Introduction to First Environments



1.0 Introduction to First Environments

1.1 Purpose

The purpose of the First Environments Early Learning Center (referenced throughout this document by name, as “FEELC”, or as the “Center”) is to support First Environments’ families, and to provide quality programming. To accomplish these ends the Center provides a safe, consistent, and enriched environment where developmentally appropriate activities encourage exploration and “hands on” learning.

1.2 Philosophy

First Environments Early Learning Center strives to provide children with a caring, safe, and secure environment that utilizes a child centered curriculum. This curriculum is based on the emotional, physical, social, and cognitive needs of the individual child. The developmental needs of the child are used to determine appropriate activities carried out with that child. Children grow and develop at different rates, so this approach offers them the opportunity to explore each area of development at their own pace.

Center staff members create an atmosphere of support and affection as well as providing the materials, equipment, and experience required to optimize the experiences of each child. They also serve as examples to the children, since children learn as much by observing others as they do by direct instruction. The teaching staff members act as facilitators rather than directors of activities.

The environment is carefully planned based on an assessment of each child’s skills. Planning is most obvious by the presence of “interest centers” in every classroom. These centers include art, dramatic play, manipulative or small motor skills, gross motor play or blocks, sand, water, books, listening, etc. Teachers make available a wide variety of activities in each “interest center.” Children are encouraged to explore all interest centers. Teachers provide an external structure for the day and provide the children time to work in the centers. Their exploration of the environment is usually self-initiated. Because of the variety of materials, children can learn several different skills in each center. Creativity is enhanced by the open-endedness of the learning materials. A sense of responsibility and autonomy is also promoted by allowing children to choose their own activities.

We believe developmentally appropriate child-centered curriculum is:

  • Play is the child’s way of working and learning.

  • Children’s play becomes their work as they discover new materials in the


  • Learning is what children do; it is not something that is done to them.

  • The classroom environment will be designed to encourage self-learning with guided practice from the teacher.

  • Children grow and develop at unique, individual rates that are often unrelated to their ages.

  • Classroom activities should support this developmental approach for each child.

  • Every child has the right to feel good about himself/herself.

  • Enhancing of the child’s positive self-concept will be the focus of many classroom activities.

  • Children’s natural curiosity and eagerness to learn are enhanced if children are free to follow their natural interests.

  • A discovery approach to learning will be incorporated in the classroom to encourage and develop children’s curiosity.

  • Children learn from interactions with other people.

  • The environment will be designed to encourage children to observe other children working, work with other children, and work individually.

  • Children need a variety of opportunities in order to encourage creativity.

  • The classroom will contain interest centers thereby encouraging simultaneously occurring learning activities. In this way, each child has an opportunity to work in a variety of centers using a variety of materials.

1.3 Goals and Curriculum

1.3.1 Goals

The goals established by the Center are:

  1. To provide a safe, intimate, consistent and enriched environment where developmentally appropriate activities encourage exploration and “hands on” learning experiences. Staff will supervise infants, toddlers, and preschool by sight and sound at all times.

  2. To enhance the sense of dignity and self-worth within the child and his/her family.

  3. To encourage spontaneity,curiosity and self-discipline.

  4. To enhance the child’s mental processes by building confidence and self-esteem.

  5. A rich, innovative curriculum to stimulate children’s intellectual, emotional, creative, and physical development.

  6. To enhance patterns and expectations of success for the individual child.

  7. To provide consistently high quality care by continuously evaluating Center operations.

  8. To maintain the lowest possible staff to child ratios.

  9. To constantly encourage parent visitation,input, and participation.

First Environments Early Learning Center is a home away from home, in the true sense of the phrase. What we know is that the most important part of a young child’s life is to feel safe, loved, and nurtured in an environment that meets his/her individual needs. In order to do this, FEELC sets the stage for families to bond with their teachers and feel comfortable sharing daily information about both their child(ren) and family. There are many strategies that come into place in effectively creating a home for staff, children, and families. One of the most important is to retain professionals who are passionate and dedicated to the mission of FEELC. Our school serves a diverse population with families of many nationalities and cultural backgrounds. FEELC has programs in place to support language barriers and invite families to share their stories with us. FEELC celebrates a wide range of holidays where children and their families embrace the diversity of our community.

The curriculum is determined by the needs of the individual child and the developmental goals of that child. Children are naturally curious and teachers are inspired by each child’s curiosities; this is where activities and projects are drawn from. Our curriculum is immersed in the arts and nature. We offer a wide range of arts programs with specialists in areas that include music, theater, puppetry, and onsite studio artists who work in various mediums. FEELC children spend a great deal of time outside exploring, gardening, and observing the seasons. With the help of our onsite master gardener, children grow approximately 700 pounds of food each year and feast on a variety of greens, beets, carrots, asparagus, many colors of potatoes, squash, and their all-time favorite, cherry tomatoes. Eating healthy and staying active is a huge part of our curriculum. We have an onsite science teacher who works closely with all of our classrooms bringing children outside to enjoy the fruits of each season and nature inside for children to explore, discover, and enjoy. These enrichment programs, guided by our staff, create inspirational experiences through which children develop their cognitive, social, physical and emotional abilities to their fullest.

First Environments Early Learning Center recognizes the importance that the environment has on our community and that relationships are the foundation for giving each child the opportunity to reach his/her potential. Our school is surrounded by beautiful gardens with pathways leading from garden to garden, playground-to-playground and even woods to a lake. Teachers, children and their families often explore the campus together and the variety of wildlife that inhabits our grounds. Through these adventures we all build loving relationships with each other. The importance of this environment is directly connected to the development of the whole child.

A school day typically includes a rich combination of indoor and outdoor activities. These activities include:
Art, sand and water play, science, language and literature, math, music and movement, dramatic play, block building, large motor play, and self–help and care activities, including lunch, snacks, and nap. Children spend time in both group and individual activities.

1.3.2 Curriculum

FEELC provides a blended emergent curriculum with each approach scaffolding off one another. FEELC’s curriculum builds upon the interest of the children. Teachers work together to formulate hypotheses about the direction of the projects and themes, collect the materials needed, and possible parent and/or community support and involvement.

Individualized – lesson plans are developed for each child based on individual needs and goals.

Theme Based –A theme is an idea or topic that a teacher and children can explore together. Teachers can integrate literacy, social studies, math, music and art. In younger classrooms the teacher may determine the content and as the children get older the content will be more child initiated and learning experiences integrated over a broad topic. Teacher directed inquiry with the teacher directing in-depth research and exploration by children.

Project Based – In depth investigations that may be child or teacher initiated. Research is focused on finding answers to the child’s questions and the direction follows the child’s interest. Specific topics are explored with the idea of finding out more through exploration rather than to have answers provided by the teacher.

FEELC curriculum is guided by each child’s individual needs and goals. We loosely group our children into two developmental age groups (Infants-Toddler and Preschool) with curriculum that meet the needs of the child. Infants-Toddlers

Our infant/toddler curriculum emphasizes care-giving routines and building relationships. Teachers use the guiding principles set forth in the North Carolina Foundations for Early Learning and Development that recognize the 5 domains in development and learning: Preschool

Preschool curriculum encourages children to think and reflect through investigations. Children’s inquires spark projects leading children to investigate how things work and why, and to explore the world around them looking closely and collaborating together. Some projects might last a month others carry on for several months. Some projects are completely child initiated, some teacher initiated, and others are a combination of both. Teachers use the guiding principles set forth in the North Carolina Foundations for Early Learning and Development recognizing the 5 domains in development and learning: Curriculum Resources

First Environments strives for innovation and keeps current with research in early childhood education. Our curriculum goals are aligned with the North Carolina Foundations for Early Learning and Development. Assessments

Children’s development and interests vary. In order for our staff to keep track of each child’s development and individual needs, FEELC uses the following assessments tools both formal and informal. The formal assessments are:

  • Infants to 3 years - Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ – 3) and Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social-Emotional
  • 3 to 5 years –Creative Curriculum Developmental Continuum Assessment

Through play, teachers have the opportunity to observe and informally assess each child’s development every day. These methods may include anecdotal notes, checklists, and observations. These observations and assessments are tools teachers use to help each child reach their maximum potential. Please review the Assessment section 5.2.2 in the FEELC Parent Handbook for more detailed information regarding the assessment process for all our age groups.

1.4 General Operation

First Environments Early Learning Center strives to provide services for young children from the ages of six weeks through entering kindergarten. The center will provide a safe, secure, and stimulating child care environment within a developmentally centered curriculum. All of the developmental areas of early childhood will be incorporated into an integrated “play as work” organizational concept. These developmental areas will include fine and gross motor development, social skills, moral development, self-help skills, cognitive skills, and pre- academic skills. No one-skill area will be emphasized over any other.

As part of the services of the Center, children will receive nutritious meals and snacks.

Parent involvement will be an ongoing part of the center’s activities. It is a fundamental concept in early childhood education that parents are a child’s most important teachers. The staff works hard to create strong relationships between the Center and home. It is our hope that our school will become an extension of your family.

1.4.1 Security/Access

The center is located on the federal campus of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To enter the campus, guests must pass through manned security gates at the front or rear of the campus. The front gates are accessible at all hours but the rear gates are closed at 7 pm to incoming traffic and may be closed at times of heightened national security or severe weather.

Our building has a state of the art security system. Each parent will be given a numeric code to enter the building. Be sure to enter or exit the building through the main entrance as you will be required to sign your child both in and out each day. If someone else is going to pick up your child, you must contact us in advance. No child will be permitted to leave with an adult whom is not their parent without prior written permission.

Children may not be dropped off or picked up from an outside entrance or over the fence. Please let your child’s caregiver know when you are leaving with your child. It is important that we know where the children are at all times.

1.4.2 Staff

The quality of any day care center is a direct reflection of its staff. First Environments Early Learning Center recognizes its employees as the center’s most valuable component. The FEELC personnel policies reflect the respect felt for staff as professionals and provide a basis for understanding and meeting the needs of both the Center and the families. For this reason, we are committed to providing a working environment that exemplifies cooperation and support.

Our teachers meet and at times exceed the requirements set by the State of North Carolina for qualification and annual training. All staff members are required to obtain certification in CPR and First Aid. The cost of training is paid for by the Center.

Prior to hiring, each employee must have a criminal record check. FEELC only accepts teachers with a commitment to parents and children. In order to optimize your child’s growth and development, we hire teachers who are interested in providing quality care and stimulating environments.

1.5 Corporate Organization

First Environments Parents’ Organization is a nonprofit child care facility located in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. FEELC is sponsored and serves the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and their contractors. FEELC is licensed by the State of North and serves children ranging in age from six weeks to six years. The Center abides by all relevant State rules and procedures.

The 1985 North Carolina Legislation on Child Care and the Child Abuse Reporting Act are on file in the Director’s Office. These documents are available to parents to view upon request.

The daily operation and management of the Center is the responsibility of the Director, while overall direction is the responsibility of the First Environments Parents’ Organization Board of Directors. There are five members on the Board of Directors and annual elections alternate between two and three new members.

Members of the Corporation include all parents of children enrolled in the center. Parents are encouraged to serve on the Board of Directors and/or Committees (See section 5.0 Parental Involvement). 

Last updated: 1/26/2017