Maryland EXCELS E-News December 2016
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December 2016
In the Spotlight
Running Brook Nursery School
Director: JoAnn Smetak
“It’s the best thing we’ve ever done!” exclaims Jo Ann Smetak, director of Running Brook Children’s Nursery in Howard County. She is referring to the new outdoor mud kitchen: a sensory play area within the school’s playground that she, her staff, and parents envisioned and built together. In the mud kitchen, the children can explore and create using a variety of kitchen utensils and materials. Large and small pots and pans, spoons, sand, piles of stones, gravel, collections of twigs, left-over glitter, a bag of flour, a digging area, a sand box and a couple of water tables provide the ingredients. The children provide the imagination; and by mixing, chatting and planning together, they create their own learning experiences. 

boy and girls playing with mudAs a co-op nursery school in Howard County, Running Brook parents understand the significance of participation in Maryland EXCELS and Jo Ann’s focus on meeting high standards. When Jo Ann asked parents to help create the mud kitchen, they responded by donating old pots, pans, and utensils and by setting up the area. From its first day in operation, parents could see how involved and self-directed the children were, and how much they enjoyed the kitchen. “The children are creating, communicating, observing and testing theories, and learning vocabulary. They are experiencing community spirit by serving each other mud cakes and mud drinks, and their focus on their work is incredible,” says Jo Ann.  
kids playing with mudJo Ann was inspired to create this special sensory area by well-known early childhood play advocate, Bev Bos, and the developmental psychologist, Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn. She also credits the teacher education programs at Irvine Nature Center in Pikesville and the Robinson Nature Center in Columbia. They helped her to realize her mud garden vision thus providing valuable play experiences for the children in her program.
Training Opportunities 
 Maryland EXCELS Work Group and Training Schedule

Are you interested in attending a Maryland EXCELS approved Core of Knowledge Training? Would you like the opportunity to work directly with a Quality Assurance Specialist on developing, revising, and submitting documentation to publish or reach a higher level in Maryland EXCELS? Consider attending a Maryland EXCELS Workgroup or Training.
What's New
Check out our New Look!
Maryland EXCELS revealed its brand-new look for the website on Wednesday, December 7. The updated site includes more information for families and easy to find resources for participants and programs. Check out our new site!

Kaplan $2,500 Shopping Spree!

Maryland EXCELS is happy to announce a collaboration with Kaplan Early Learning Company to provide a $2,500 shopping spree to two winners, one Family Child Care Provider and one Child Care Center. The winners will work with their Quality Assurance Specialists and Kaplan representative to select materials to increase their program’s quality. 

Any program that is published and participating on the date of the drawing is eligible. There is no need to enter. The program must have a current published rating at the time of the drawing. Previous winners are not eligible for subsequent drawings. The winner will be notified by phone and email.

For more information about special Kaplan offers available to all Maryland EXCELS participants, visit

December Happenings!
Build a Snowman

It may not be snowing outside, but here at Maryland EXCELS, it’s a winter wonderland as we celebrate the holidays and put everyone in the quality spirit with the Build Your Own Snowman game! Choose from a variety of snowman parts and scenes to see if you can build a high-quality snowman (and see what happens when you don’t!). Share this link with your friends and family in search of care as we continue to spread the word about high quality child care and early education. After all, snowmen know that quality matters, shouldn’t you? Choose Maryland EXCELS participating programs! Click here to build your snowman.

Animal Tracks
Encourage children to find out which animals have been roaming around the neighborhood by hunting for animal tracks together. Take a walk after a rain or snowstorm and search for animal footprints in the snow or mud. When tracks are seen, let the children draw a picture of them and think about what kind of animal might have made them. Children may want to consider question such as: What are the size of the tracks? Would they belong to a big animal or a small animal? Which animals live in these surroundings? Follow the tracks, and ask what the animal might have been doing. For example, what might tracks leading to a puddle mean? Label the drawings with the names of the animals the children think made the tracks.  Later, research tracks in library books or online at:
Celebrating December Holidays
Which holiday(s), if any, do your families and staff celebrate? If the staff and/or children in your program are culturally diverse, this could mean you will be learning about a number of different holidays. In a more culturally homogeneous setting, it could mean finding out about the variety of ways families celebrate the same holiday.

How do you help children appreciate the various ways families celebrate? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #MarylandEXCELScelebrate
New Resources!
Publishing and Republishing a Maryland EXCELS Quality Rating

Do you want to know how to achieve and publish a Maryland EXCELS Quality Rating?  Is it time to republish your current Maryland EXCELS Quality Rating? Check out these resources:  These informative videos will answer questions you may have and give step-by-step instructions on how to achieve, publish and republish a Maryland EXCELS Quality Rating. Your Program Coordinator, MSDE Quality Assurance Specialists and Child Care Resource Center Technical Assistance Specialists are also available to assist you.