Smart Beginnings in the News

What Makes a Level 4 Infant Care Room?

Written by Leigh Anne Van Doren
March 2018 issue of Fredericksburg Parent & Family Magazine

On a gloomy February Monday, my day was brightened by a visit to a Virginia Quality Level 4 infant care classroom. Outside was rain, galoshes and umbrellas, but inside a cheery large room covered with soft mats and interactive toys held almost twenty active infants and five teachers…mostly engaged and on the floor. Local childcare center Kindercare at 29 Greenspring Drive in North Stafford, recently earned the Level 4 rating from the state’s Virginia Quality program. Engaging with the babies and playing on the floor is just a small part of what it took to reach one of the highest levels available from Virginia Quality.

“As a regional rater I was so thrilled to see this center reach their Level 4 goal,” says Trudie Knapp, Virginia Quality Regional Rater. “It’s a significant achievement. Their teacher team truly operates as a family and it is wonderful to see their sustained efforts to create a high-quality environment be recognized.”


Kindercare7Pictures and toys on the floor enrich tummy time.

How does playing on the floor improve childcare quality exactly? “One of the things that strikes you as you come in, as a Virginia Quality Technical Assistance Specialist or Rater, is that the typical infant “containers,” like bouncy seats, exersaucers, or high chairs aren’t in use. All of these babies have free range of movement. Even the very youngest are placed on boppy pillows that allow them to reach and interact with the toys around them.” says Courtney Harris, Virginia Quality Infant/Toddler Coordinator. Kindercare center director Kristina Bell agrees with Harris that the lack of “containers” provides significant advantages to the babies. “Kindercare has had a company-wide policy of providing the least restrictive environment possible for eight years,” says Bell. “It felt really strange when we started the policy to not have exersaucers or high chairs, but our teachers quickly noticed how much faster the infants developed muscles and motor skills, especially pulling themselves up,” says Bell.

Continue reading on FredParent’s website…

Project Pathfinders scholarship helps preschool teacher earn Germanna degree

Mike Morones / The Free Lance-Star

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2017

In Leah Spruill’s preschool STEM class at Growing Kids Academy in Spotsylvania County, little fingers tapped at the screens of tablets encased in green protective covers.

Sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the carpet, the preschoolers were playing with learning apps during “technology time.” Soon, they’d transition to their next activity—finding numbers inside colorful, squishy “sensory bags.”

Spruill and her 3-year-old son, Shawn, made the bags at home the preceding weekend. They filled vacuum-sealed food saver bags with a mixture of tempera paint and vegetable oil. The children would use their fingers to push the paint around inside the bag until they found the number Spruill had written.

“So they’re learning numbers and colors and they’re getting one-on-one time with an adult,” Spruill said. “And it’s a good stress reliever!”

Spruill, 37, has been in the preschool/child care business for years and says she has a passion for the work. She said she’s also been enrolled at Germanna Community College for years but has struggled to complete a degree.

Now, as the recipient of a Project Pathfinders scholarship, she hopes to finally be able to finish her course work and earn her associate’s degree in education with a concentration in early childhood education from Germanna next year.

Continue reading on The Free Lance-Star…

The cost of care: For workforce development, child care counts



Posted: Saturday, November 19, 2016 11:00 pm

Any morning is crazy for a single mom with three children under 5. But until recently, Brittany Gilbert’s were even more of a struggle, as she drove two hours each day for affordable child care while working full-time and pursuing her graduate degree in business and management.

On a recent morning, after turning down three requests for candy from her 4-year-old son, Alex Perminter, Gilbert spied something in his hand while he waited by the door as she gathered his younger siblings, Gigi Gilbert and Tony Gilbert.

“What’s that? Is that your Iron Man mask? That’s not for school,” she said, her voice calm.

He threw it on the floor, sneaking a glance at his mother, unable to hide a grin.

“We don’t throw things,” she said.

He turned to pick it up and put it away, grin widening, like he knew the whole time he wasn’t going to get away with a thing.

Gilbert’s children are well-behaved, and she keeps mornings running smoothly. But nothing made up for the fact that the minimum quote she got for child care near where she lived in Stafford was $500 per week.

“That’s not feasible on a single mom, full-time student salary,” Gilbert said. “When I applied for social services … I was put on a waiting list. Unfortunately, bills don’t wait.”

Now, thanks to support from a state grant and Smart Beginnings, a public–private partnership focused on early education, she has a four-minute commute to the program at the closest Minnieland Academy.

Continue reading on the The Free Lance-Star…

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