Frequently Asked Questions

Do the children actually go outside in all weather? When is it too hot or too cold?
Yes! We constantly monitor the weather to know if we need to take shelter. With our small teacher-student ratios, we are able to take breaks inside to warm up or cool off as needed. Water breaks are frequently taken every day, throughout the entire year, to ensure proper hydration. We make exceptions, of course, for severe weather such as thunderstorms and dangerous wind chills.

How much time do the children actually spend outdoors?
Children are outdoors as much as possible. That ranges, depending on weather and project plans, between one and four hours during core school hours. We strive to have children outside at a minimum of one hour per day.

Why should we limit screen time at home?
ERS recommends that families limit screen time (tv, tablets, phones, video games, etc) at home, for a variety of reasons. For example, screen time tends to reduce the amount of time that would otherwise be spent interacting  with parents or siblings, reading or engaging in active, creative or imaginative play. Excessive, even moderate screen time can have deleterious effects on attention span.

What does “character-free” mean exactly? 
Teachers find that children who experience higher amounts of screen time can often get ‘stuck’ in character-based role play at school (e.g., playing Star Wars, Cinderella, Frozen) rather than engaging in collaborative and creative imaginative play with peers. We redirect children to create their own stories and play their own games by promoting ‘character-free’ play through open-ended materials they use and by encouraging plain clothes (without characters like Cinderella, etc) to help diminish the chances of getting ‘stuck’. This helps them be creative and resourceful, using their own imaginations  to fuel their play and to problem-solve challenges they encounter organically. Note: there is a distinction between mythical/storybook creatures/made-up superheroes and “characters” that are marketed for children based on tv shows, movies, or video games.  The former is allowed at school while the latter is redirected.

What’s your disciplinary approach? 
By respecting the image of the whole child, we practice positive-discipline. We work through challenges with children, empowering them by scaffolding and modeling the  language to express their feelings and work through their conflicts. Positive discipline involves giving positive choices, preemptive coaching, redirection, consistency and follow-through. Through modelling respecting one another, children are able to gain self-confidence, as well as social and emotional skills that will support them now and in the future.

How have ERS alumni fared when transitioning to kindergarten?
ERS alumni occasionally move on to non-traditional school settings, but the vast majority move on to traditional public or private schools. Most parents report that our program more than prepared their children to be creative problem solvers and lifelong learners because our approach kindled their curiosity and their confidence to trust themselves to pursue their interests. They also tend to be socially competent, with the skills they need to collaborate and cooperate with their peers. Some experience an initial “culture shock” as they adjust to the expectations of a more traditional classroom, but we have yet to encounter a family that says they would have traded the many benefits of their child’s nature-based early learning for that period of adjustment.

Do you apply sunscreen and bugspray? What if I want my child to use something different?
We do! We apply KINeSYS 30SPF and Buzz Away bug spray. They are free of parabens, PABA, preservatives, alcohol, oil, fragrance and DEET. If you prefer we use a different product on your child, just let us know.

Do you offer transportation for field trips?
ERS does not provide transportation. Parents are responsible for driving children to and from non-ERS locations. We welcome and encourage carpools and shared rides.

What if my child isn’t fully potty trained?
That’s okay— we fully support children who are still learning. For children who are, we request chlorine- and character-free pull-ups only. We use pull-ups to promote self-help skills and confidence.

How long do the children rest? What if my child doesn’t sleep?
All preschool children are required to lay down on their family-provided nap mats for a minimum of 30 minutes every day, per Virginia state licensing. Given that our children are very active, we have up to two hours available for napping. For those who do not sleep as long, we provide quiet activities for them to do individually or in small groups. Our Kindergarten and first grade summer campers will have 20-30 minutes to rest and explore independent, quiet, and relaxing activities to restore energy levels for the reminder of the day.

What if my child has food allergies or restrictions?
Having smaller child/teacher ratios, our teachers are able to work with families to provide detailed attention towards food allergies/restrictions so we can ensure safety for all ERS children. We welcome supplemental foods and beverages provided from home for those who have allergies or food restrictions. We also work closely with our food providers to ensure whole-food ingredients in all things we serve, as we do not promote foods that have ‘extra ingredients’ like fillers, sweeteners, and preservatives to name a few. Upon request, we can provide an ingredient list to families to ensure specific needs are met. For those who do not have allergies or restrictions, we prefer children to work towards positive relationships with food and not bring any supplements— even for those picky eaters. We like the idea of all of the children learning together and experiencing a bit of positive peer pressure to try new foods!

How is the school calendar created?
We typically start the school year the first Tuesday after Labor Day and follow Fairfax County Public Schools for our ending week, as well as holidays and breaks. Our teacher work days and parent teacher conference days may not always line up, but we give plenty of advance notice for planning.

How do I know what my child is working on at school every day? How can I be a part of the process and conversation?
Our teachers post daily journals on our password-protected site. These illustrate the group’s experiences, projects, processes, and adventures. Teachers are also taking pictures and videos to post on our password-protected Smugmug site. This makes learning visible for the children and helps their overall process of self reflection. We strongly recommend that children and parents review these daily to help keep the home-school connection strong. This also helps children to reflect upon and reinforce what they are learning.

How much are parents involved on school projects and events?
Our school depends on substantial, heartfelt family involvement to keep our school going. Parents are required to complete 30 work hours during the 10-month school year. We offer a range of opportunities to complete these hours through community workdays, administrative tasks, committee work, and other projects. We like to match tasks with parents who have the skills and their interests. We also feel that it is important for the children to see the community work, play, and create together.

What kind of training and credentialing does the staff have?
Our staff undergo a rigorous hiring process to ensure their dedication to meeting the developmental and emotional needs of children. As per our licensing requirements from the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Social Services for child day centers, our teachers receive at minimum 16 hours of continuing education credits per school year. We provide in-house training as well as outside courses on topics that are key to our school and programs. We cater our education courses toward what our staff needs to be better informed, inspired, and influenced on top of state required training in First Aid and CPR, MAT, Daily Health Observation, and mandated reporter training in recognizing and reporting suspected cases of abuse and neglect.

What about staff training in case of emergencies?
All staff members are certified in CPR/First aid as well as MAT (Medication Administration) so that we are able to provide emergency care and administer medications if needed.

What are the differences between summer camp and the school year?
Summer camp is an extension of our school year. Our staff, teacher-child ratios, view of the child, and program direction all stay closely the same. Enrollment runs week to week, morning snacks and lunches are brought from home, and our process with children is a bit more flexible so that we can meet the needs of changing groups of children. And, we have lots and lots of water play!

Who teaches summer camp programs?
Most of our staff is here year round! Our skilled, talented, and experienced teachers are here for summer camp working with the children in the same capacity that they do during the school year.