Childcare Centers Going Green: A Guide for Parents

If you chose low-VOC paint, eco-friendly diapers or organic baby food to help give your child the right start, don't you wonder what she’s exposed to once you drop her off at daycare? Do you know if your childcare provider even recycles?

More and more parents are looking for childcare facilities that are eco-friendly, or asking their current facilities to make “green” changes. Do the same with this guide to what's out there and what to look for in green daycare centers, and resources to help you find one near you (or motivate yours to get up to speed).

Mom of two Jenn Savedge, author of The Green Parent: A Kid-Friendly Guide to Environmentally-Friendly Living and The Green Parent Blog. She had been taking her oldest daughter to a Montessori School that was 35 minutes away from her Blue Ray, Va., home. She felt it was worth the commute because the school’s philosophy was aligned with hers, with a focus on nature and the outdoors.

“I felt guilty driving so long when I was trying to be green,” Savedge says. “But I didn’t know of anyplace closer.”

But eco-friendly schools, preschools and childcare centers have begun cropping up in more communities, and last year Savedge found one for her younger daughter that's just 10 minutes from her home.

What are childcare centers doing to go green?

Goddard Systems Inc., a childcare franchise with over 320 schools in 37 states, is committed to protecting the environment, says VP of operations Dana Kline. “We have found green cleaning products and eco-friendly furniture for our franchises to use, and we encourage recycling,” Kline says. “We also have provided the tools for the schools to be as paper-free as possible.”

The Goddard School in Buford, Ga., which recently celebrated its “green” grand opening, boasts numerous eco-friendly features including a water reclamation system, energy-efficient lighting, hands-free sanitation systems and extra insulation.

Lee Ann Balta started making green changes at the Small Blessings childcare facility she directs in Indianapolis 18 months ago. She says she was inspired to get the children involved in the green movement. At her facility she recycles, uses as little plastic as possible, and uses organic landscaping and natural cleaning products.

“We are still learning about ways to be greener,” Balta says, but notes that Small Blessings is starting a summer camp this year called “Learn & Play the Green Way” for the children 1st through 5th grades. She hopes that teachers and students will explore green choices via field trips and projects culminating in the setup of sustainable systems for the school and for parents.

“We want to make summer more than just fun and entertaining. We want to build character and provide things that will last a lifetime,” Balta says. She adds that the response has been “phenomenal,” and the program is almost full.

How to find a green childcare provider

If you can’t find a provider near you, or you want to encourage your present childcare provider to recycle or use non-toxic art materials, check out the Eco-Healthy Child Care program. Launched in 2005 by the Oregon Environmental Council, the program went national in 2007 with the help of a grant from the Cedar Tree Foundation.

“Both parents and childcare providers are extremely hungry for this information,” says EHCC Director Hester Dooley, whose program provides childcare facilities with a 25 point checklist as well as fact sheets and support to help them comply. Dooley says they focus on ways that are free or low cost to make complying with the list more doable. “For example, we don’t advocate organic food,” she says, “because we want to make sure it's something that all providers can do regardless of their budget.”

Schools that earn 20 out of 25 points receive a certificate of endorsement and get listed on the EHCC website. Two of the steps are mandatory, such as using “nontoxic pest control techniques both inside and outside the facility” and forbidding smoking “anywhere on the premises or in sight of children.” Other steps include:

• We use biodegradable, nontoxic cleaning products and less-toxic disinfecting products.
• We use only low-VOC paints and do not paint when children are present.
• We do not use mercury-containing thermometers. Instead we use digital thermometers.
• We avoid toys made out of soft plastic vinyl.
• We recycle all paper, glass, aluminum and plastic bottles.
• We avoid conditions that lead to excess moisture, which contributes to growth of mold and mildew.

Visit the EHCC website to download the checklist or find a green childcare provider near you.


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