TIPS! Eco-Friendly Program Achievement

Earth Day is April 22! Why not celebrate this special day by taking the important steps for your program to earn an Eco-Friendly Program Achievement in Maryland EXCELS?

Maryland EXCELS recognizes several eco-friendly organizations that offer achievement certificates. Each opportunity has a distinct set of steps that involve you as a provider as well as education and awareness for the families and children you serve. Each program also varies in cost, length of award time, and amount of activities. Hopefully, you can find one that best fits your needs!

Eco-Healthy Child Care®  

Eco-Healthy Child Care, a national initiative created by the Children’s Environmental Health Network, provides programs with an easy-to-understand checklist to help reduce health hazards found in a child care environment. The checklist also includes detailed instructions on how to follow through with each item on the list. This option ranges from $25 to $50, depending on the size of your program. Applicable to all child care program types.

Maryland Green Schools Program

Created and supported by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE), the Maryland Green Schools Program trains, encourages and supports providers in their environmental sustainability. The organization also teaches providers how to encourage children to reduce their environmental impact.

Nature Explore Classroom Certification

The Nature Explore Classroom Certification, designed by a division of the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, supports programs to create nature-based spaces for learning and play. This program, which is designed for providers with an outdoor space, emphasizes strong staff development and family involvement to expand environmental awareness within the community.

Eco-Schools USA Program  

The National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program is designed to involve children in the natural world through learning while expanding their environmental skills and understanding. This program emphasizes greening of existing facilities and incorporation of environmental learning and practices within the curriculum. Resources and support are strong, with an easy-to-use online handbook.

After you earn a certificate or endorsement through one of these available courses, upload your documentation into your Maryland EXCELS account. Contact your Program Coordinator or email for more information.

By pursuing an Eco-Friendly Program Achievement, not only does your program benefit, but you help teach young children about keeping our planet healthy and being responsible stewards of the environment.

For more information about the Maryland EXCELS Eco-Friendly Program Achievement, visit our Additional Achievements webpage.


Tips! Developing an inclusion policy to welcome all children into a program

Child care providers play an important role in the lives of young children and their families and promoting inclusion in your program is good for everyone.  In an inclusive program, children with and without special health care needs or disabilities have access to and participate in the same routines, play, and learning experiences as all other children.  Inclusive practices within a program can provide peer role models, allow for opportunities to practice and teach new skills, create a level of comfort in a more diverse community and demonstrate compassion.

Including your program’s inclusion policies and practices in your handbook, written agreement or contract helps families clearly understand the ways you work to welcome and include all children.

What’s in an Inclusion Policy?

Inclusion policies may describe:

  • What you do to welcome all children and families into your program, including children with special health care needs or children with disabilities
  • Methods you use to meet each child’s individual needs
  • Procedures you follow in working with professionals such as speech therapists, physical therapists, etc.
  • How you participate as a team member and work with an IFSP or IEP team to make modifications and accommodations for children with special needs
  • Any specialized training you and your staff receive related to diverse populations of children in your program
  • Access to specialized equipment or resources to support children with special needs.

Look at your inclusion policies through the eyes of a parent whose child has special health care needs or a disability.  What words sound welcoming and reassuring? How do the policies demonstrate exactly what you do to welcome all children into your program?  Make any changes that will assure families that you will partner with them and work to meet their child’s individual needs.

Remember: For children with special health care needs or children with disabilities, getting needed services and being included can have significant impact on their lives and the lives of their family members.

Refreshing Your Bulletin Boards

Whether your program is celebrating a particular season or focusing on a special topic, bulletin boards offer the perfect canvas to showcase children’s creations or brighten your space to welcome and engage the families and children in your program.

A colorful bulletin board display.

Consider materials you may need. Plastic tablecloths from a dollar store, inexpensive flat sheets and wrapping paper can create colorful, textured backgrounds.

For borders, try layering several colors to add depth, or fasten items like playing cards (think Uno or Go Fish) or themed paper plates (think kids’ birthday parties) to highlight a bulletin board that may focus on math, the daily schedule, the ocean, or sports.

If you choose to decorate a bulletin board as a display, children can proudly show their work and feel like they’re part of a community, while parents can have a chance to see what has been going on in their child’s classroom.

Also, having up-to-date bulletin boards can help you meet Maryland EXCELS criteria of having current community resources to available to families in your program. You could have a bulletin board dedicated to information about the local library, health care services, or resources for children with disabilities.

Seasonal or holiday bulletin boards may need to be updated more often, but they give you the opportunity to have a visual and possibly interactive complement to lessons you have planned. A fall theme, for example, can have a movable thermometer to help teach about weather, display colored leaves handmade by the children, and have felt (material) scarecrows that can be taken apart and dressed up as an activity that works on motor skills.

If you would like to share your creative bulletin boards, send us your photos at!

TIPS: Incorporating Safety into Your Program’s Policies and Practices

Now that it is National Safety Month, it’s a great time to review the written safety policies in your program.  Documenting these procedures and sharing them with families and staff provides a vital form of communication and planning for everyone.  Reviewing these plans often with the children in your program can provide the critical calm and efficiency needed if an emergency arises.

Sharing with families:

When adding safety items to your program’s family handbook, written agreement or contract, try to approach the information from the family’s perspective.  You may want to consider the following:

  • Important safety information such as fire drills and emergency evacuation procedures, drop off/pick up policies, weather emergencies and emergency closings
  • How your program addresses these issues
  • How families are involved in addressing these issues

Young white boy climbing on playground wall looks to right of camera; text at bottom says "Play It Safe: Children's safety is a priority at all times, especially during play periods. Learn about simple steps for keeping children safe at play while still having fun.To address internet safety, consider both the children and families.  What limits do you place on internet access in your program for children, including time spent, sites accessed and supervision?  What do you expect of families when they take photos on your field trips, when visiting your program, and when sending electronic devices with their children? By including this information in your program’s handbook, you are further developing the policies and procedures of your program and providing helpful information to the families you serve.


Sharing with staff:

If your program has staff, it is important to communicate your program’s safety procedures and policies.  You may want to consider the following:

  • Safety issues that directly affect your staff such as entry and exit safety, confidentiality of personal information, workplace harassment, personal injury, and daily playground safety checks
  • Procedures to protect your staff

Again, consider the question of internet safety.  How should your staff facilitate internet access for the children in your program? How are staff photos and images shared online?  What internet access is permissible for staff while at work?  What procedures should staff follow when on the internet at work?  Who should staff contact when there is an issue with internet safety?

Sharing with children:

As you are familiarizing children with safety procedures, consider using visual aids, hands-on activities, practice and problem-solving to help them understand what procedures are in place and why they are important. Consider the following ideas to help children adopt your program’s safety procedures:

  • Create reminders of your safe practices. Engage children in creating signs, posters, and charts that can be posted in your program to remind them of safe choices, behaviors, and actions.
  • Conduct a safety walk. These could occur inside or outside. Children can walk around and point out safety items such as locks, fire extinguishers, safety gates, table bumpers and outlet covers. Why are these items there?  How do they keep everyone safe?  How many safety items are there?  These walks can also be done in reverse looking for items and areas that are not safe.  What could be done to make them safe?
  • Have a “Fun-in-the-Sun” day. Talk about why shade is important. Where are our shady areas at different times of the day? Make up games using sunny areas and shady areas.  Why do we wear sunscreen and hats?

Documenting your program’s safety considerations for both families and staff (in a handbook, contract or written agreement is part of the requirements of Maryland EXCELS for ADM 1 (policies/practices shared with families) and ADM 10 (policies/practices shared with staff).  It also demonstrates your program’s quality commitment to the security and safety of both the staff and children in your care.

TIPS! Family Conferences:  Opening the Door to Quality Communication (ADM 6.1-6.5)

Have you considered how many times per year you invite families to participate in a conference to discuss children’s progress and development?  How often are conferences offered in your program? When and how will you inform families of these conferences?

Daily communication is one way to build relationships and keep families informed, but formal family conferences can boost family involvement in your program, strengthen relationships, and help promote positive outcomes for the children and your program.

Conferences give providers and families a chance to have focused discussions.  It is during these discussions that families and providers can discuss the child’s progress and development based on:

  • Observations and assessments
  • Portfolios
  • The child’s interests, strengths, and challenges
  • Background experiences
  • Information from an IEP/IFSP, if applicable
  • And additional topics that will continue to support each child’s success

Conferences may be held at the same time each year (i.e., winter and spring), during transitions where children may move to a new program or classroom, as requested by families, or as needed.

During family conferences, be prepared to discuss specific goals and suggest strategies and activities to support learning at home. Ask questions and provide adequate time for input from families. By working together, the children in your care will learn and grow to their fullest potential.

Some questions to consider as you start planning conferences:

  • How are families made aware of your conference schedule? Do you have the schedule in your family handbook, a calendar or newsletter?
  • How do parents sign up for a conference?

There are a variety of ways to approach holding conferences with families. Do you have any tips for engaging families in conferences? If so, we’d love to hear them! Share them with us at


TIPS! A New Year, A Healthy Year

The start of a new year is the perfect opportunity to establish healthy eating habits in your program and to discuss healthy eating with the children in your care. Since children are with their providers for snacks and meals each day, you can make a difference that can have a positive effect for a lifetime.

Having a thorough nutrition policy and weekly menu can help teach children about healthy eating habits. Think about how you can promote a healthy diet:

  • How many fresh fruits and vegetables do you serve each week?
  • Do you limit the amount of fat, sugar, and salt served?
  • Do you monitor and supplement meals and snacks brought from home, if children bring in unhealthy food?

A great way to create healthy eating habits is to teach children how to make their own meals and snacks. Cooking and preparation is fun and engaging and is a great learning and developmental opportunity. Cooking activities allow you to choose healthy ingredients and can encompass multiple domains, including:

  • Physical development: Chopping, mixing, and spreading develop small muscle control.
  • Personal and social development: Following directions (a picture recipe) and problem-solving encourage independence and confidence. Children can also learn about other cultures through a variety of foods and recipes.
  • Language development: Recipes include new vocabulary for young learners, and the process of the activity develops spoken language skills.
  • Cognitive development: Cooking offers opportunities for problem-solving, predictions, and curiosity.

Here are a few books that discuss healthy food or contain recipes:

  • “End of the Rainbow Fruit Salad (Kitchen Club Kids),” by Marianne Welsh
  • “Garden Safari Vegetable Soup (Kitchen Club Kids),” by Marianne Welsh
  • “Eating the Alphabet,” by Lois Ehlert
  • “Stone Soup” (multiple editions)
  • “Cactus Soup,” by Eric A. Kimmel

From gathering the ingredients to creating delicious snacks and meals, healthy eating is not only good for the body, but good for young, developing minds.

How do you incorporate healthy eating in your program?  Let us know at

TIPS! Creating Meaningful Activities and Schedules

Here are some ways to create a daily schedule that gives children opportunities to learn as they play and participate in daily routines.

Provide whole group, small group, and individual learning experiences

Whole group activities provide interaction with all children in a program. Circle time, morning and afternoon exercise, family-style snacks and lunches, and fun transition times are all examples of how children can spend time learning together. Consider including a mix of calm group activities and more energetic ones.

Small group activities give children time to work with each other in a teacher-directed or child-directed environment. You can create cards for games like alphabet bingo, use traditional board games like Chutes and Ladders, build structures using props in the block area, or set up a more high-energy round of musical chairs.

Individual learning experiences address a child’s unique abilities and skills. Teachers can adjust their lesson plans for specific children. Teachers can also take the time during small group activities to provide these one-on-one learning opportunities with children.

Use information from an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

If applicable, the daily schedule and activities should support the goals referenced in a child’s IEP or IFSP. When these plans are requested and received from families, accommodations and modifications to routines, play, and learning activities can be made so that each child is able to participate and be successful.

Include adequate time for transitions

Providing a smooth flow from one activity to the next throughout the day is key. To help children adjust to new activities, consider giving them reminders that the current activity will be ending soon so they can prepare. Simple transitions such as a cleaning-up song, a line-up dance, or a “Word of the Day” chant are engaging and provide time for children to finish their activities and get ready for something new.
Provide literacy and reading opportunities

Programs and providers should include literacy and reading opportunities every day. Engaging children through story time and read-alouds, encouraging exploration of books in classroom libraries, and teaching emerging literacy skills through drawing and labeling drawings are all ways that will give children a good foundation in literacy.

Design domain-based activities

Domain-based activities contribute to early literacy skill development and promote school-readiness. A well-thought out activity often addresses more than one domain. For example, preparing for a craft project to create a tree using glue, twigs, and paper could address the following:

  • Physical: going outdoors and hopping around to trees and shrubs
  • Scientific: identifying leaves or tree types, asking why the leaves are turning brown, discussing what leaves do
  • Mathematical: counting the number of twigs and leaves gathered, then arranging them by color or size
  • Language and Literacy: asking how to spell “tree” and “leaf,” reading a poem about leaves
  • Art: encouraging children to arrange their leaves and twigs into trees on construction paper or poster board

These TIPS are designed to assist you with creating a purposeful and individualized schedule using domain-based activities. Consider these tips when developing your daily schedule to meet criteria in the Developmentally Appropriate Learning and Practice (DAP) content area of the Maryland EXCELS Standards.


TIPS! Developing Clear Rules and Expectations with Input from Children

Fall can bring new children to child care programs, making it a perfect time to allow children to help establish rules and expectations. When children are part of this process, they are more likely to follow the rules, understand expectations, and feel safe and comfortable in their environment.

Allowing children input when creating classroom expectations gives them a sense of ownership. They will have an, “I helped create that, so I can do that!” attitude. When children are part of the process, they may also show greater interest in helping others to follow guidelines and expectations. Creating rules in clear, positive terms fosters the child’s understanding of what is right, or positive behavior, rather than what is wrong, or disruptive behavior.

Rules and expectations can help set the tone for both adults and children alike, so it’s important for adults to serve as role models for the children and to also follow the rules. Be consistent with your program’s positive behavioral practices policy and reinforcing the rules. This will help the children predict consequences and outcomes, as well as encourage them to make positive behavioral choices.

Keep in mind that families may want to review your policies before enrolling their children. When a family enrolls their child, sharing your behavior policy helps parents understand how your program handles issues that may arise in a positive manner. Your positive behavioral policy should be clearly written in a way that families can understand. Does your policy describe how children are part of the process for developing the rules and expectations?


TIPS! Sharing Community Resources with Families

As a child care and early education provider, you are a small part of a larger community with a multitude of activities and resources available to you.  Using and sharing these community resources can help connect staff, families, and children to the wide array of services and opportunities available, as well as help them make connections to their culture and community.

Keeping a current list of community agencies that provide support, education, and services is a way to provide access to information and experiences that may benefit the families, children, and staff in your program.  Some of those resources you may want to have available include early intervention or special education resources, job training opportunities, pediatric services, medical offices and local family support organizations. Other resources might be educational or recreational such as libraries, playgrounds, museums, fire stations, etc.

How are you sharing community resources with your families?  Are you engaged on social media?  Do you have an email newsletter that you send out on a regular basis? What ways have you found are the best ones to communicate with families?

One easy way to start sharing resources with your families is to start an email newsletter, using free online services such as MailChimp.  You can use these services to send copy to your full email list all at once and they allow users to drag and drop text and images into a professional template without too much fuss.

These tools often times allow you to track how many readers opened your newsletter, how many people clicked on links you included, if any email addresses bounced, and if anyone unsubscribed.  This helpful reporting feedback will let you know what information is most interesting to your families.

Of course, you can always create a traditional newsletter or flyer to send home with children, if you prefer, or if you have families who may not have ready access to the internet.

If you have a website, you can also share links to resources there.  A calendar that includes local events and important dates is also a great way to remind families about what’s going on in the community.  Your website is also a place where you can share current and past newsletters and links to social media.

We’d love to know how you are communicating with your families!  Reach out to and tell us your story for a chance to be featured on the Maryland EXCELS social media pages!

These tips relate to the Administrative Policies and Practices content area in the Maryland EXCELS Standards.



TIPS! Technology Use and Screen-Time Policy

Five children gathered using electonic device.Technology in our current world is changing and evolving constantly.  Media technology is part of daily life for most of us, including for children.  This easy access means that adults must make decisions about the time children spend in front of screens.  This is especially important in the summer months, when the heat and additional free time can mean more screen time.

Many experts have concerns about the effects of too much screen time, particularly as it relates to children’s health.  For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that parents and caregivers minimize the amount of screen time for children.  The AAP’s recommendations include avoiding screen time for children younger than 18 months, and being highly selective with any programs for children between 18 and 24 months.

Meaningful interaction with technology and media can offer opportunities for children to explore worlds they might otherwise be unable to experience.  However, it is important to guide children on how to use technology and set limits.  A screen-time policy is necessary to show how and why the children in your program engage with technology and media devices and to limit the amount of screen time they are allowed.

A complete screen time policy should include the following:

  • Types of screens available to children (television, tablets, computers)
  • Purpose, availability, and limitations related to screen use
  • Age(s) of children exposed to screens
  • How screen time is directly related to children’s learning
  • How program staff facilitate learning and engage with children when screens are in use
  • Other options available to children when screens are in use.