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Growing Up Green: Eco-Friendly Child Care Center Opens on Milwaukee's South Side

Thousands of kids spend their weekdays in childcare. On Milwaukee’s south side, a new child care center has opened with an eco-twist.Tiny Green Trees Children's Center has already earned two national eco-friendly child care endorsements.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families in Milwaukee County, there are 1,361 licensed or certified child care providers in Milwaukee County, alone. The national Eco-Healthy Child Care Program has only endorsed six centers in all of Wisconsin- Tiny Green Trees being one of them.

Some things about the child care center located in the Layton Boulevard West neighborhood are the same as any other child care centers. A worker soothing a six month old – determined not to settle down for a nap. Lead teacher Belinda Kenwood summoning toddlers to a child-sized table covered by a cotton tablecloth.

Then, you begin noticing differences.

It’s morning snack time and the kids will feast on biscuits made from scratch.

“Miss Katie is our cook. She prepares natural and organic meals and she makes it all here," Kenwood says. "Our kitchen is a busy place.”

The kids sip water out of baby food jars – they’ve been re-purposed. Looking around, you’d never peg this place as a former bar. A recycled gym floor gleams underfoot while soft natural light fills the air.

Director Lori Barian says it’s what the founders wanted. They’re parents of young children and live in the neighborhood.

“Right from the beginning, they knew they wanted to avoid harsh chemicals in terms of cleaners and have as much natural light as possible," Barian. "And, they used a lot of recycled materials in renovating the place."

Barian says the healthy backdrop is just the start.

“Children at this age are learning so much just through imitation – we’re composting, we’re recycling, we’re tending our environment with care, we’re gardening, we’re spending a lot of time outside,” Barian says.

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Three-year old Elah squeals with delight. Barian’s word signal outdoor play time.

Getting ready is no small feat – even though there aren’t many little ones here this morning. Teacher Belinda Kenwood believes in slowing down to allow the kids to pull on their boots and zip up their coats

“When a parent says my child knows how to count or they can do their ABCs when they’re this zero to six ago range, I’m like ok, but can they put on their own shoes, can they put on their own jacket, can they wait for their snack; do they have the patience to wait?,"  Kenwood says. "We move at the speed of a young child, which as Lori said is slow, very slow and gentle.”

As the children prepare to head outdoors, Stephanie Ladd cleans up the kitchen. She says she’s worked in the field for eight years, but until coming here, held a sense of unease.

“The sanitizer of choice is bleach. It’s cheap and it’s effective. And you know that it’s clean, but it’s a chemical. And we were using it to clean baby bottles and shelves and to clean floors and to clean dishes. You know, it can’t be good,” Ladd says.

Ladd says she started to decompress when she joined the Tiny Green Trees team.

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Mom Shana Mark with one of her two children enrolled at Tiny Green Trees.

Shana Maker drives her two kids here every day from Wauwatosa – a three year old and 18-month old.

“I feel truly blessed that I can send them someplace fulltime that I feel totally comfortable with," Maker says. "I don’t feel sad that they’re away from me 40 hours a week that I don’t feel comfortable with.”

It’s a pricey proposition; it costs Maker close to $120 a day.

“But for me it’s like I’m paying it forward," Maker says. "I’d rather invest in these years which are so foundational, then to save it up for when they’re 18, because then they’ll be more capable of doing it on their own if I invest now."

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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