Curtis Duppins, 5, makes scary claws that drip from his fingers at the Bartholomew day care center in Westminster -- oblivious to the fact that the center is now accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs.
Curtis knows that goop made from cornstarch and water "feels like glue" and makes excellent claws.
Kathryn Baldwin, 5, knows that what everyone does at the center is play and eat snacks and have lunch and take naps.
The school won accreditation in late March. The status means nothing to 3- to 6-year-olds, but it can help parents choose a good child care program, according to the academy.
The accrediting agency is a division of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), headquartered in Washington. It is the only national, professionally sponsored accreditation system for all types of schools and child care centers.
"Our accreditation represents high-quality programs," said Kim McClennahan, NAEYC accreditation coordinator.
But the association warns that accreditation is not meant to replace visits by parents to prospective child care sites.
The association began accrediting child care programs in 1985. Ms. McClennahan said reviewers look at curriculum, physical environment, group sizes and ratios, nutrition, whether parents have a chance to evaluate the program and interactions between children and staff members.
"Very important are interactions between the staff and children. Are they warm? Are they appropriate?" Ms. McClennahan said.
The Bartholomew center is housed in a Green Street building owned by St. Paul's United Church of Christ. It was the first of four units operated by Carroll Child Care Centers Inc. to be accredited.
The center at Grace United Church of Christ in Taneytown won accreditation early this month, reported Joyce Wendl, executive director of Carroll Child Care Centers.
A center for children of county government employees on Greenwood Avenue is awaiting a decision, and a center at the Westminster Church of the Brethren is putting together an application.
Tuition fees are based on a sliding scale. Ms. Wendl said that charges are based on family income, number of children and other circumstances such as high medical bills.
A family with annual income of $20,000 and two children would pay $58 a week for each child. The centers accept children whose day care is paid by the Department of Social Services so their mothers can work.
The child care program is not religion-based, said Grace Baldwin, Bartholomew center director. It started 23 years ago when Emma Bartholomew, wife of the then-minister at St. Paul's, saw a need for child care in the community.
"The purpose was to help single parents have quality care so they could work," Mrs. Baldwin said.
Mrs. Baldwin was on the planning committee for the center and saw it open with three children and expand rapidly.
The center is now licensed for 38 youngsters ages 3 to 6. The center is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and serves breakfast, morning and afternoon snacks, and lunch.
The Bartholomew center staff started the accreditation process by evaluating the program and concluding that it qualified, Mrs. Baldwin said.
She submitted assessments from parents and staff members. Then, NAEYC sent a validator who spent a 12-hour day checking the program and made recommendations to a review commission.
The staff refers parents of younger children to the center at the Brethren Church. It's easier to plan activities for children close to the same age, Mrs. Baldwin explained.