Smart Beginnings in the News

Focus on Early Childhood

Fredericksburg Parent and Family Magazine June 2021

Virginia is taking big steps to help its youngest learners

The first five years of a child’s life lay the foundation for academic success. Making high-quality preschool programs available to all of Virginia’s youngest learners is the focus of recent bipartisan legislation passed by the General Assembly.

The new legislation places all programs serving children ages 0 to 5—from home-based care providers to public preschools—under the state Department of Education, with funding for a new Superintendent of Early Childhood position.

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Virginia Quality: Supporting teachers is key to improving kindergarten readiness

Fredericksburg Parent and Family Magazine March 2020

Virginia is starting the 2020s with a renewed focus on early childhood education. Gov. Ralph Northam has called for $95 million in new funding to increase access to early childhood education for at-risk 3- and-4-year-olds, and to ensure educators and care providers have the training and support they need.

“Early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make in our children’s health, well-being, and future success,” Northam states in a release announcing his proposals.



A commitment to constant improvement characterizes Virginia Quality care providers

Fredericksburg Parent and Family Magazine October 2019

Roza Sharifi has always loved children. As a certified midwife in her home country of Iran, she delivered more than 1,000 babies over the course of her career. This past spring, Sharifi became the first family day home provider in the state of Virginia to be rated. She earned a level 4 quality rating with Virginia Quality, a voluntary program that offers resources to help Virginia’s early childhood care providers to constantly improve.

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Report finds cost of child care in Virginia has risen 7 times more than women’s wage growth

The Free Lance-Star August 24, 2019

Cortnee Smith’s monthly salary as a part-time event associate at a Fredericksburg wedding venue is $1,200.

The cost of full-time, home-based child care for the Stafford County resident’s three children—ages 7, 3 and 2—is $1,550.

After the death of her boyfriend and daughters’ father in a car accident two years ago, Smith, 28, moved back in with her parents because, “without my parents, I can’t afford to put our own roof over our heads.”

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ROTARY CLUB: North Stafford group hosts Smart Beginnings

The Free Lance-Star August 3, 2019

Carol Clark of Smart Beginnings, a nonprofit that aims to help youngsters get a good start on their lives, spoke at a recent North Stafford Rotary meeting. Smart Beginnings serves many of the nearby counties and cooperates with other local charities to obtain the best results for the children. Because children in day care often spend 12 or more hours a day sitting, the programs put an emphasis on fitness. Clark told club members that 74 percent of our young people are not eligible to join the military, as they are not physically fit.

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Play-Based Learning – What it Looks Like and Why it Matters

Fredericksburg Parent and Family February 2019 issue

Early childhood — birth to age 5 — is a critical time in a child’s development. The quality of a child’s experiences in care and early learning programs during this time lays the foundation for a his or hertheir future success in school and in life.

Virginia Quality provides resources to help Virginia’s child care and early learning programs continuously improve. Child care centers, preschools and home-based care providers voluntarily choose to work with us for support and professional development in the areas of staff education and qualifications, curriculum and assessment, and classroom environment and interactions.

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Future workforce talent demands exceptional early childhood programs

Written by Jim Dyke and Gary Thomson
Nov 5, 2018 Richmond Times-Dispatch

Of all the important public policy issues confronting Virginia, the need for exceptional early childhood education stands alone in its potential to significantly impact both current and future prosperity. As business leaders and passionate supporters of education, if we could only fund one program that would produce the highest return on investment for providing our future workforce, it would be early childhood education.

Research conclusively shows that a child’s prospects for future success are impacted by brain development and skill acquisition in the first years of life. The development of these skills is cumulative and sequential, meaning that everything builds on the earliest experiences.

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Report shows mixed picture of kindergarten readiness among local preschoolers

Written by Adele Uphaus-Conner
October 26, 2018 The Free Lance-Star

Key risk factors for kindergarten-unreadiness among local preschoolers have changed little over five years and several of the risk factors are higher for local children than they are statewide, according to a report released this week by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation.

Locally, some factors–such as the ratio of children born to mothers with less than a high school education–show Hispanic children to be at the most risk of being unprepared for kindergarten. Other factors, such as low birth weight, show black children to be most at risk of being unprepared.

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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.”


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.

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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.

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