Q: So far, 2011 has ushered in some rather unfortunate news: My mother is moving to Palm Desert, taking with her a most invaluable service: unlimited and enthusiastic (not to mention free) in-home day care and baby sitting service for her beloved grandson, Chester. Bummer.

Given that my husband and I work long, somewhat erratic hours, we’ve started the hunt for a reliable day care in our area that reflects something that we take seriously at home and hope to instill in our son: a sense of respect and stewardship for the planet. Although reputation and reasonable rates trump any green concerns, it’s still high up on our potential day care checklist. Any leads on how we can locate one? Is there a green day care certification system that I should be aware of?

 

Louise, Ojai, Calif.

 

Hey Louise,

Sorry to hear about your mother’s move out of town. I hope that her primary charge, your son, isn’t too devastated by the upheaval. Although I don’t have personal experience vetting potential locations to deposit my brood while I’m at work, from what I understand it can be an intimidating process filled with a myriad of considerations including sanitation, safety and a number of lice incidents. That’s fantastic that you’re adding sustainability to the list. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but the best general advice I can give is to settle on a day care that you, your husband and Chester feel absolutely comfortable with.

When making the rounds, it’s obviously important to ask a ton of questions. I wouldn’t shy away from inquiring about a potential day care’s green practices. Ten years ago, if you asked about organic snacks and phthalate-free toys, you may have received plenty of blank stares in return, but today it’s a different story. Just don’t expect to find a day care run by someone with the magical disciplinary skills of Nanny McPhee, the singing voice of Mary Poppins and the eco-conviction of Julia Butterfly Hill. If you do, I’m guessing it’s fully booked.

Thank heavens for the Oregon Environmental Council and its Eco-Healthy Child Care (EHCC) program — it’s as close to a green certification program for day care centers as it gets. EHCC provides child care providers, not just in Oregon, with a 30-step “Eco-Healthy” checklist (PDF) to complete before a facility is officially endorsed as being “Eco-Healthy.” Areas of focus on the checklist include pesticides and pest prevention, air quality, household chemicals, lead, mercury, furniture and carpets, art supplies, plastics and plastic toys, treated playground equipment, radon, and recycling and garbage storage.

I’d ask up front when visiting a potential child care provider if it participates in the EHCC program. If not, go through the checklist and inquire how, if at all, they are addressing particular areas of concern. There are 1,040 EHCC-endorsed providers serving nearly 50,000 children across the country, so you may have luck finding one in your neck of the woods.

In addition to EHCC endorsement, there are numerous day care centers that go above and beyond when it comes to looking after both the health of their charges and the health of the planet. A couple of notable ones are Chicago’s Little Green Tree House, a child care center that serves locally sourced snacks (there’s an organic veggie garden on the premises) in a building built to LEED for commercial interior standards; FIO360 in Atlanta, a state-of-the-art green facility with a unique “FIO Shoes Only” policy meant to keep harmful “street toxins” out of the facility (visitors must wear slippers or shoe covers while inside the building); and Our Beginning in Seattle, where a full-time chef prepares dietician-reviewed, certified organic meals for the tykes-in-residence on a daily basis. While none of these providers is in your ZIP code, it’s certainly encouraging to see what’s out there.

Well, Louise, best of luck on your search for a grandma replacement for young Chester. And be sure to check out the MNN’s Family blog helmed by Jenn Savedge — she’s written about the topic of green day care centers before.

— Matt

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