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By Allison Miller, CCSA Compensation Initiatives Team

When Davina Woods was asked how she became interested in early childhood, she said, “I entered the profession as an undercover helicopter mom! I had just placed my son in child care and I couldn’t stand not being there and seeing what and how he was doing.”

Her child’s center hired her as a part-time school-age group leader before she eventually found her calling with young children and their teachers. 

She started with no education and now she is in the master’s program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with the assistance of a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship. After 25 years in the field, she loves her position as director of Excel Christian Academy, a five-star child care center in Alamance County, where she has been for 13 years.

“It has been a privilege to work in every single aspect of child care,” Davina said. “In every classroom, with every age group, in every position. I have fulfilled every duty from cook to van driver and it gives me perspective and appreciation. I love this viewpoint. I get the luxury of working with children, families and teachers.” 

Davina’s center prioritizes its teachers by providing a livable wage as well as other key benefits, which she knows most teachers are unable to access in this field. “And then they get WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. on top of that,” she said.

The Child Care WAGE$® (WAGE$) Program provides education-based salary supplements to low-paid teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children between the ages of birth to five. The program is designed to provide preschool children more stable relationships with better-educated teachers by rewarding teacher education and continuity of care.

The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program addresses under-education, poor compensation and high turnover within the early childhood workforce by providing educational scholarships to early care professionals and those who perform specialized functions in the early care system.

“WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. are just part of who we are, part of the center’s make-up,” Davina said. “It is essential, imperative, to have an educated staff, especially here in the 21st century where children are not changing but the modes and methods of educating children are constantly evolving. Teachers must know best practices and know how to utilize the latest research and incorporate that into classrooms for the best outcomes for children.”

According to Davina, “WAGE$ is essential because it helps to boost teacher morale within the program. WAGE$ both encourages and motivates staff to increase their education. Additionally, WAGE$ provides a sense of healthy competition among team members as they see who can achieve the next level first.”

She said, “My teachers talk about the courses they take and they drive each other.” Three of her staff will graduate in December with their associate degree in early childhood education and they remind Davina of why she does what she does. “If I take great care of my team, they will take great care of the children.”

Thank you, Davina, for your support of the workforce and the Child Care WAGE$® Program.

Learn more about the Child Care WAGE$® Program here.

Learn more about the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program here.

boy toddler hugging teacher's leg

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

For nearly 20 years, Child Care Services Association has been conducting workforce studies to better understand the composition of the child care workforce in North Carolina and differences among regions and to recommend policy improvements related to retaining and growing a high-quality early childhood workforce.

While gathering information related to our 2019 child care workforce study, we had a unique opportunity to not only send a survey to those currently in the child care workforce but also to survey those who had left. More than 2,800 individuals who previously worked in child care settings responded to the “leaver” survey and were asked questions related to why they left, where they went and whether they would return to the classroom if some of the challenges they faced could be addressed. 

While there have been several national child care workforce studies, the responses from individuals who have worked in the child care field in North Carolina could provide valuable insight for future state policy discussions.

Who are the workers who leave child care jobs and where do they go?

Of the 2,808 individuals who responded to the leaving the classroom survey,

  • 57% left child care to work in another field entirely
  • 28% left their former position for another job in the early childhood field
    • Of those still in the field, but not in the job as a child care teacher or assistant, about 12% moved into a different role such as director or assistant director
    • About 7% worked in the field, but in a different capacity, such as staff at a child care resource and referral agency, Smart Start or other non-classroom based settings
    • Another 9% were working in early childhood in another state, as a family child care home provider or in an unlicensed program
  • Of the 15% remaining, about 9% still work with children in some capacity (in a K-12 school setting, caring for school-age children or as a nanny)
  • The remaining 6% responded that they are retired, unemployed, disabled, in school or some other miscellaneous response not easily categorized

Why did they stop being a child care teacher or assistant?

Of the 2,305 individuals who responded to this question (which also offered them the chance to select multiple answers),

  • 41% said they left because they wanted to earn more money
  • 32% wanted more opportunities for professional growth
  • 25% wanted better benefits
  • 20% wanted better working conditions
  • 16% wanted more respect

Lack of sufficient staff support was also indicated with 12% of former child care staff selecting “support for children with challenging behaviors” and 7% selecting “difficulty supporting children with special needs” among reasons for leaving their child care jobs. What is most interesting is that only 5% of responders selected “Teaching is not for me.”  Not surprisingly, less than half (45%) indicated that they might return to a child care classroom in the future.

Would those who left consider returning as a classroom teacher or assistant teacher if the reasons they left were to be addressed?

Of the 2,226 individuals who responded to this last question, 64% said they would potentially return to the classroom if the factors they had listed as reasons for leaving were to change or improve.

  • 37% said “yes” they would return to a child care classroom
  • 27% said “maybe” they would return

The Road Forward

Child care pay is low. We know in a good economy like we have today with record low unemployment, individuals in child care can work in fast food or retail sales and earn higher wages. Many in the workforce have their own families to raise, so earnings matter in retaining and growing a high-quality child care workforce.

With nearly 30% of those who leave staying in the early childhood field, but not necessarily as a child care teacher, upward mobility and professional growth within the field is good for the field overall. This means that experienced people can bring an experienced lens to their work with young children.

Better wages (41%), professional growth (32%), better benefits (25%), better working conditions (20%), support for challenging behaviors (12%) and paid time off (12%) are policy areas that can be addressed. Investments can be made to better support those working in child care.

When 64% of the responders who left say they would potentially return to the classroom, addressing these concerns should be a priority. There are some challenges in life for which there are no policy solutions. But, the concerns expressed by child care leavers are solvable.

These survey results are preliminary.  Those who received the survey aren’t weighted by demographics or any other common variables used in survey research approaches. Nevertheless, they are instructive. Of those who left their child care jobs and who chose to respond to the survey, their answers are not surprising. They are common sense.

This is the workforce that supports all other workforces. It’s the workforce that helps promote the healthy development of our youngest children. Twenty years of workforce studies point to the same challenges that the child care leavers have expressed. There are solutions to these challenges that would invest and value the important work those working in child care do every day. It’s time for those discussions to begin in earnest.

The full policy brief, Leaving the Classroom: Addressing the Crisis of NC’s Early Childhood Educator Turnover can be found here.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

If any issue warrants public attention, public discussion and rethinking as to the best way to ensure families with young children have access to child care and pre-kindergarten, it is our nation’s current approach to the safety and healthy development of young children. It’s not a system as much as a patchwork quilt stitched together over decades. The federal government allocates funds to states through individual programs or funding streams (i.e., block grants), each with different rules, administered by different state agencies, and too often resulting in siloed approaches with little to no coordination or collaboration among state agencies, departments, divisions or communities.

In December 2019, Congress enacted the FY2020 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations measure, which included the following funding levels for early care and education programs:

Source: FY2020 non-defense consolidated appropriations bill (HR 1865, PL116-94) enacted on December 20, 2019.

In addition to the funding above, in FY2019, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture allocated $3.7 billion to states to support healthy meals and snacks for low-income children in child care centers and family child care homes [1] and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services allocated the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states, of which states chose to use $3.8 billion for child care and $2.6 billion for state pre-K. [2] The number of children served by TANF funds for child care or pre-K is unknown because the federal government only requires aggregate spending to be reported, not how many children are served, the setting children are in (homes or centers, licensed or unlicensed) or the average price paid per child. In all, that’s more than $35 billion through various federal funds for early care and education programs.

Child care is the largest early childhood program with $12.5 billion in funding and yet only about 17 percent of eligible children (based on state standards) receive a subsidy. [3] Many states have a waiting list for assistance, including North Carolina with a waiting list of more than 40,000 children. Families have a difficult time finding care, affording care, and then many parents express concern about the quality of care. Numerous national reports have been released about child care deserts, communities where the need for child care for parents of children under age 6 pales in comparison to the licensed supply of child care. [4] The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released a report in October 2019 that found the supply of home-based care has declined by more than 97,000 providers since 2005. [5]

Why? Child care is a business. Child care centers tend to operate in areas where the population is dense enough with sufficient numbers of private-pay families who can afford weekly parent fees. The operating budget for child care centers largely comprises parent fees and therefore staff is hired at the lowest wages possible to hold costs down. In a good economy with low unemployment, like we have today, turnover is high because staff often can find better-paying jobs in fast food, retail sales or other jobs that require less training or education. Turnover also costs businesses because of the marketing, interviewing, hiring and training required for new staff.

For home-based providers, the hours are long and the pay is low. According to a 2019 economic impact report by the Committee for Economic Development, [6] the average annual income of home-based providers is approximately $15,000 per year, [7] 18% higher than in North Carolina, where the average income of home-based providers is $12,300. [8] The decline in home-based providers (who often serve infants and toddlers) is a hardship for parents, particularly those in rural communities where the economics of operating a center don’t work. Home-based care is often less expensive and providers may be more willing to stay open during nontraditional hours for those parents who work shift work or have long commutes to their job. Yet, again, wages drive interest in opening a home-based program (or closing one) because other jobs in the community may pay more with fewer hours and less stress.

The reality is that mothers are working today. Nationally, approximately 72 percent of mothers with children under age 6 are working outside of the home, [9] 65.4 percent of mothers with children age 2 are working [10] and, 57.8 percent of mothers with children under age 1 are working. [11] Many of these mothers need child care, but federal subsidies reach only one out of every six eligible children. Therefore, most families are forced to afford whatever they can find. However, in too many communities, the supply is not available, let alone affordable.

There is no doubt that if our nation’s early care and education system were designed today, it would look much different. If we can’t think out of the box about a new bold system to better meet the needs of families with young children, we will be stuck with incremental, minor band-aids that ignore the real problem: the system is under-financed and poorly designed. Parents can’t afford quality child care, but we know from the research that high-quality child care really matters to the healthy development of children, particularly in the earliest years as a child’s brain is developing the fastest, setting the architecture for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. [12]

Two decades ago, child care was a work support. Today, we know that it is a two-generation strategy. High-quality child care helps parents work and helps support the healthy development of children. In fact, parents who can’t access child care reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce. About 94 percent of those who involuntarily work part-time are mothers who cite child care problems as their reason for working part-time. [13]

In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education,” which reviewed the multiple funding streams for early care and education and made a number of recommendations. The NAS Committee, made up of early childhood experts and finance experts, recommended investing in early care and education at a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) aligned with the average of other member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The report recommended increasing funds in four phases, from at least $5 billion in phase one to $53 billion in phase four. [14]

However, it is not just about the money. It is also about program design and meeting the needs of families in urban and rural areas and in an array of settings that best meet the needs of the family and each individual child with an early education workforce that is trained and paid appropriately for the important work they do. 

Rethinking is always a bit more challenging than staying in the box with patchwork fixes. The current system isn’t working for low-income children whose families need a subsidy or the private market where working parents need access to affordable high-quality child care and early education programs. It is time for a discussion about a redesign.


[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Child and Adult Care Food Program, January 2020. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/ccsummar-1.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, TANF expenditures FY2018. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource/tanf-financial-data-fy-2018

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Child Care: Access to Subsidies and Strategies to Manage Demand Vary Across States, 2016. https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/681652.pdf

[4] Center for American Progress, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/12/06/461643/americas-child-care-deserts-2018/; Child Care Aware of America, https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/research/mappingthegap/.

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, 2019. https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/public/addressing_decreasing_fcc_providers_revised_final.pdf

[6] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Table S2301, Employment Status, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates.

[10] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 6. Employment status of mothers with own children under age 3 years old by single year of age of youngest child and marital status, 2017-2018 averages.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[13] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[14] National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education, 2018.  https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24984/transforming-the-financing-of-early-care-and-education

By Tanya Slehria, Communications Intern at CCSA

Shantel Zimmerman describes her favorite part of teaching as, “truthfully, the kids. It is so much fun. I tell [my husband] I get to go to work and play everyday teaching. Where else can an almost 50-year-old be silly and whimsical and get paid for it?”

Shantel has taught at Primrose School of Heritage Wake Forest in Wake Forest, North Carolina for nearly a decade. She first received her bachelor’s degree and returned to school to receive her master’s in elementary education. “I originally wanted to be a high school teacher. I changed my major in college because I didn’t think I had the patience to be with elementary or younger,” said Shantel. “Having my daughter showed me I did have the patience, so when she started school, I went back to younger kids. I like them, they’re more fun.” 

For Shantel, being a parent helps develop her teaching style for young children. She also credits her style to “the classes I took, interesting articles I come across [and] talking to other teachers. It’s really just trying to see what works for you and what works with the age group you’re with.” 

Her advice is to be flexible to others teaching in the field. “You can have something planned to do with your class and it may get tossed out the window in the first five minutes. It all depends on the mood of the kids. My key thing is to be flexible and go with the flow because you never know where it’s going to take you,” said Shantel. 

The most rewarding part of teaching for Shantel is “having fun with the kids and watching them grow.” It’s all about the kids for her. “Watching what my kids have learned in the nine months I have them amazes me and makes me want to do more every day,” she said. 

By Tanya Slehria, Communications Intern at CCSA

As a teaching professional, Chatiba Bullock truly values her education and credits her continuous path to being a lifelong learner. “In order for me to motivate my teachers and team members, it’s important for them to see me working,” said Chatiba.

Chatiba works as Education Manager for Durham Head Start/Early Head Start while also furthering her early childhood development degree. She first began as an assistant teacher, quickly moved up to lead teacher and went on further to serve in the leadership position of center director.

Chatiba is also a Child Care WAGE$® recipient. “I really like WAGE$ because it gives you an incentive to keep learning,” she said. “The WAGE$ program really was [integral] in motivating me as an educator to want more and better myself.”

“I received an associates in early childhood education from Durham Tech Community College in 2005 and I went on to North Carolina Central University where I received my bachelor’s in family and consumer sciences with a concentration in child development in 2008,” Chatiba said. She didn’t stop there. “I received my Master’s in education in 2014 from Ashford University and then received some post-graduate certifications from Walden University in teacher leadership and childhood administration.

It wasn’t always Chatiba’s plan to work in early childhood education. Out of high school, she began as a business major. “It wasn’t until in ‘99, I started working at the Early Learning Center through the YMCA, they had their own child care center and I took on a part-time job as a floater, and I loved early childhood education,” Chatiba said.

While there, Chatiba realized something. “Working with kids and going to school for business, it just didn’t mesh. I like working with kids and I need to learn more about children,” she said.

“[My favorite part of being an educator is] the correlation between children and families. I think it’s actually working with children and families to help them understand the importance of education and how they can foster that love at home with their kids,” said Chatiba.

Her teaching style is shaped by “letting [the children] be the teacher and I’m the facilitator. I like to build lessons when I’m in the classroom. I’m not in the classroom as much anymore, but when I’m helping teachers understand their teaching style, my teaching style basically is the child’s interests and helping teachers facilitate that in their classroom,” said Chatiba.

By Jennifer Gioia, Communications Manager at CCSA

For Latisha Edwards, teaching is “being a creator. Learning through play is the best part, because not only are the children using their imagination, but I’m using my imagination as well, and that’s just always fun.”

Latisha works as an assistant teacher at First Presbyterian Day School in Durham, North Carolina, while also attending classes at Vance-Granville Community College for her associate’s degree in early childhood education. “After that, I plan on attending UNC-Chapel Hill for my bachelor’s degree,” she said.

“Honestly, it was not [always my plan to work in early childhood education,]” Latisha said. “My mom owned a child care center my entire life and I was off doing retail. Once I had my son, I started working part-time with the center and I just kind of grew to love it, and that was almost nine years ago.”

Latisha started her education in 2014 but then had her last child, “so I stopped and got out of it. I was still working in the field, but I left [my education] alone. So, in the fall of ’19, I re-enrolled…Hopefully, I will finish in December, but I’ll walk with the May class.”

First Presbyterian has a looping program for infant-toddlers and twos. “Right now, I’m with the two-year-old [classroom], but in June, when we do our transition, I will be transitioning back to the infants, and we start all the way over until we get to two and then we do it all again,” Latisha said.

The most rewarding part of teaching for Latisha “is knowing that you are actually building a child’s self-esteem because teaching is not always a-b-c’s, 1-2-3’s. It’s about building confidence in children and having them just grow up and be great adults…I love what I do, honestly.”

By Tanya Slehria, Spring Communications Intern at CCSA

Tracy Pace’s favorite part of being an early childhood educator is “being there, being able to be an advocate for [children’s] success and being willing to listen and try to help parents reach out, find the resources [they need] and gain new skills.”

Tracy wears many hats in her role as a lead teacher at Nanna’s & Momma’s Child Care Center in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. “And my title kind of switches from day-to-day,” Tracy said. “It depends. I’m a very flexible person, but the majority of my time is used either as teaching in a classroom or in the office as an executive assistant.” 

After high school, Tracy said, “I decided to get married instead of go to school…my husband and I were married for 5 years and our first child came along…We didn’t want them to do the same thing we’ve done. We wanted [them] to try to be smarter than that. So, we both had enrolled in school…Our second child came along and I just piddled here and there and did a class. So, it took me 26 years to get my associate’s degree and I’ve just done that this July [2019]” from Blue Ridge Community College.

Tracy’s educational journey may be filled with twists and turns, yet her commitment to education and early childhood education has remained consistent throughout her 30-plus years in the field. While working toward her degree, she was still supporting her family of four children as well. 

After graduating, Tracy enrolled in Brevard College. It was through her persistence and encouragement that they began offering a birth-to-kindergarten program and an education program for students to receive teaching licenses. She continued to pave her own path, and as she told Brevard, “I’d love to [enroll with] the T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship.” At the time, Brevard was not participating with CCSA’s T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, but Tracy’s determination led them to offer the scholarship. “So, in 10 classes, I’ll have my Bachelor’s degree,” Tracy said.

Tracy’s involvement with T.E.A.C.H. began with her work at Nanna’s & Momma’s where she became a Child Care WAGE$® recipient. At the time, she was her mother’s full-time caregiver, a full-time student, a full-time employee and a full-time mother. She credits her ability to keep up with it all to the WAGE$ supplement.

“The [WAGE$] supplement has allowed me not to have [a second job] and to help me manage all these other different things, as first of all, a wife and mother, and second of all, someone who wants to give back to their community. Without [WAGE$], it wouldn’t have been possible,” said Tracy. 

Tracy is as dedicated a teacher as she is a student. Her goal has always been to teach. Teaching “fits my family’s needs,” said Tracy.

Before her time in the classroom, Tracy worked as the assistant director for the Brevard Davidson River Presbyterian Church and was involved with various organizations. Her position helped her form a network of connections that serve as a benefit to her current role as an educator. “I think community resources is my biggest strength—those connections outside of this job and those I made before I got into this current job,” said Tracy. “I know people to call by name at the Social Services office. I would say that’s one of the biggest things for teachers, in general, is being able to know and have a list of those resources and know people by name.” 

Tracy attributes her teaching style to her community. “I’ve grown a lot and become a lot more flexible as I understand and continue to try to edge out a living in the community that I’ve worked and raised my kids in and [one that] they would love to come back to,” she said. She also credits her passion for reading, “which has given me an understanding and [ability to find] solutions, or things I can try, and that not all kids are the same.”

“We know everything we need to know before we’re age 5. That’s the point and most people miss that. They think we’re not anything until we’re 5 and go to kindergarten, but every child learns all their coping skills, their ability to receive and give information before the age of 5,” said Tracy.

By Jennifer Gioia, Communications Manager at Child Care Services Association

April 1, 2020, is Census Day

The Census is your chance to make sure your community counts. Participating in the Census will help make sure your community over the next 10 years receives:

  • Fair representation in Congress;
  • Financial resources for health, schools, transportation and more; and
  • Help for information leaders to plan your community’s future. [1]
Source: NC Child

More than $5 billion of North Carolina’s federal funding for children’s services is at stake in the census, so it’s critical to get the count right. That’s about $1,600 for each person in federal funding for the state. [2]

However, in the 2010 Census, nearly 1 million children (4.6% of children under the age of 5) were not counted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, children under age 5 are one of the largest groups of undercounted people in the United States. [3] If missed in the Census, young children in hard to count communities also stand to suffer the most from reductions in funding to vital programs. [4]

Who is Hard-to-Count?

  • Low-income households
  • People of color
  • Non-native English speakers
  • “Complex” families [4] (for example, those with multiple generations of a family, unrelated families living together and blended or foster families.) [3]
  • Immigrants
  • Children <6
  • Renters [2]
Source: N.C. Counts Coalition

In North Carolina, 950,000 residents live in a hard-to-count community, [2] leaving 73,000 young children at risk of being missed in the 2020 Census. [4]

Nearly 1 in 5 of America’s infants are growing up in poverty, putting them at a greater risk to fall behind their peers in language development, reading proficiency, and experience learning disabilities and developmental delays. It is critical to invest in programs such as Early Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant that ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive. [5]

What Can You Do?

  • Help spread the word! Share this article by clicking on the social media icons below.
  • Learn more about the 2020 Census and find more resources and shareable materials here.
  • Tell the people in your life who care for children 5 and under to count every child in the 2020 Census on April 1.

Because census results help determine where federal funds are distributed for programs that are important for children, an accurate count can shape a child’s future for the next decade and beyond. It’s important to count young children now so they have the resources they need as they grow up. It all begins with responding to the 2020 Census. [3]


[1] North Carolina Census. Retrieved November 21, 2019.

[2] NC Counts Coalition. 2020 Census. PowerPoint. 2019.

[3] United States Census Bureau. Children Under 5 Among Most Undercounted in Last Census. Retrieved November 21, 2019.

[4] NC Child. Census 2020: Will N.C. Children Get Their Fair Share of Federal Investments? PowerPoint. 2019.

[5] Think Babies. Census Poverty Data Support Toolkit. 2019.

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.