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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.

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 Cass Wolfe, CSO at Child Care Services Association

This year marks the 100th year anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States, with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Women waged a nearly 100-year effort, marked by setbacks and conflict while demanding the right to vote. Yet today, there are still significant efforts in several states to restrict voting for some groups of people. As such, it is important that those of us who can vote actually do vote. It is a right, a responsibility and a way to participate in the governance of our communities, state and nation. Don’t give up your right to someone whose opinions and views are different or maybe even the opposite of yours!

According to the United States Elections Project, only 49.6% of eligible North Carolina voters actually voted in 2018. Yet the voices of voters who care about issues that impact diverse families are necessary to increase funding and political interest in early childhood. With the complex, multi-layered challenges of the early care and education system, it is increasingly clear that additional political will and government funding are critical to improving early care and education for every child, parent, teacher and director.

For the first time ever, the major candidates for U.S. president have policy stances on child care and early education. The candidates have varying positions, some supporting pre-kindergarten for all, while others are advocating for more comprehensive birth to 5 programming and parent fee relief. Look at each candidate’s website to learn about their priorities for children, families and more.

The point is, each of us has an opportunity to help shape the conversation around child care and to support the candidates we each feel speak to our concerns the most clearly. But you have to be registered to vote. Fortunately, you have two options!

  • While North Carolina’s primary is Tuesday, March 3, 2020 and only those registered by February 7th can vote in this primary, you can participate in early voting and register when you are at the polling place. Early voting is February 13 – February 29 and is very convenient, with a variety of dates, times and locations. Click on your county’s name to get the Durham, Orange and Wake early voting schedules. If you live in a different county, click here.
  • Registered voters can also vote by absentee ballot (requests for absentee ballots must be made by February 25).

Finally, if you think you are registered, click here to ensure you are still registered.

One last important bit of information for the primary is that contrary to earlier information, you will not need any identification to vote.   

In addition to the presidential primary, there is also a primary contest for the U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina. There are also state and local offices on the ballot, including the governor’s, the lieutenant governor’s, the auditor’s and the treasurer’s offices. At the local level, school board, county commissioners and state legislative seats have multiple people running for office. 

There are many choices that influence decisions about our neighborhoods, our children’s schools, our state and our country. One example of local decision-making is Durham PreK. Voters’ support for access to publicly supported preschool for all 4-year olds led elected leaders to invest in young children.  These leaders with bold goals for children were voted in by citizens who cared. Your vote matters.

So go vote, take a friend or two with you, and wear your “I voted” sticker proudly. Finally, be sure to encourage all of the early childhood teachers and staff you know to join you in making a statement for our children. We need to vote since the children we are passionate about cannot vote. We need to vote for the future! 

For more information about voting in North Carolina, click here.

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.

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

During a child’s earliest years, brain development occurs that sets the architecture for all future learning (e.g., the wiring needed for healthy child development across social, emotional, physical, and cognitive areas).[1]  This is what makes high-quality child care for infants and toddlers so important.

At the same time, infant and toddler care is the hardest to find. The supply of infant and toddler care pales in comparison to the needs of working parents. A report by the Center for American Progress found that 44 percent of families in North Carolina live in a child care desert where the demand for child care by working families far exceeds the supply.[2]

Even when families can find it, too many struggle with the cost, particularly for infants and toddlers. Throughout North Carolina, the average annual price of child care for an infant in a child care center is $9,254.[3]  The average annual price of child care for an infant in a family child care home is $7,412.[4]

Data from: NC Labor

For perspective, for a single mother earning minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) working full-time, she would earn $15,080 per year. The cost of center-based infant care would be 61.4 percent of her income. The cost of infant care in a family child care home would be 49.2 percent of her income. If she earns twice the minimum wage ($14.50 per hour), about $30,160 per year – the cost of child care in a center would be 30.7 percent of her income. The cost of infant care in a family child care home would be 24.6 percent of her income. If she earns three times the minimum wage ($21.75 per hour), her annual income would be about $45,240 per year. Center-based infant care would cost 20.5 percent of her income; infant care in a family child care home would cost 16.4 percent of her income.

To help families with the cost of child care, the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) offers qualifying families a subsidy.[5] The state pays most of the cost and families have a 10 percent co-pay. Unfortunately, not all families who qualify can receive assistance and more than 30,000 eligible children throughout the state are on a waiting list for child care financial help.[6] It is important to note that the waiting list is only a snapshot in time because some families don’t join the list when they hear about the length of it. So, the waiting list reflects only those who qualify for help and who also add their names to the waiting list in case more funding becomes available to support additional families.

For families with infants and toddlers, the supply and cost are both struggles. It’s unrealistic to think that families can access the licensed market if they have to pay a huge percentage of their income to cover the cost. Why is that a concern to all North Carolina taxpayers? There are several reasons.

  • Quality of child care and long-term taxpayer bills. When parents can’t afford the licensed market, if they must stay in the workforce to make ends meet, then they will try to make do with a variety of unlicensed care options. Given the brain development that is underway during a child’s earliest years, it is critical that a child be in a setting that promotes his or her healthy development. That’s one of the reasons for the rated child care license[7] in North Carolina and one of the reasons the NC General Assembly restricted the receipt of child care subsidies to programs with at least a 3-star rating. Supporting healthy child development is important, particularly for infants and toddlers when the brain is developing the fastest.  Taxpayers will pay more in the long-term when a child enters kindergarten without the skills to succeed through additional costs for remediation, for special education, and for those children who must repeat a grade (e.g., repeating a grade is not “free”).
  • Labor force participation. Without affordable child care, parents reduce their hours or opt-out of the workforce. Ninety-four percent of workers involuntarily working part-time due to child care problems are women.[8] In North Carolina, 457,706 children under age 6 have working parents.[9] If one-third to one-half of these children under 6 are infants and toddlers, that’s 151,043 to 228,853 children who may need some type of child care while their parents work.
  • Employers & Employees. Employers depend on working parents. And, working parents with young children depend on some type of child care.

As the General Assembly meets to discuss budget priorities, child care assistance should be at the top of the list. Given the extraordinary cost of child care for infants and toddlers, the General Assembly may want to consider reviewing other models to support access to high-quality infant and toddler care.

In June 2018, the District of Columbia City Council unanimously passed the Birth to Three for All DC Act.[10] The legislation charts the path for a comprehensive system of supports for children’s healthy growth and development with a specific focus on services for families with infants and toddlers. The Act is broad — investing in home visiting and child developmental screening, however, with regard to child care for infants and toddlers, the Act expands child care subsidy eligibility for infants and toddlers to all families by 2027, caps the percentage of annual income a family would pay toward child care expenses at 10 percent of gross income by 2028, and phases in competitive compensation for early educators. The District is now in its second year of implementation with $16 million in funding for FY2020.[11] City Council members say it’s a high priority to increase funding as part of the 2021 budget, and work on that front is underway.[12]

There are certainly differences in passing legislation that supports a city (even a large city like Washington, D.C.) compared to a state. However, the concept is innovative. It recognizes that the cost of infant and toddler care is so high that all families may struggle with the cost. It recognizes that access to high-quality infant and toddler care is important to a child’s healthy development. And, it recognizes that a compensation strategy for the child care workforce is needed to support high-quality programs.

It is time to rethink the state’s approach to child care subsidy, and especially how families with infants and toddlers are supported in accessing high-quality child care. In the new year, let’s give thanks for what we have and think through policies that can best support our children in the future. 


[1] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture.

[2] Center for American Progress, America’s Child Care Deserts in 2018.

[3] Child Care Aware of America, The US and the High Price of Child Care: 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[5] NC Division of Child Development & Early Education: Subsidy Services.

[6] North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, June 7, 2019.

[7] NC Division of Child Development & Early Education: Star Rated License.

[8] Committee for Economic Development, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, Age of Own Children Under 18 Years in Families and Subfamilies by Living Arrangements by Employment Status of Parents, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates.

[10] B22-0203 – Infant and Toddler Developmental Health Services Act of 2017 (now known as “Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018”).

[11] Significant Birth to Three Funding Passes in the DC Council, May 28, 2019.

[12] D.C. reaped benefits of expanded preschool. Now we must focus on even younger children.

By Jennifer Gioia, Communications Manager at Child Care Services Association

Every year on November 20, since 1954, the world celebrates Universal Children’s Day to spread awareness of improving child welfare worldwide, promoting and celebrating children’s rights and promoting togetherness and awareness amongst all children. [1] With Thanksgiving so close, we would like you to join us in taking a moment and thanking those who work tirelessly every day to improve the lives of our youngest children.

Whether that’s a parent, an early childhood educator, a doctor, child care provider, government leader, grandparent, volunteer, nurse, religious leader, an advocate for children, or a friend, we at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) thank you for your dedication and leadership to ensuring the mission that every child deserves access to affordable, high-quality child care and education.

What is high-quality early childhood education?

High-quality early childhood education is critical to a child’s development by creating a stimulating, safe and loving environment for children birth to 5. [2] “A high-quality program uses teaching approaches that support a child’s learning and curriculum goals. Teachers modify strategies to respond to the needs of individual children, and provide learning opportunities through both indoor and outdoor play.” [2]

“Quality programs are comprehensive.” [3] High-quality child birth-to-five programs have lasting boosts in cognition and socio-emotional skills driving better education, health, social and economic outcomes. [3] Research shows that “high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13% return on investment,” which means children are more likely to graduate high school, go to college, have a family and live a happier, more successful life. [3]

On Giving Tuesday (December 3), consider investing in our children—our future. At Child Care Services Association, we’re all about children. From helping children build healthy behaviors in what they eat and how they play to making sure their teachers are qualified, trained and adequately paid, CCSA focuses on a child’s early years, aiming to make them happy, stable and secure.

When all children have that start—a healthy foundation—we all do better.

Children are happier and more ready to enter school, parents are secure in knowing their child is being cared for and educated in a stable environment, and early childhood educators have the resources they need to continue their education and can support their families while pursuing the career they love.

At CCSA, we’re also all about making sure all children have that healthy foundation. To have that healthy foundation, all children need more stable relationships with better-educated and fairly compensated teachers that stay in their jobs.

In fact, research shows that early experiences are particularly important for the brain development of children of color and children from low-income families.

“The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families. The best investment is in quality early childhood development from birth to five for disadvantaged children and their families.” [4]

At CCSA, we use research, services and advocacy to build a healthy foundation for every child because we believe all children deserve the best start at their best life.

How can you invest in high-quality early childhood education?

Give to CCSA today! Your gift may help support a parent who is starting a new job through our referral and scholarship programs or a child care teacher who wants to finish an early childhood education degree through our scholarship and compensation programs.

Our work results in enormous benefits for children, families and the community. Help us make sure every child has a good start to lifelong learning in a safe, nurturing, quality environment.

Donate today!


[1] https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/universal-childrens-day-2019/

[2] https://www.collabforchildren.org/families/what-high-quality-child-care

[3] https://heckmanequation.org/www/assets/2017/04/F_Heckman_CBA_InfographicHandout_040417.pdf

[4] https://heckmanequation.org/resource/invest-in-early-childhood-development-reduce-deficits-strengthen-the-economy/

By Marsha Basloe, President, and Linda Chappel, Sr. Vice President, Child Care Services Association

This past week, Durham PreK’s new website launched as a place for Durham County families to find information about enrolling 4-year-old children in Durham PreK, to find other local resources related to early childhood development and to learn about Durham’s commitment to equitable, high-quality education for all young children.

What is Durham PreK?

Durham PreK classrooms are located in private child care centers, Durham Public Schools and Head Start classrooms. With funding from the Durham County Board of Commissioners, the intent is to both enhance the quality of preschool programs and expand the number of children served through state and federally funded preschool programs. The goal is universal public PreK for all Durham County 4-year-old children – with preschool services offered for free for families with income at or below 300% of the federal poverty threshold and a sliding fee scale for families with income above 300% of poverty.

Why is pre-K important for young children?

Studies show that children who attend full-day high-quality pre-K programs are much more likely to start school with the skills to succeed, much more likely to perform at grade level and much more likely to graduate high school. A 2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children report found that only 38% of Durham children entering kindergarten had preliteracy skills at grade level (i.e., 62% of Durham children started kindergarten behind).

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released third-grade end of year test scores for those children who were in kindergarten in 2014-2015. For Durham, the gaps in grade level reading are enormous – by income, by race and by ethnicity. It’s easy to connect the dots. When children don’t start kindergarten ready to succeed, despite remediation efforts, the competency gaps remain. Children don’t fall behind in third grade, they start behind in kindergarten.

We can do better to prepare our children for school (and life)

That’s the message behind Durham PreK. Child Care Services Association is the management agency for Durham PreK and works collaboratively with Durham County Government, Durham’s Partnership for Children, Durham Public Schools, Durham Head Start and numerous other community partners to expand access to high-quality pre-K classrooms for Durham’s 4-year-olds.

County funding is used to not only serve more children but also to broaden eligibility for children to participate and to work with teachers and private centers to strengthen their quality through teacher and director support, mentoring and coaching. Going beyond licensing standards and NC Pre-K standards, Durham PreK provides instruction and coaching to strengthen the interactions between teachers and children.

Research shows that gains made across child development domains are higher when teacher interactions are more effective, intentional and geared toward the development of critical thinking skills and social-emotional development in children.[1]

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)

The professional development tool used in Durham PreK is called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) developed by the University of Virginia and used in 23 state quality rating and improvement systems, many state and local public pre-K programs, and by every Head Start program across the country.[2]

CLASS is both an assessment system and a professional development coaching system. Studies have consistently demonstrated greater gains by children (including dual language learning children) in key areas of school readiness – including literacy, math, social-emotional development and self-regulation when children are in classrooms with more effective teacher-child interactions. International research demonstrates the validity of CLASS across a broad set of cultural contexts.[3]

Offering braided funding options

What makes Durham PreK unique is the community has all leaned in to make a difference for children. Where possible, funding is braided so a mix of funding supports classrooms, which promotes greater diversity among participating children. Every child receives a developmental screening, and screening results, general program eligibility, parent preference and distance from home are all taken into consideration during the child placement process.

For programs to be eligible to participate in Durham PreK, they must be a 5-star rated child care center, lead pre-K teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and either have or be working toward a Birth to Kindergarten license. Onsite curriculum implementation support, professional development and education planning, teacher improvement strategies tied to CLASS®, leadership development for program directors and other supports for continuous quality improvement are provided.

Durham PreK’s plan to expand

Estimates are that there are about 4,450 4-year-old children in Durham.[4]  In the 2019-2020 school year, the intent is for 1,200 children to participate in public pre-K, an increase of about 245 children from last year. The overall goal over the next few years is to expand each year so that Durham PreK will be available to all families with 4-year-old children who choose to participate.

There are still some open spots for children. If you have a child who turned 4-years-old by August 31 or if you know a family with a 4-year-old, let them know – Durham PreK is open for business. To complete an application, call 919-403-6960 to speak to a coordinator (bilingual support is available), or you can download the Universal Preschool Application here

If we all lean in, all our children can enter kindergarten ready to succeed!


[1] Effective Teacher-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes: A Summary of Research on the Classroom  Assessment  Scoring System (CLASS®) Pre-K–3rd Grade (2017).

[2] CLASS®: A Leading QRIS Standard (2019).

[3] Teachstone research summary (2019)

[4] Voluntary, Universal Pre-kindergarten in Durham County How Do We Get There From Here? By Durham’s Community Early Education/Preschool Task Force.

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. 

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