When it comes to Stony Brook Child Care Services Inc. (SBCCSI), the quality of care has kept pace with the number of children and staff at its facility. Since the building was erected on its current site on South Drive, enrollment has grown from 90 to 160 children and the number of permanent staff has also increased, from 25 to 38.
While licensed by New York State through the Office of Child and Family Services, SBCCSI voluntarily went through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation process, and has maintained that status since 1991. That puts SBCCSI among the elite 8 percent of state-accredited childcare centers in New York and the nation.
Accreditation includes an on-site study of the program by professional assessors and a final review by a panel of commissioners who are experts in the field of early childhood education. The last SBCCSI accreditation renewal was done in September 2010, and the next on-site visit will be before October 2015. The facility also is subject to unannounced site visits at any time.
Being “elite,” however, is not just a numbers game but a reflection of a multipronged commitment to the development of the whole child — physically, emotionally, socially and academically, according to SBCCSI Executive Director Mary Cain.
That commitment involves following a ten-standard guideline that include relationships, curriculum, teaching, assessment of child progress, health, teachers, families, community relationships, physical environment and leadership and management.
Cain says that teaching infants, toddlers and preschoolers requires a different skill set than teaching kindergarteners and older children, and SBCCSI’s teaching staff is trained specifically to teach the youngest children. In fact, four of the center’s staff are faculty in Stony Brook’s Department of Psychology. The teachers also serve as mentors to undergraduates aspiring to work with young children and/or families in education, healthcare or social work.
Continuity is a cornerstone of the curriculum. “The youngest children stay with their teachers until they are about 3 years old and eligible to move to preschool,” Cain says. “Once they move into a preschool group, they stay with those teachers until they leave to go to kindergarten.”
Alissa Bell, a doctoral candidate in psychology, says, “Last year I got excellent feedback from my son’s [kindergarten]teacher at school conferences and on his report cards. At our first conference, his teacher told me that he was among the best prepared students in the class, and she asked where he went to preschool. When I told her that he went to SBCCSI, she said she wasn’t surprised.”
SBCCSI’s nutrition policy creates an environment in which foods and meals are part of the curriculum. “We talk about the foods we eat, how they help us grow, what we like and dislike,” says Cain. The staff models and promotes healthful habits and serves fruits and vegetables as morning and afternoon snacks.
Based on the notion that children learn best when they are engaged and interested, especially when they are at play, SBCCSI’s curriculum is flexible and organic rather than static and prescribed. Play may incorporate many aspects: large motor or fine motor skills, small group or large group, as well as dramatic play, art exploration, storytelling, sorting, classifying, reading, writing, solving puzzles, building and imagining.
Although a typical day at SBCCSI revolves around routines such as arrival, snacks and meals, outdoor play, meeting time, naps and departures, it also contains a good deal of improvisation epitomized by teachable moments.
“SBCCSI has many benefits a parent might not find elsewhere,” says Professor Erez Zadok, Department of Computer Science, whose daughter attends the child care center. “They teach about tolerance and acceptance, multiple cultures, songs and words in several languages, proper social interactions and more.”
Because young children cannot understand conflict resolution without help and modeling, SBCCSI teachers help the children identify problems, understand and own them, and come up with their own workable solutions.
The building in which the child care center is housed was designed with input from teachers and program administrators to reflect the needs of young children. Each of the eight classrooms is a suite of spaces, (with cribs and/or cots for naps, kitchenettes and dining spaces, children’s bathrooms and work and play areas). Each of the classrooms, which include four infant toddler rooms and four pre-school rooms, has access to its own backyard playground where science exploration, gardening, nature investigation, bike riding and water play take place.
There also is a larger community playground with swings, a sensory garden (which has special features such as scented plants, water features and music), a community vegetable garden and outdoor music garden complete with marimba, stone-a-phone, kettledrum, glockenspiel and bongos. There are walking and trike-riding paths as well.
Tuition fees are based on income for Stony Brook University eligible families and SBCCSI offers a sliding scale to support those working families and students.
The center, located on South Drive across the street from the South P-Lot, is housed in a 19,500-square foot facility. With the 38 permanent staff members and up to an additional 50 SBU students working as support staff a few hours every week, SBCCSI represents one of the largest of SUNY’s child care services.
For more information on the Center visit www.stonybrook.edu/childcare.