leaders here at CCSA.  

We are pleased to share what our interns said about working with CCSA:

Katie Thayer

Katie Thayer interned spring 2019 as a graduating senior from UNC-Chapel Hill working in our Family Support department. After graduating in May with her bachelor’s in human development and family studies, she was hired full-time as the family engagement counselor for Durham PreK and now works alongside the Durham County Government initiative to ensure high-quality pre-K for all Durham County 4-year-olds.

Interning at CCSA has been an incredible education and work experience for me…Through my internship, I worked on many different projects throughout the organization. I was able to develop relationships with people from each department and other Durham-based organizations, and I learned so much about pre-K, early childhood and nonprofit organizations. Everyone at CCSA has treated me like one of their own since my first day, and they’re always willing to help when I need it.

I spent most of my time helping the Durham PreK Senior Manager, Alex Livas-Dlott, with Durham PreK applications, screening children for pre-K, planning teacher events and surveying teachers on family engagement practices in the classroom. Now, I have added community outreach for family applications and social media to my list of daily activities as the family engagement counselor.

Being an intern at CCSA was a wonderful experience, and I am so glad I have the opportunity to stay.

Colleen Burns

Colleen Burns, a rising junior from UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in anthropology and biology, spent her summer interning in CCSA’s Communications department and spearheading the Anchors Away! for CCSA Awareness campaign on our social media and blog.

Almost every student’s concern when starting an internship is, “How much of this will be gaining experience versus me just being someone’s assistant?” Working at CCSA has truly been nothing but an enriching experience.

This summer, I had the opportunity to create and launch a social media campaign to spread awareness about CCSA and its many different programs. This was a big undertaking as CCSA operates so many programs, projects and initiatives. At first, I wasn’t really sure how to cover this extensive nonprofit adequately, and when I originally came up with the idea for Anchors Away! for CCSA Awareness, even I was skeptical if the amount of workload needed to run this campaign was possible. However, I received a ton of support from the Communications Manager, Jennifer Gioia, and when we presented the campaign to Marsha Basloe, the president, she believed in us.

As soon as the campaign kicked off, it was at full speed. A large process of the campaign was ensuring the other programs were on board and willing to work with us as we gathered information for daily content, including interviews and videos. Overall, we had a huge amount of support for this campaign as the staff and community were excited to not only see their own program featured but also learn things about the other programs CCSA operates.

This has been an insightful and rewarding experience for me, not just for the communication and social media skills I earned, but also for learning about the issues that affect our community. Through the campaign, I was able to read and listen to the many testimonials given about CCSA’s efforts to strengthen quality child care for children, families and teachers. So many people appreciate the various resources CCSA provides. Even if only for the summer, I am grateful to be a part of something that is making a difference in the community.

Sarah Hanson

Our third intern to highlight is Sarah Hanson, a Master of Public Administration student at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has been interning at CCSA since May in two departments, both in the Administration and the Systems, Research and Development departments.

In Systems, Research and Development, my main task is following up on workforce surveys that were sent out in April. Many of the surveys were missing crucial information and needed clarification in order to properly assess and analyze the data.

In Administration, I had the opportunity to observe a Board Orientation. It helped me better understand the non-profit process. I am updating board committee descriptions and the Board of Directors Manual. I’m also creating an e-manual for Administration where the documents are all located in one e-manual making them easily accessible from anywhere.

Throughout the summer, I have learned about the importance of research and accurate data collection in policy and program development and implementation. It is necessary to improve and expand the services the organization provides. I have also learned more about how policy and funding impact non-profits and the services they provide. Oftentimes, the importance of early childhood education is overlooked even though it plays a critical role in child development. CCSA is working to change that.

Interns and volunteers contribute a great deal to CCSA’s work. If you are interested in interning or volunteering at CCSA, contact communications@childcareservices.org.

Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Both Kellie Brower, director of The Goddard School of Chapel Hill for two years, and Valerie Morris, owner and director of Beginning Visions Child Development Center & School in Alamance County for 20 years, had to recently recertify their centers. Both turned to the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP) for help.

Kellie “didn’t feel comfortable enough to lead the faculty” of her center into recertification on her own and reached out to Amanda Hazen, one of the infant-toddler specialists at ITQEP. When Valerie’s center needed recertification, ITQEP reached out to her, and she found it to be very helpful. Whether it’s two years or 20 years, ITQEP is there to assist even the most seasoned directors and staff achieve quality infant-toddler care.

What is the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project?

In 2004, the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education, in collaboration with the NC Resources and Referral Council, established the statewide Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP). Operated by Child Care Services Association (CCSA), the NC ITQEP supports the development of higher quality infant and toddler classrooms in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties by providing specially trained infant-toddler specialists across the state for coaching, mentoring and consultation to teachers and directors of early care and education centers.

How Does the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project Help Child Care Directors?

“[ITQEP] helped us get ready for stars,” Kellie said. “With the new rules that have come out, [ITQEP] explained them and provided suggestions to get us over the hump…Honestly, they are my first point of contact whenever I have any questions. They have been seriously amazing. Always get back to me quickly, it never takes them long at all. They always seem to be available and happy to help, so it’s been really great.”

The NC Division of Child Development and Early Education issues star rated licenses to all eligible child care centers and family child care homes based on indicators of a program’s quality of care and education.[1] Child care programs can receive one to five stars. The star-rated license acts as a “roadmap” for providers to follow as they strive to improve the quality of their care.[2]

“Honestly, I would say them helping us with the stars rating [has been my favorite], because it is such a taxing procedure, and I can’t do it all by myself,” Kellie said. “Having that extra support means the world to me. It’s worth it to have them come in and be an outsider to look in, you know, to see what they see, because sometimes I’ll go into a classroom 15 times and I won’t see the things that they see, because that is something that I’m looking at every day.”

“I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing and we’re staying up to date,” Valerie said. “The rules and regulations, especially with the [ITERS] scales, change so much and so often that sometimes I have to get outside help to come in and remind me of things to keep me on top of the game.”

In order for programs to achieve a higher star rating, they must be accessed with the environment rating scale, which measures both quality and education. The Infant-Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) assesses child care programs for children birth to 2 ½ years of age.

“Definitely by far, [ITQEP] has been my favorite service,” Valerie said. “Amanda has been very thorough and very consistent. She finished the whole thing. Sometimes I have people come and it seems like we lose contact, but Amanda went out of her way and followed up to the end, and still after that, she contacts me regularly to ask me if I need anything, or if I have any questions, or to share an update she learned…She’s very enlightening.”

How do Teachers Apply the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project in the Classroom?

Knowing the reasons why, and not only how, are just as important for teachers when applying new lessons and suggestions from infant-toddler specialists in the classroom. “We had a question about an infant diaper changing procedure,” said Kellie. ITQEP specialists visited and “[made] it easier for me to give our teachers why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. It’s just easier to apply in the classroom if I also have reasons why.”

“[ITQEP has] been really informative,” Kellie said. “Every time they come in, they are giving us something, whether it is tips and tricks, suggestions, encouragements, which is great, but it’s also nice because even if they’re just giving information to me, I can easily train the staff… then they always follow-up to make sure that we’ve been able to implement their suggestions, and if we weren’t, they come up with new suggestions.”

“[ITQEP Specialist Amanda] created an art carrier for the young ones, the ones that are one turning into the age when they have art,” Valerie said. “She made a little carrier so it would be easier to pull it out and put it back up. Sometimes with the older toddlers, we would leave the art out, but it would kind of make a mess, so she said you don’t have to leave it out all the time, put it in this carrier and it’s easy. You can pull it out when you’re ready to use it, as long as you make it accessible to them for an hour or so a day.”

“[ITQEP Specialists also] helped us redo the schedule to make the teachers’ schedule run smoother, so they wouldn’t have to do so much hand washing,” Valerie said. “Let’s go outside, come straight in and wash hands, and then sit at the table, rather than coming in, washing hands, playing for a little bit and then washing hands again and sitting down. It saves us some time.”

Kellie has also noticed a change in her how her teachers relate to the children.

“I’ve just noticed so much more focus on tummy time and [our teachers] understand why it’s important to physical development,” Kellie said. “Language was something that some of our teachers were struggling with because they had also come from ECERS classes and they just didn’t know how to relate to the younger children. So, I’ve also noticed a huge difference in the language between the teachers and the children, which has been great.”

“[ITQEP specialists] genuinely have the best interest of the infants and toddlers at heart,” Kellie said. “There’s never a question of what is important to them. But you can see in their attitude and their professionalism that infant-toddlers are always their focus, and they want them to grow up and be socially, emotionally, physically and academically developed well…[The ITQEP has] been amazing and invaluable, honestly, to me as the director and also to our staff.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project, please donate today.


Sources:

[1] The North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education. https://ncchildcare.ncdhhs.gov/Services/Licensing/Star-Rated-License/star-rated-license

[2] Smart Start of Forsyth County. https://smartstart-fc.org/star-rating-system-your-child/

Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager, and Colleen Burns, CCSA Summer 2019 Communications Intern, UNC-Chapel Hill

Lynette Mitchell has been the director and owner of Harvest Learning Center in Chapel Hill, NC for 15 years. She is in her first year as a Shape NC site. In the video above, Lynette talks about how she’s involved the parents of her center with Shape NC.

Shape NC is a program implemented by CCSA in partnership with Smart Start that aims to increase the number of children starting kindergarten at a healthy weight. The program promotes healthy eating and active play for children from birth-5 years old by working with child care programs to instill healthy behaviors early on, creating a solid foundation for a healthy life.

CCSA’s Communications Manager, Jennifer Gioia, sat down with Lynette to find out how her experience has been with Shape NC thus far.

Jennifer:  How did your center hear about Shape NC?

Lynette:  Swanda [Shape NC Technical Assistant] called me into the office one day and said, ‘Listen, we have a great program that we think your center might enjoy and qualify for.’ Once she described how it worked, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, most definitely sign us up. We want to be a part of that.’ We feel like we can grow and become a better center through this program.

Jennifer:  So, it was personal face-to-face outreach?

Lynette:  Definitely. I didn’t know about the other sites. Now that I’ve been in the program, I look for them. I actually was Googling the other day and saw there were several Shape NC programs across the state that have been highlighted in their local newspapers. At first, I thought Shape NC was great just on the criteria alone, but now I see it’s truly a significant program and the community recognizes it statewide for what it provides.

Jennifer:  What resources has Shape NC provided your center so far?

Lynette:  Oh, so much. First of all, just the educational workshops alone have been invigorating and exciting. I’ve even taken my staff to a couple of the workshops, and that’s just been invaluable. You know you can give someone a fish to eat for a day, but you teach them how to fish and it’s for life. By giving us that knowledge, we can go on and do a lot of things beyond that. Then you start getting into the balls and hoops and recipes that they send out. I’m in the first year, but I’ve already gotten so much.

And I haven’t even gotten to the playground yet. My husband and I went to NC State where we sat down directly with the experts to design the playground. They’re at our disposal, and have come up with things I would only dream about. You think you could open up Home and Garden magazine and see these designs in there. Like we can do that here? That was just mind blowing. Then Shape NC put us on a bus to Asheboro where we saw a center that’s doing exactly what I am at my center.

Jennifer:  Why did your center want to become a Shape NC site?

Lynette:  Let’s just put it out there, it’s expensive, and I’m a small business owner. So, when Shape NC told me if I’m willing to make these positive changes in my center, they’ll contribute significantly to enhancing my playground space, it was just very attractive. We have a beautiful natural environment at our center with big trees and shade. When I saw some of the designs that NC State could do for us with Shape NC, it fit perfectly into our philosophy and topography. It was a win-win.

…It was about creating beautiful, relaxing spaces that not only enhance you physically, but mentally and spiritually. And we’re a Christian-based center, so when I saw some of the spaces where people can go and be quiet and calm down, but also other places to go and run around, it’s about all of that when you go outside.

Jennifer:  What is the importance of kids consistently getting that nutritional value from child care centers?

Lynette:  Most of my clientele is middle to upper-middle [income], and a lot of times you think food programs are only for the less fortunate. But I will tell you that these families, who are working moms and dads running here and there, have the resources but just not the time to provide the types of meals that they would like to. What we want to do here is give parents peace of mind that their child’s breakfast, lunch and snack are very nutritious. They may do fast food for dinner, but that’s okay because they had salmon, wild rice, broccoli and quinoa at school today. I think that’s significant because we’re providing them food for the greater portion of the day.

Jennifer:  What impact have you seen Shape NC have on your teachers, the children and on the children’s parents?

Lynette:  I just can’t say enough. I mean I feel so fortunate. Not many centers get picked each year. Just the commitment of this entire team, Swanda and her group cannot be more helpful. Another great thing is the networking. I love being in contact with other sites that have already done it. They have been so helpful and so inspiring. I mean, I forgot which center we went to, but the director kept asking, ‘Is there anything else we can tell you?’ My phone is full of photos, and then one site, I went beyond asking about the playground because I liked the classroom, too.

I love the way the Asheboro center wanted to help. She just kept it real director to director, because when you put all these beautiful things on the playground, you need to know how to maintain them. She told me, ‘I can tell when I get a new teacher who does not understand how we play. She’ll be the first one to toss something over a fence and say the children didn’t know how to play with it.’ She told me you have to continue the education of the staff, so the children know how to enjoy the space.

You can plant all these wonderful herbs, and children will romp through them and rip them apart, not understanding that this is part of the environment and you care for it. This is how we work and play in it for it to be a beautiful place for us. So, I was really glad for that good note of how to maintain from another director.

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as Shape NC, please consider donating today.


*Answers have been shortened for length and clarity.

Written by Colleen Burns, Summer 2019 Communications Intern from UNC Chapel Hill

Rachel Feuer and her children

Rachel Feuer is a mother of two with her younger son, Sam, in child care in Chapel Hill. As any mother of a four-year-old would, Rachel expects her son to talk about the toys he played with or the new friends he made that day at his child care center. But one of his comments stands out among the rest.

Sam raves about the food served at his child care center. “My son has asked me many times to make Robert’s soup or Robert’s salad dressing or Robert’s chicken or Robert’s greens,” Rachel says. “He has asked me many times why we can’t just have Robert’s food at home, and was disappointed to find out that we can’t just order it. Recently, he has started asking for Robert’s recipes daily, and wondering why Robert doesn’t have a cookbook.”

Robert isn’t a cook at Sam’s child care center, though. Robert Cates has been a manager of the Meal Services program at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for 20 years. He manages the kitchen in Orange County at the University United Methodist Church in downtown Chapel Hill and generates menus for all three of CCSA’s Meal Services kitchens. He also works closely with CCSA’s Meal Services program senior manager, Lisa Menna, who manages all three kitchens, to ensure meals meet the nutritional needs of the children by collaborating with dietitians and nutritionists as well as sourcing meat, produce and other products from local farmers.

What is the CCSA Meal Services?

In operation for almost 30 years, CCSA’s Meal Services program began out of the kitchen at the University United Methodist Church in Orange County. It expanded with the construction of the Jim and Carolyn Hunt Child Care Resource Center in Durham County, and in 2017-18’s fiscal year, the program served 1,300 children daily in 24 centers.

The Meal Services program provides two nutritious meals plus one nutritious snack per day to children enrolled in participating child care centers in Durham, Orange and Wake County. These scratch-made meals meet or exceed all USDA requirements for child care and are compliant with the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). CCSA serves as a food sponsor for CACFP,  a federal program that sets standards for nutritious meals for children ages birth-12 years, and subsidizes the cost of food for child care programs, targeting children whose families qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Rachel says, “CCSA makes it possible for smaller child care settings to provide excellent food for kids and teachers. At the small [child care center] my son attends, there is no space or budget to hire someone to cook meals.” This is the case for many child care centers.

By purchasing food in bulk, the Meal Services program allows child care centers to purchase nutritional meals and snacks at cost, without having to maintain expensive kitchens. It also allows directors to focus more of their attention on quality child care instead of on shopping, menu planning and cooking.

“It’s also an educational process,” says Robert. Trying new foods can be an adjustment for some children, “but the child care centers we’ve been serving for a long time…know how to ease kids into it and help them to appreciate the variety and appreciate things that they’ve never seen before,” Robert explained.

In order to be eligible for Meal Services, child care centers must have at least 3 stars or earn at least a 3-star rating within one year of implementing Meal Services, and participating centers are also required to enroll in the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program. Meals also must be served family style at the table as meals are not individually packaged, so that children can eat together in a positive setting.

Why is the CCSA Meal Services Needed?

Many families in North Carolina face the dual challenge of food insecurity and early childhood obesity. Child care centers play a central role in the development of early eating habits. On average, children receive more than 50 percent of their daily caloric intake at child care. Therefore, the importance of these meals cannot be understated. Nutrition and quality must be prioritized.

Rachel is a psychologist who has worked with many clients who have struggled with healthy eating. “Early childhood is the time when children are developing lifelong eating habits. If they become accustomed to eating lots of preparations of healthy vegetables, proteins, legumes and whole grains, they will be at an advantage for their entire life,” says Rachel.

Meal Services focuses on creating meals that are made using local products and in-season fruits and vegetables.

Robert says, “We buy from Farmer Foodshare, which is a local food hub in Durham, and they source from all over North Carolina. They get apples from the mountains and produce from down east. And then we also source…from farmers in Orange, Durham and Chatham counties.”

The program ensures children have balanced menus that include one poultry, one beef, one seafood and two vegetarian lunches per week.

“We have so many items on our [menu] list…There is quite a bit of variety and it always depends on…what’s available seasonally…We follow the meal patterns of the child care center food programs, and we also meet with nutritionists to make sure we are going above and beyond in terms of the nutritional needs for the children,” Robert shared.

Monthly newsletters let families learn more about what their child is eating and learning about in the child care setting. They even include tips and recipes so that parents like Rachel can try to incorporate these healthy foods at home. Rachel says, “CCSA strikes a healthy balance of wholesome food that (according to my kids) tastes excellent.”

Robert shared, “We’re looking to hopefully expand what we’re doing into Chatham County. There are groups working around the state to replicate our model in rural areas around North Carolina. So, it’s a slow process, but people think what we’re doing is worth trying to duplicate in other areas.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as Meal Services, please consider donating today.

Week of the Young Child is an annual week-long celebration with themed days hosted by NAEYC to spotlight early learning, young children, their teachers, families and communities. The themes are “Music Monday,” “Tasty Tuesday,” “Work Together Wednesday,” “Artsy Thursday” and “Family Friday.”

2019 art show at Chapel Hill Cooperative Preschool

For “Artsy Thursday,” Mati Vassallo, Family Support Bilingual Referral Counselor, visited Chapel Hill Cooperative Preschool where Kathryn, a 2-3 year old teacher, and Silva, a 3-5 year old teacher, shared how they celebrate through an annual children’s art show. They invited families, friends and the community to celebrate and explore the children’s creative expression.

“This art show is a celebration and a great example of the work we do here at the preschool. It aligns with our philosophy of celebrating each individual child, exploring their strengths and abilities and bringing out their best work,” said Kathryn.

2019 art show at Chapel Hill Cooperative Preschool

“It’s not only a time…to celebrate the richness of the children’s work and their creations, but it’s also really a time to celebrate art and to celebrate community. It goes so much beyond just the artistic creations in the way that it draws us and everyone together…That is something we really enjoy and love to do,” said Silva.

For “Family Friday”, Katie Thayer, UNC intern and Family Engagement Counselor, visited Director Ada Terry and Lead Teacher Crystal Boycher in the Durham PreK classroom at Childcare Network #57 to discuss their family engagement strategies. In addition to having a School Improvement Team and Parent Advisory Board, they send out daily newsletters, invite parents to volunteer, provide resources to families and host celebrations for their families and children.

Katie Thayer, UNC intern and Family Engagement Counselor, visited Director Ada Terry and Lead Teacher Crystal Boycher in the Durham PreK classroom at Childcare Network #57

Crystal’s favorite family engagement activity at Childcare Network #57 is asking the parents to help with school improvement plans, such as redoing the playground and painting the fence. “We also invite parents out to visit the classroom. For Week of the Young Child, we are doing an ice cream social on Friday,” said Crystal.

Save the date for next year’s Week of the Young Child April 13-17.

Read the newest edition of CCSA Communicates here, where you can see all of our activity, successes and plans. Highlights from this edition:

  • Letter from the President
  • Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$
  • Save the date for CCSA’s 45th Anniversary Celebration
  • Durham PreK
  • Shape NC
  • Early Childhood Homelessness
  • And much more!