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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.

By Linda Chappel, Vice President, Triangle Area Child Care Resource and Referral Services at Child Care Services Association

This week the Best of The Triangle 2019 was published in INDYWEEK, naming most favorite activities, foods and events voted on by readers and described as the “wisdom of the crowd.” I present the Best of the Triangle as Durham PreK.

In 2018, the Durham County Commission voted to make historic local investments to open access for more 4-year old children to high quality preschool services. At a time when North Carolina’s legislators are talking about funding virtual preschool, Durham is boldly creating face-to-face opportunities for children with local funds.

A primary goal of Durham PreK is supporting the learning and development of young children to improve the quality of their lives now and in the future. We know from years of research that high quality preschool enhances children’s school readiness by providing substantial early learning, which can have lasting effects far into a child’s later years of school and life.

Research finds high quality preschool programs can accomplish this goal by producing large and lasting gains in outcomes such as “achievement, educational attainment, personal and social behavior (e.g., reductions in crime), adult health, and economic productivity.”[1] These gains are broad and last long into adulthood.

The importance of funding pre-K in Durham

At CCSA, our research found there are six low-income preschool children for every one publicly funded preschool space in Durham through programs such as NC Pre-K, Durham Public Schools and Head Start.

Currently, more than 25% of Durham census tracts with more than 50 low-income preschoolers have no publicly funded preschool slots. In a random survey of approximately 2,000 Durham parents, 92% of parents rated cost-free preschool as desirable or essential. [2]

Durham PreK benefits the community

While a child’s success in school and life addresses our society’s greater good, children from lower-income households are often left behind, furthering inequality and setting the stage for the achievement gap that persists through high school. As a vibrant, growing community, Durham recognizes the short- and long-term benefits of attendance in a high quality early childhood program for children, their families and the community.

These benefits range from reduced need for special education services or remedial support during the K-12 years to increased tax revenue and reduced dependency on government assistance in adulthood. Researchers quantified these benefits and found a return on investment of $3-$13 for every dollar invested in early childhood. Even at the low end of this estimate, this is a significant return.

With an abundance of evidence that high-quality universal preschool could reduce the disparities in skills among subgroups of children at kindergarten entry, Durham’s policymakers are focusing considerable resources on the development and expansion of quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds.[3]

Durham PreK will help improve the quality of early education in Durham County by improving classroom instruction, supporting family engagement and building capacity for high quality through practice based coaching, while expanding access to publicly funded preschool services for all the county’s 4-year-olds. A critical component of this initiative is the implementation of preschool classrooms in diverse settings, including public schools and community-based programs. Durham PreK provides teachers and directors with regular coaching and professional development on cultural competence and social-emotional learning and conducts quality improvement activities to enhance children’s classroom experiences.

Unlike many programs around the country, Durham PreK requires teachers hold a Birth to Kindergarten teaching certificate and that they be paid at the same salary level as teachers in Durham Public Schools. Durham PreK places this emphasis on the teachers’ compensation to attract and retain the most qualified teachers.

Our overall goal in Durham is to improve the quality of and access to preschool programs for more children. We started with an ambitious two-year plan that runs through July 2020. We know this will be a journey that builds each year until we can serve all Durham’s children and ensure their life-long success. Durham PreK plans to stay Best of the Triangle.


[1] Phillips, D.A., Lipsey, M.W., Dodge, K.A., Haskins, R., Bassok, D., Burchinal, M.R.,…Weiland, C. (2017). Puzzling it out: The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects, a consensus statement. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Downloaded July 24, 2017 from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/consensus-statement_ final.pdf

[2] Durham Supply and Demand Study, Child Care Services Association, (2018). https://www.childcareservices.org/research/research-reports/early-childhood-system-studies/

[3] Phillips, D. A., et al. (2018). The changing landscape of publicly-funded center-based child care: 1990-2012. Children and Youth Services Review, 91, 94-104; Cascio, E. U. (2017). Does universal preschool hit the target? Program access and preschool impacts. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research; Yoshikawa, H., et al. (2013). Investing in our future: The evidence on preschool education. New York: Society for Research in Child Development and the Foundation for Child Development.

Written by Christy Thalheimer, M.Ed., CCSA Child Care Referral Manager

It seems fitting that Child Care Provider Appreciation Day is recognized nationally on the same weekend as we celebrate Mother’s Day. We often think of one of the many early educator roles as that of a caretaker; one who offers safety, security, knowledge and compassion to children. When Parenting magazine polled mothers in a recent article about what gifts they wanted for Mother’s Day, the top 10 had nothing to do with something purchased. Instead, the top 10 had one thing in common: taking care of themselves albeit through a clean house, “off mom” routine for a day or a spa day.

A Gift for You

What if I told you I wanted to give you a gift this Provider Appreciation Day of better overall well-being and enhanced connections with your students? What if I told you this was possible without having to spend one dollar or attend another training? 

Welcome to Mindfulness! A simple practice of being present in the moment, with acceptance and openness. Mindfulness strategies can help reduce your stress, lower your anxiety and help you have a more positive and productive emotional state as a teacher.

By now, I am sure most readers have heard of mindfulness through reading a magazine article, a social media post or through mainstream media. It’s a growing trend in the early education field with research supporting practices that can reduce both emotional and physical distress. While mindfulness practices do not replace your health care routines, they can be a complimentary practice that benefit your brain, body and relationships. Learn more about Patricia Jennings’ mindfulness research with teachers at the University of Virginiahere.

The Gift of Mindfulness

I was first introduced to mindfulness in the fall of 2015 out of necessity for a graduate thesis topic and balance in my life. On April 1, 2015, I received the hardest news I have ever had to mentally absorb. My mom, my confidant and grandmother to my 5-year-old, received a diagnosis of cancer. Treatment would begin right away; it was a type of lymphoma cancer and in stage 4. I was devastated! We talked about the care my mom would need and how treatment would affect her life and ability to care for herself. Of course, I would be there through it all.

I worried though. I was a full-time working mother of a kindergartener who began graduate school in January on a time-limited scholarship and lived 1.5 hours away from my mother. Over the next few months, I juggled everything with great time-management skills, a flexible work environment and an understanding husband. Until, I couldn’t any more! I was “burning my candle at both ends.” I began to be snappy with my family, felt tired all the time, my body was showing signs of serious stress and my mind would never rest.

Then came a critical moment in my graduate school work—I had to identify a thesis topic. As a student in education, I had already been reading about breaking research around mindfulness in the education field. Then, I went to NCAEYC’s 2015 conference and I met Dr. Kathleen Gallagher. Her research at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute intrigued me and when asked, she happily agreed to be my internship supervisor. The research we conducted around mindfulness and learning to practice mindfulness was the answer to my prayers for my thesis and for being able to be present for my family.

Top 5 Mindful Practices

Here are the top five mindful practices I incorporated into my life. These practices are easy to build into your daily routine at home or in the classroom.

  1. Three Deep Breaths: This practice has helped me calm down when we have received upsetting news. It is also very helpful to teach a child this technique so they have self-regulation tools to calm down more quickly while reducing quick, shallow breathing.
  2. 5-Minute Mindful Breathing: This practice is very helpful as you prepare to address something that you find particularly stressful. I have used this technique for better focus before presentations. At home, this helps me become aware of my emotions before I respond to my daughter.
  3. Mindful Observations: This is a quick exercise you can do to ground yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed or to reconnect when you want to better enjoy a moment. I have been able to use this strategy to enhance the intimate relationship with my husband. 
  4. Body Scan: The body scan has been very useful for the many sleepless nights I had during my mother’s illness. I also guide my daughter through a body scan when she has trouble getting to sleep at night. (Works like a charm!)
  5. Mindful Moments: Repurpose everyday routines or activities into mindful breaks. This can include mindful walks, listening to soothing music, folding laundry, showering or drinking your morning coffee. Making any moment into a mindful moment can help you better enjoy the activity, just by changing your perspective.

I hope you find at least one mindfulness gift to use daily. There is a robust amount of research and resources available just by searching online. Take time this weekend to try these five simple strategies.

I can personally attest that building mindfulness strategies into my life helps me deal with anxiety (good and bad) in a more positive way. I have a better ability to slow down, enjoy life and regulate my awareness as well as be more compassionate with family members and colleagues. 

Written by Kayli Watson, Spring 2019 Communications Intern from UNC Chapel Hill

(From left to right) Chenille Coston, teacher at Little Engine Academy, and Kathy Smith, owner of Little Engine Academy, hold up their outdoor learning environment blueprints from Shape NC.

Health experts have always stressed eating healthy and being active. Instilling these values at an early age can be the first steps for a longer, healthier life for children. Children enrolled in child care may consume between 50 percent and 100 percent of their Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) while in care. Child care programs have a chance to provide the foundation for a healthy life, in terms of food consumption and levels of activity. Child Care Services Association (CCSA) has worked to create programs to help early care centers in multiple ways, including healthy eating and active play.

Shape NC

CCSA implemented Shape NC to increase the number of children starting kindergarten at a healthy weight. The project promotes healthy eating and active play for children from birth-5 years old by working with child care programs to instill healthy behaviors and create a solid foundation for a healthy life. Shape NC integrates multiple research-based models to provide an in-depth approach to childhood obesity prevention. It combines evidence-based programs to create a comprehensive approach in partnership with the following statewide programs: Be Active Kids®, Preventing Obesity by Design and the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self Assessment for Child Care (Go NAP SACC).

Little Engine Academy in Durham, N.C.

Like other centers, Little Engine Academy benefits from several of CCSA’s programs, including Shape NC. Kathy Smith, the center’s owner, shared how she became involved in early childhood education and created Little Engine Academy. “It was something I always wanted to do,” Smith said, “The previous owners contacted me to say that they were closing and to see if I was interested, and I jumped on the bandwagon thinking it would probably take a month to open. It actually took about three months.” While Kathy has been managing Little Engine Academy since November 2008, the center  has only been involved in Shape NC for a year.

Little Engine Academy is also working to add more healthy meals to their menus through various programs. “We like to talk to the kids about what they eat, explain where the food came from and why they should be eating it,” Smith said.

Outdoor Learning Environment

For Smith and the children at Little Engine Academy, one of the most exciting aspects of Shape NC is re-building their outdoor learning environment. “We’re part of the natural learning initiative,” Smith explained, “We’re super excited! That’s one of the things about being part of Shape NC [that is exciting as it] is helping us get to have what is called an outdoor learning environment versus a playground.”

The outdoor area is a space for children to strengthen their cognitive, social and emotional development through playing games with other kids in an environment in which they can explore and learn. Additionally, outdoor play helps kids’ physical fitness as well as sensory skills. Little Engine Academy is excited to create an area for their kids to not only learn and explore but garden and learn exactly how food is grown. Now in its second year, Shape NC will help create these spaces for child care centers through funding and fundraising opportunities in its third year.

CCSA’s Other Resources for Little Engine Academy

Shape NC is not the only resource Little Engine Academy has used from CCSA. Chenille Coston, a teacher at Little Engine Academy, is also participating in a T.E.A.C.H. NC Early Childhood Scholarship as she works to obtain her master’s degree. There also employees who have received wage supplements from the Child Care WAGE$®️ Program. Both Coston and Smith talk about the value of professional development opportunities  they have attended. “For me, it’s been really awesome. It’s always good to learn more and they provide a lot of new information for us,” Smith said, “We’ve actually incorporated a lot of things they’ve given us.”

“The trainings [have] provided new strategies that we’ve been able to use in the classroom,” Coston said as she explained a recent strategy they have incorporated to teach the kids movement. The center also participates in CCSA child care scholarships that make attending Little Engine Academy more affordable for parents.

The Future at Little Engine Academy with Shape NC

Parents will continue to be more involved with Little Engine Academy as the school gets closer to its third year of participating in Shape NC. Little Engine Academy is looking for volunteers to help remove playground equipment to make room for the new outdoor learning environment, which they will start fundraising for this summer.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Little Engine Academy to remove their playground equipment contact Jennifer Gioia at 919-967-3272.

CCSA is hosting Shape NC activities this Earth Day Festival Sunday, April 28 from 12 – 5 p.m. at the Durham City Earth Day Festival. Stop by Durham Central Park, 501 Foster St. to enjoy all day performances and tons of fun activities. Learn more here.

Learn more about Shape NC here or call us at 919-967-3272 for more information about the program.

To support the Shape NC project, click here and DONATE NOW! Your gift to fund Shape NC workshops and events in Durham, N.C. will be matched 100% through a Social Innovation Fund Grant.