Neck Of the Woods (NOW) is a Mad River Valley-based childcare program built by and for the community with a focus on children from infancy to twelve years old. NOW practices a strengths-based approach to learning where children are encouraged to pursue areas of interest that inspire passion and success. NOW also focuses on the child’s social-emotional development, with the understanding that a child’s early years are essential to establishing a positive, resilient base from which to view the world. NOW programming is centered around six values: empowerment, support, empathy, resilience, community, and environmental responsibility. These values create the foundation of NOW’s programming, and serve as guides to the play, education, and development of these youngest members of the Mad River Valley community.
NOW staff members, many of whom are parents themselves, have educational backgrounds focused on early childhood learning and clinical mental health. A healthy and supported staff is integral to providing positive, successful programming to the children in the Mad River Valley community. To that end, NOW strives to pay a livable wage to staff and supports continuing education to keep them engaged in and current in their mission.
Outdoor space is a key component to NOW’s programming, which may take the form of building a fire from scavenged tree branches, studying the river ecosystem, or running barefoot races through the grass. NOW’s eleven-acre campus next to the Mad River in Waitsfield offers essential outdoor recreational and educational space for all age groups.
Lastly, NOW exists to support all families in the Valley, regardless of their economic status. By partnering with local organizations and private citizens, NOW aims to provide essential childcare for all.
THE 6 FOUNDATIONAL PILLARS OF NOW’S PROGRAMMING
The bedrock of our values is the idea that Neck Of the Woods is an integral part of our community. This includes understanding our role as partners to parents, caregivers, families, schools, and other community organizations that help grow children and families. As such, we seek to partner with parents, schools and community organizations to best support children as they grow.
We recognize that individuals, families and children face challenges throughout life. As a connected support system for families, community and staff we are a resource to assist in navigating difficult situations. This may come in the form of skill-building and supports within NOW’s programming, parenting/community support groups and trainings, but this may also include connecting children, families and staff to the right help outside of our organization. NOW has a commitment to supporting the mental health and well-being of families, community and staff. This also includes providing staff with a livable wage, which is significantly above the area’s average salaries for child care providers. NOW recognizes that a liveable wage and affordable childcare are two very important factors that play a vital role in the health and well-being of our families, staff and children.
NOW harnesses growthful empowerment in children, families, community and staff through self discovery and skill-building techniques, the modeling of strong communication, engaging environments with opportunities to contribute strengths and exercise new skills. Included in our curriculum is successful conflict resolution techniques, empowering children to grow, learn, take risks, make mistakes, and master new learning opportunities.
The ability to recover and rebound from difficult or challenging experiences is a key component to becoming a successful adult. We offer a model for working through difficult moments, not only for the children we serve, but for staff and families as well. It is our hope that through practice and modeling both adults and children involved in our community will be able to foster resilience, and to find strength not only within themselves, but within a community that rallies together and supports one another.
Beyond all else, the most important skill we teach is empathy. Like any muscle, empathy is something that must be practiced and exercised to grow and define. Empathy is seen at NOW as a skill that, when developed, opens the door for healthy communication, positive relationships, growthful experiences and more opportunities throughout life.
We at Neck Of the Woods are lucky enough to have stumbled on an offer to own a beautiful campus along the Mad River, with 11 acres, solar panels, and a building built to eventually be net-zero. While we move in that direction, we believe that climate change must inform our decisions about infrastructure, programming, planning, and how we teach about the future. Children are aware, and we do them no service by hiding this change from them; rather, we work to give hope for the future by being proactive. Further, we ascribe to David Sobel’s theory of place-based education and E.O. Wilson’s biophilia, as described by Sobel, here:
“Nature programs should invite children to make mud pies, climb trees, catch frogs, paint their faces with charcoal, get their hands dirty and their feet wet. They should be allowed to go off the trail and have fun. Second, environmental educators need to focus way more on hands-on experience with children and way less on systematic knowledge. Or at least understand that systematic knowledge can emerge organically from lots of hands-on experience.” (https://orionmagazine.org/article/look-dont-touch1/)
Through hands-on experience in the natural world, children learn to love and care for the earth, and Sobel asserts, evidence shows they later come to fiercely protect what they love. By making the simple tasks of ecological stewardship routine and unemotional, we make protecting the environment part of our day and make it automatic. When we add in the love of nature & deep understanding of ecology developed through experience, children are equipped to tackle climate change in their own ways, and we get to re-experience the joy of discovery along the way, as they share their finds and adventures with all of us.