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A Special Brew: Coffee & Childcare

One of the longest studies on early childhood development is out with its latest findings.  Researchers followed two groups from infancy through adulthood and middle age, to gauge the impact of high-quality childcare.

But in many places, there’s not enough high-quality childcare available.  So one company created its own. 

Rose McCutchan and Haden Polseno-Hensley started Red Rooster Coffee in Floyd in 2010. And as the small business grew, so did their family and the families of their employees, most of whom also needed childcare. But southwestern Virginia is classified as an ‘underserved’ area, for high quality early childhood education. So, to keep the coffee flowing and business thriving, they came up with their own blend of childcare and coffee roasting.

As a parent, Red Rooster Coffee co-owner, Polseno-Hensley, knew that if employees couldn’t make it to work, because of unexpected childcare needs, it takes a toll on everyone.

So, “Red Rooster” meet “Little Hen.” That's the name of the on-site childcare at the coffee company, and for a very reasonable price.  “We charge $1 an hour per child, so it’s heavily subsidized by the coffee roasting business,” Polseno-Hensley says.

But while coffee can be counted on for consistent revenue stream, that childcare perk does skim some of the froth from Red Rooster’s balance sheet.  “We do like to have some community members in there to offset the cost. And not to mention that if there are availabilities, openings in the school, we look to fill them in any way that we can.”

Red Rooster outgrew its first location.  The new one includes a full-service coffee bar and lots of other goodies.

They roast fair trade, ethically sourced beans on site, which not only smells great, but also, helps pay for Montessori teacher, Ella Zander, to run the onsite child care.  Some children started here as early as six weeks old, and some are still here.

Zander says at this point, it’s a lot more playing than teaching.  “And I think that what we have ended up with here kind of has a little bit of the best of the Montessori approach, but in a much more sort of free-range way.”

With 15 or 16 kids at a variety of ages, and several helpers, the feel is more like a family than a classroom. Zander says that actually helps children learn to cooperate and take care of the younger ones. And there’s a name in the literature for it.  “Kids learn best when they have (classmates) a couple of years older than them and a couple of years younger than them. They get to be role models for the younger kids. They learn to be helpful with the younger kids, and then they, uh, they are much more likely to want to learn how to do something when they see a six-year-old doing it, as opposed to when I am telling them to do it.

Zander says this approach helps children to try new things, creating confidence that stays with them. She refers to Freudian psychiatrist Erik Erikson's stages of social and emotional development.

“This is one of the huge ones where it’s something that shapes the way they look at the world. And you can absolutely tell which kids have been here for a while, they are much more confident and outgoing and excited to join in when they have that foundation.

If employees are lucky enough to have affordable childcare plus the chance to see their kids during their workday, that sounds like a pretty good situation, but it’s extremely rare.  "In this country, and in many other countries there is not enough high enough quality ,to provide the kind of good beginnings that we want children to have,” says Virginia Tech professor Craig Ramey.

Ramey and his wife Sharon Landsman Ramey founded one of the longest longitudinal studies on early childhood education ever done.

They began the  "Abecedarian Project” in 1971, following children who are now in their thirties and forties through. The project has released several reports over the years, their latest came out this month.  And what they found is: The first five of a child’s life sets the stage for pretty much everything that comes later.

We’ll have more on that in our next report.

***Editor's Note: Red Rooster Coffee is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
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