Provider Spotlight: Sarah’s House

Sarah’s House recently welcomed Maryland EXCELS to its child care center at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

Sarah’s House, which is part of a partnership between Catholic Charities, Anne Arundel County, and the U.S. Army, offers housing, child care, and other supportive services for families experiencing homelessness.

Toys organized in baskets on labeled shelvesMaryland EXCELS had the opportunity to tour the child care center, watch provider and child interactions, and speak with Program Manager Jana Boddy and staff. The center, a Maryland EXCELS Quality Rating 3, showed a clear dedication to providing a supportive and sensitive learning environment for the children in its care.

Ms. Boddy talked with Maryland EXCELS about her experience at the child care center.

Q: When did you know that this was exactly the kind of work you wanted to do?

A: For me, it wasn’t intentional. I found myself working in child care, and I never thought about leaving. I continued to move up and am proud that I’ve built the kind of program and reputation that attracts and retains wonderful staff.

Q: Is there one thing about your program that’s most near and dear to your heart?

Pots and pans hanging on a fence in an outdoor music centerA: Because our children sometimes transition out of our center within days of placement, we don’t have a strong focus on academics and measurable learning outcomes. Instead, we focus on making the most positive impact we can in a short period of time.

We pride ourselves on centering trauma-informed care and risky play here. We find that this combination of approaches supports children emotionally while also giving them freedom to try new things, fail, and learn to keep trying.

Q: What advice would you have for a new provider?

A: Connecting with resources and people in our community has been so helpful. We work with the University of Maryland Extension office to participate in their education initiatives, including an Edible ABC’s program that introduces our children to new fruits and vegetables.

We also have wonderful individuals who donate to our program and help us get materials we wouldn’t even have been able to find on our own.

Q: What role has Maryland EXCELS played for your program?

A: It’s given me a straightforward path to follow and a guide to improving my program. When I came in as a program manager, the center needed a major overhaul in every way–from building repairs and furniture replacements to recruiting highly trained and experienced staff. The support from Maryland EXCELS and my MSDE Quality Assurance Specialist, Thea Quible, has been a tremendous help.

Eco-Friendly Program Achievement

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.


Opening Doors to Inclusion

How do you recognize the various cultures and experiences of the children in your program?

Inclusion in child care and early education is an essential  topic. As you work to ensure inclusivity in your program, consider the  practical suggestions from Quality Assurance Specialist Petrea Hicks. Hicks has dedicated a significant amount of her career in early childhood to inclusivity and the importance of all children being represented equally in their programs and classrooms.

Hicks suggests providers help children see themselves positively by ensuring the books and materials in the learning environment are diverse and help to avoid or combat stereotypes. According to Hicks, fostering an environment reflective of a child’s culture and background will help that child make social-emotional gains from an early age.

Below are three additional  tips from Hicks on being more racially and culturally inclusive in your early childhood program.

  1. With the help of associated training, be educated and knowledgeable to ensure your program is being inclusive.
  2. Focus on a child’s strengths. Your expectations for a child fuel them, so be sure to focus on their strengths to build confidence.
  3. Recognize all children at all times. Always celebrate diversity, not just during months honoring history. For example, in addition to recognizing Black History month in February, ensure there are books and materials in your program regarding African American culture available throughout the year. Programs should seek books and materials highlighting  influential people in the community and stories about unique experiences specific to various audiences. Stories should also include diverse characters so children can see themselves in the books they read.

Maryland EXCELS: Helping Families Search for Quality Child Care

Families have a lot to consider when looking for the proper child care and early education program for their family. Cost, location, and availability are important factors—but quality is the most crucial factor.

Maryland EXCELS helps families choose quality child care and early education programs that meet their needs. By searching for a Maryland EXCELS quality-rated program, families are choosing from programs that emphasize achieving high standards and implementing practices that support children’s development and learning.

Families can easily search for programs in the Find a Program Directory on the Maryland EXCELS website. Search categories include location, quality rating, and other achievements. Qualifications for each quality rating are also viewable.

“Fundamentally, quality matters … licensing is a component of quality, but it’s not the only aspect,” said Christopher Swanson, Executive Director of the IDEALS Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, a partner in the development and operation of Maryland EXCELS.

As participants of Maryland EXCELS, child care centers, school-age child care programs, family child care homes, and public prekindergarten programs earn ratings on a progressive scale from 1 to 5. A quality rating of 1 indicates a program has met initial quality requirements. A rating of 5 signifies a program has demonstrated the highest quality rating.

With each level of quality, the program is meeting more stringent requirements in areas such as curriculum, teacher training and qualifications, degrees, and other staff development activities that make teachers better teachers, and family child care providers more adept at their jobs.

Families can naturally have anxiety about leaving their children under another person’s care and guidance. Therefore, it’s essential to seek a provider with the proper skills, qualifications, personality and environment to suit their children’s needs.

Interviewing programs is an excellent starting point. MSDE’s Division of Early Childhood provides guidance on how to start these conversations, and offers other valuable information to help families find the best fit.

Here are some additional questions families can ask to gain a clearer understanding of how a program or provider operates:

  • What curriculum do you follow?
  • How much time do the children spend working with the curriculum?
  • What are some examples of culturally-inspired activities you do with the children?
  • If a special education teacher, speech or occupational therapist works with your child, where in your house or center can this person conduct sessions with my child?
  • How are disagreements between children handled?
  • What do you do if a child is having a rough day or seems out of sorts?
  • What do you do if a child doesn’t want to participate in an activity?
  • What are your child care center or house rules?
  • How do you enforce the rules and what are the consequences for not following the rules?

The more a family knows, the more informed they will be.

Does your family need help with child care costs? You may be eligible for the Child Care Scholarship Program, which provides financial assistance to working families in Maryland. The Maryland Family Network’s LOCATE: Child Care Service enables families to find child care either via telephone or online.

Improving the Lives of Children Who Are At Risk

Research shows that children who experience safe, nurturing, and trusting relationships with the adults in their lives have a greater chance of success–emotionally, economically, and intellectually. These adults include caregivers and education providers for children who spend significant time in child care homes or centers.

In a recent presentation, Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child addressed the positive impact early child care and education providers can have on children who are at risk. For those children who experience increased stress, quality early childhood programs can make long-term differences. Additionally, according to The Impact of Early Adversity on Children’s Development, an article on the Harvard University Center website, having dependable and nurturing relationships with adults can “reverse the damaging effects of early life stress, with lifelong benefits for learning behavior and health.”

The Maryland State Department of Education supports this research by requiring child care programs that accept the Child Care Scholarship to participate in Maryland EXCELS. This requirement ensures that children have access to child care programs committed to continuous quality improvement. 

15 Nap Time Albums You’ll Enjoy

After a busy day of reading stories, completing activities and playing outside, it is time to put the children down for a nap. Naptime is the perfect time of day to take a breather. Whether you decide to use this time for cleaning, lesson planning, or to work on Maryland EXCELS, below is a list of some great albums to play in the background. The familiar tunes and soft melodies will help you to de-stress while lulling your little ones into relaxation.

  1. Lullaby Renditions, by Rockabye Baby! (Search for the Rockabye Baby! site for music by artists like U2, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, Maroon 5, Bob Marley, etc.)
  2. Arms of An Angel, by Instrumental Pop
  3. The Disney Songbook, by Jim Brickman
  4. Beatles: Guitar Instrumentals, by Peter Pupping and Fred Benedetti
  5. Good Day Sunshine: Acoustic Guitar Classics, by Peter Pupping and Fred Benedetti
  6. In the Lounge with Stevie Wonder, by Instrumental Inc
  7. Pop Hits for Ballet Class, Vol. 2, by Nate Fifield
  8. 100 Popular Hits – Instrumental Spanish Guitar, by Various Artists
  9. Great Country Hits Instrumental, by The London Fox Players
  10. Elton John: A Piano Tribute, by Boko Suzuki
  11. Instrumental Versions of Current Popular Songs: Just Give Me A Reason, by: The O’Neill Brothers Group
  12. The Very Best of Enya, by Enya
  13. Piano Tribute to Bruno Mars, by Piano Tribute Players
  14. Acoustic Tribute to One Direction, by Guitar Tribute Players
  15. Putumayo Kids Presents Instrumental Dreamland, by Various Artists

These albums can be found on your favorite streaming service.