On a gloomy February Monday, my day was brightened by a visit to a Virginia Quality Level 4 infant care classroom. Outside was rain, galoshes and umbrellas, but inside a cheery large room covered with soft mats and interactive toys held almost twenty active infants and five teachers…mostly engaged and on the floor. Local childcare center Kindercare at 29 Greenspring Drive in North Stafford, recently earned the Level 4 rating from the state’s Virginia Quality program. Engaging with the babies and playing on the floor is just a small part of what it took to reach one of the highest levels available from Virginia Quality.
“As a regional rater I was so thrilled to see this center reach their Level 4 goal,” says Trudie Knapp, Virginia Quality Regional Rater. “It’s a significant achievement. Their teacher team truly operates as a family and it is wonderful to see their sustained efforts to create a high-quality environment be recognized.”
DON’T FENCE THEM IN
Pictures and toys on the floor enrich tummy time.
How does playing on the floor improve childcare quality exactly? “One of the things that strikes you as you come in, as a Virginia Quality Technical Assistance Specialist or Rater, is that the typical infant “containers,” like bouncy seats, exersaucers, or high chairs aren’t in use. All of these babies have free range of movement. Even the very youngest are placed on boppy pillows that allow them to reach and interact with the toys around them.” says Courtney Harris, Virginia Quality Infant/Toddler Coordinator. Kindercare center director Kristina Bell agrees with Harris that the lack of “containers” provides significant advantages to the babies. “Kindercare has had a company-wide policy of providing the least restrictive environment possible for eight years,” says Bell. “It felt really strange when we started the policy to not have exersaucers or high chairs, but our teachers quickly noticed how much faster the infants developed muscles and motor skills, especially pulling themselves up,” says Bell.
HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?
To take advantage of the large amounts of time spent on the floor, many of the pictures and decorations are pasted to the floor, rather than the wall. “All of these things on the floor, are really important for the infants development. A lot of times people think it’s important to have things on the wall, but it’s better to have them on the floor, it’s great for tummy time. Setting the infants up for meaningful learning and play meets the environmental requirements set out by Virginia Pictures and toys on the floor enrich tummy time. Quality,” says Knapp.
Kindercare’s success in meeting the Level 4 requirements is also due to the quality and longevity of their teaching team in the infant room. To meet Virginia Quality Level Two, the director or administrator of the center must have earned an Associate degree in a relevant field with a minimum of 15 child-related credits OR has earned 24 child-related credits from an accredited college (or in progress)** and 50% of the Lead Teachers have 12 child-related credits from an accredited college OR a national Child Development Associate credential (also known as a CDA) OR another approved credential, such as an American Montessori Society Credential (or in progress)** Even higher standards apply to Level Three.
Kindercare staff in the infant room from left to right: Ms. Michelle, Ms. Andina, Ms. Harley, Ms. Alysa, Ms. Joyce, and Ms. Marie
Ms. Marie and Ms. Michelle showing off an infant interaction area.
EIGHTEEN YEARS ON THE JOB
What makes this particular teaching team stand out though, is their longevity. Six teachers are assigned to the room: Ms. Alisa, Ms. Marie, Ms. Andina, Ms. Harley, Ms. Michelle and Ms. Joyce. The team’s length of service ranges from five to eighteen years. Two of the teachers are a mom and daughter team, and another, Ms. Alisa, previously worked as the center’s director before returning to the classroom because, “it’s the best job in the world.”
“You can really see the family feeling in this room,” says Knapp. “I’m always impressed with how willing each of the teachers is to help the others, and how warm their interactions are.” Bell agrees, “One of Kindercare’s service values is creating a warm feeling between the teachers and families, so each family feels welcome and included here.”
Ms Alysa and Ms. Andina play with a dinosaur.
Ms. Harley and Ms. Joyce in the puppet area.
SCHEDULES ARE OUT
Another noticeable difference in the room is that the babies are not kept to a strict schedule. “If they are sleepy they can sleep, if they want to play that’s fine too,” says Ms. Alisa. During our visit, four of the babies are asleep in their cribs, which have clear glass sides for visibility and a sign attached indicating whether the baby can roll over yet.
SERVE AND RETURN
Perhaps the hardest qualification to meet and measure for a Level 4 center is the quality of interactions between the caregivers and infants. Kindercare has a monthly theme for the caregivers to implement. February is “I have feelings month” and all over the room, the teachers are asking the babies what they are feeling. “Are you happy? What do you look like when you are happy? What does Miss Joyce look like when she’s happy? Are you smiling?”
“Kindercare calls it serve and return,” says Bell. “We constantly monitor how many serve and return interactions are going on in a day because it improves communication skills. Each teacher narrates what the babies are doing as they are doing it.”
Making the decision to put your baby into childcare can be an emotional moment, says Bell. “I had a mom visit last week who started crying at the thought of leaving her baby with someone else. But seeing the warm atmosphere and knowing we meet high standards can ease the decision. It is possible to reach Virginia Quality standards, especially if the top management provides materials and leadership.”
The Four Quality Standards Measured by Virginia Quality
Virginia’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) awards quality levels to child care and preschool programs based on these four nationally recognized quality standards and best practices.
EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS
A teacher’s formal education in child development or early childhood education has an impact on children’s school readiness. When teachers have some formal education, such as a Child Development Associate (CDA), professional certificate, or child-related college credits, they are more prepared to intentionally support children’s learning through high quality interactions.
CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT
Intentional teaching has an impact on children’s school readiness. This standard does not require programs to use a purchased curriculum. Instead, this standard measures how programs intentionally promote children’s learning and development. Virginia has developed the Milestones of Child Development and the Foundation Blocks for Early Learning to guide early childhood educators in promoting school readiness, and this standard considers how the program aligns with Virginia’s early learning guidelines.
Children engaged in meaningful learning and play, guided by qualified caregivers in an enriched educational environment, has an impact on school readiness. This standard measures the types of materials available to the children and the types of activities they are involved in throughout the day.
Interactions between teachers and children form the foundation for all social and cognitive learning, significantly impacting school readiness. In addition to exposure to high quality materials and intentional teaching, children benefit most when they experience high quality interactions. At your program, do teachers
- support children’s social and emotional growth?
- have a positive attitude towards the children?
- use constructive behavior management techniques?
- encourage children to learn and be creative?
This standard measures the quality of interactions.
For more information on how to select high quality care for your child, or how to become a part of the Virginia Quality program, visit smartbeginningsra.org.