Deciding to enroll your young child in a day care center or other child care program isn't easy for most parents. Unfortunately, work and other obligations make it necessary for a large majority of parents. Choosing the right day care facility for your child is a multi-faceted process. Not only does the staff and teaching style need to live up to your expectations, it's necessary to consider the quality of the environment as well.
Indoor air pollution is a big problem in day care centers and schools, places where our children must spend a large portion of their day. Things like toys, carpet and furniture, surface cleaners, wall paint, and art supplies all present additional opportunities for your child to come into contact with health-threatening toxins.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of day care centers across the nation making the commitment to go greener. If you're willing to do a little research, and ask your potential child care provider some pointed questions before enrollment, you can ensure that your child's body stays as healthy as her mind.
1. START YOUR SEARCH WITH THE CHILDREN'S ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH NETWORK
Founded in 1992, CEHN is a national program dedicated to making indoor environments less hazardous for children across America. In 2010, the CEHN absorbed the Eco-Healthy Child Care program that was created in Oregon. Among other things, the program certifies providers who comply with at least 24 of its 30 best practice techniques. A map on their website makes it easy to search for certified eco-friendly child care facilities near you.
2. CHECK YOUR STATE REQUIREMENTS
Visit nrc.uchsc.edu/STATES/states.htm to find out the legal standards for child care facilities in your state.These requirements also include standards for food, child-to-adult ratio and construction. Be sure to ask questions about how your potential child care provider is meeting these requirements. Use the Oregon Environmental Council's Eco-Healthy Childcare checklist [PDF] or the Indiana Department of Environmental Management 5-Star application as guides.
3. SEEK ACCREDITATION FROM AN INDEPENDENT AGENCY
Look for or ask about accreditation by the nonprofit National Association for Family Child Care, the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation.These organizations are working to improve the child-care profession by creating new standards that include the health and safety of children.
WHAT IF I HAVE TO USE A CHILD CARE FACILITY THAT IS NOT CERTIFIED ECO-HEALTHY?
If your child is already enrolled in a daycare facility, or you have no other options, there are easy, inexpensive changes that can be made to improve indoor air quality and general safety. Suggesting these to the facility owner or manager, and offering to help implement them could be a step in the right direction:
Switch from chlorine-based to peroxide-based bleach, and use only biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning products for surfaces and upholstery.Eliminate toxic art supplies. See a list of non-toxic art materials approved by the Art & Creative Materials Institute here.Use only PVC and BPA-free plastic toys, dishes, and bottles.Eliminate the use of chemical-based pesticides inside and outside the building, and if possible, serve produce that is organic, or thoroughly washed.
Beth Buczynski is an environmental writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. Follow her on Twitter as @ecosphericblog