Main Street Child Development Center: Educating & Enriching Children to Succeed in School & Beyond
“We’re really proud of the sense of community and family support we have here. We have lots of families whose children are second generation Main Street students. We celebrate our diversity striving to see to the health and development – the cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development – of each child.”
For nearly 50 years, Main Street Child Development Center has been providing high-quality, comprehensive, and affordable early childhood education programs and support services to 150 children every year, predominantly from low-income families. As one of only two programs in Northern Virginia that has received the highest Quality rating from the state of Virginia, Main Street ensures that the preschool and elementary school children they serve are inspired to learn and prepared for success.
One new way they’re empowering children is through their Discovery Room, recently constructed thanks to grants from the PNC Foundation and KMZ Foundation. Despite challenges with shipping delays and renovating their building during the pandemic, Main Street aims to publicly launch the room to families this summer to allow parents and children to explore the space and learn about tools that they can also use at home.
“(It’s important) to see the different materials that kids can have fun and learn with, to understand that this is part of the healthy development of a child,” says Carol Lieske, Executive Director. “I’ve been at Main Street for nearly 10 years and I always wished there was a room we could make available to our students and teachers that is a different environment, (so that) if a child is having big feelings they can have calm lighting, calm music, and sensory equipment that can calm their stimulation. Or, if they need to be stimulated, they can go there to exercise and get their energy out.”
This emphasis on children’s wellbeing has guided every step of Main Street’s approach to developing the room. Working with Skills on the Hill Occupational Therapy, they’ve created a play area that includes equipment for all moods and needs, from a trampoline to rocking chairs to a light cube that strobes different colors. “We wanted to make it fun,” Carol adds. “The occupational therapist helped us figure out… (how to make it) really fun and purposeful for all students’ needs.”
Walking into this room, it’s immediately obvious how much Main Street has invested in fun and play for the children they serve. On one wall, they have a smart board that allows them to project calming images and flowing colors. Against another wall, you can sit in a canoe with weighted vests and feel like it envelopes you. This room is a loving reminder that movement and sensory stimulation are critical for children’s – and, frankly, everyone’s – emotional health.
“Even our teachers say, “Can we go in there and relax and lay down and play and have somebody roll me in the barrel?”” Carol shares, laughing. “It’s a place for kids who have big feelings and who don’t quite know how to cope with them or express them. This (room) can give them the freedom to do that.”
Spaces like these are especially helpful when children, families, and teachers alike have to grapple with painful problems, many of which the pandemic has only served to amplify. As Carol states, “We can’t expect children to learn if they’re fearful or hungry, if they don’t know who’s picking them up, or if they didn’t have a home to sleep in last night.” Main Street works to provide those services and resources to meet their basic needs while also focusing on their social-emotional health and a preparation for a lifetime of learning.
Beyond the Discovery Room, they connect families to other community resources like food pantries and ESL classes, as well as work with two on-site mental health specialists to assist children and their families. And at the core of their programming, Main Street ensures that each classroom has a 6:1 student-teacher ratio to increase children’s learning opportunities and enhance relationships.
“People may or may not realize how big and important these relationships with the families and children are,” Carol highlights. “My energy comes from being with the children and families, and feeling like we’re developing strong, trusting relationships with them so we can work together to help children explore and discover and dream, and go to school confident that they’re going to be successful in a learning environment.”
When you make a donation to Main Street, you help to fund projects such as this Discovery Room, as well as ensure that they can make their programs and services affordable and accessible to all. You can also learn more about their work on their website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Photos taken by Julie Cole