March 2, 2018
Before her son Dean was born, Lisa McCourry, family child care provider in Maryland EXCELS, had never given any thought to eco-friendly practices.
Her son thrived for the first nine months of his life. Suddenly, after McCourry introduced food and formula, Dean had his first asthma attack.
Doctors found that McCourry’s son was severely allergic to a variety of foods. She changed Dean’s diet immediately, but was confused when his asthma seemed to worsen.
Following a doctor’s recommendation, she also made changes to the types of products she used in her home, including replacing bleach with non-toxic products.
“I grew up using [cleaning] chemicals that everybody else used. I didn’t know any better,” McCourry said.
This initial floor-to-ceiling cleaning of her home inspired a new way of life and child care philosophy for McCourry. She was amazed not only by the change in her son’s health and behaviors, but by the changes she saw in the other children in her care.
Today, her son is all grown up, but she has no intention of returning to her former cleaning products and practices.
Good Clean Fun
Based in Howard County, Ms. Lisa’s Eco Child Care is one of many programs participating in Maryland EXCELS that goes above and beyond in eco-friendly practices. McCourry, who has 30 years of experience as a child care provider, passes on the lessons she’s learned about eco-friendly living to the children in her care every day.
“Some of the kids will say, ‘Ms. Lisa, why don’t you have carpet on your floor?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, we have rugs, and Ms. Lisa cleans them,” she said. “I [describe] to them, ‘This is how we keep things clean, this is how we disinfect things.’”
McCourry also likes to incorporate the children into the daily routine, including helping to wash their own dishes after mealtime.
Even their snacks are eco-friendly: McCourry and the children grow their own vegetables together in her backyard. She wants to help the children understand better ways of eating, both nutritionally and environmentally.
This past summer, McCourry introduced her children to watermelon and bell peppers grown in their garden. “You can make eating vegetables fun,” she said. “You can put all the colors down–the red, the green, the orange, and the yellow. [Children] want to eat like that.”
Nature inspires many lessons for the children, McCourry said. She shared that she takes the children for a walk around her neighborhood every day as weather permits, and they learn about what they observe.
“The kids have to list everything they see,” she said. The children talk about falling leaves, garden snakes, birds, or their favorite topic – McCourry’s neighbor’s horses.
The fun doesn’t stop on rainy or snowy days. Children make and play with homemade clay, slime, and other toys, though their favorite activity is the wintertime “beach parties.” McCourry fills the large tub in her center’s bathroom for the children to put their feet in, and then spreads beach towels on the bathroom floor for a faux-tropical escape.
Reaching Beyond Her Home
Just as McCourry models eco-friendly practices for the children in her care, she also makes a point to educate their parents and other providers.
She doesn’t think leading an eco-friendly lifestyle is challenging, but does worry about how her parents feel about her tips.
“I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all,” McCourry said.
Still, she also knows she has a lot to share, and she once identified symptoms of lactose intolerance to the parents of one of the children in her care. Her solution is to send a monthly newsletter to parents that contains a health-related tip.
“It doesn’t have to be something big. It just helps them in a different way,” she said.
McCourry also leads many Train-the-Trainer workshops with the Children’s Environmental Health Network about the importance of eco-friendly child care practices. She said providers appreciate that her workshops focus on the providers themselves as much as the children in their care.
While her passion for eco-friendly living originally began with caring for her son’s health, over the years she’s seen firsthand what a difference this way of life can make for people of all ages.