Eco-day care center introduces toddlers to 'green'


There are plenty of signs that FIO 360 isn't the typical day care center, but perhaps most telling are the blue slippers visitors wear to keep out chemicals they might track in on their shoes.

Then there's the custom-made organic mattresses free of formaldehyde and other chemicals, imported organic wool rugs, organic wooden toys and hormone-free meals made by an in-house chef with &

you guessed it &

organic foods.

The center's owners bill themselves as the nation's first "eco-early care" center, and although there's no way to know whether they merit the title, it's clear they have gone to great lengths in the name of going green.

The Atlanta center has no PVC plastic products, only natural and organic toys, floors that emit radiant heat and environmentally friendly cleaning products. Kids here open the day with an affirmation, take yoga lessons and recycling classes, eat meals like red pepper quiche and then round out the afternoon with a massage to help them sleep.

It seems like a bit much for a group of infants and toddlers, but founder Crissy Klaus says the day care center's offerings are more than perks.

"They're necessities," she says. "Can you be too safe when it comes to your children? Will they be OK if they don't eat organic food? I don't know. But why not offer it if you have the opportunity?"

Parents' growing concerns about the environment and their children's health mean a lot of day care centers are going green. The Oregon Environmental Council put together an Eco-Healthy Childcare program encouraging centers to take measures like buying only nontoxic art supplies, restricting aerosol sprays and chlorine bleach, and no wall-to-wall carpeting.

The program has so far endorsed more than 230 day care centers, most of them in Oregon.

"It's a growing trend among day care centers &

and what parents are asking for," said Sara Leverette, the program's director. "They're increasingly concerned with different environmental factors, especially with all the recent toy recalls. And childcare centers are making these changes."

Creative Environment Day Care of Macedon, N.Y., has courses that teach the center's 120 children about their role in the environment and their interaction with different ecosystems.

"We try to teach our children what their impact is on the environment and what they're impact is on the future," said Noelle Brown, the center's program director. "It's becoming a trend &

there's a few other day care centers I'm seeing that are trying to go green.

It's an expensive premise. Monthly costs at FIO 360 range between $1,529 for preschoolers and $1,708 for infants. Klaus says her business charges about $35 more a week than other high-end child care centers in Atlanta.

Klaus pitched the idea of a green day care center two years ago and began searching with co-owner Brett Radosta for vendors to import New Zealand lamb's wool for rugs and place durable floors from virgin rubber plants.

She named it FIO, after the Latin root word "to become."

The finished product cost $3.7 million and, ironically, rises in what was once a hazardous waste site on the ground of an old steel mill that's been recycled into a walkable mini-city. The development, called Atlantic Station, is a bustling center with office towers, multistory condo buildings, restaurants, retail and now a day care center.

A half-dozen families have signed up since the center opened a few weeks ago, and some of the parents are quick to say they're not rabid environmentalists. Alyson Fuchs, who enrolled her 6-month-old daughter, Sadie, says she was attracted by the building's cleanliness.

"I'm not a gung-ho environmentalist," said Fuchs. "But when we were looking at other day cares, we went into an infant room and it smelled like they had washed the room in bleach, and that made me sad."

Back in the center's lobby, the blue slippers come off and there's a gathering in the "imagination" playroom, complete with a bubbling fountain and a stage where children can perform.

Klaus sits at the foot of a miniature treehouse, doing a bit of imagining herself. Her business has plenty of growth to go &

there's room for 268 children &

and she's already working on plans for summer camps, for a kindergarten class, for a "family concierge" to coordinate doctor's appointments and other events.

"We've crafted the perfect child care center for me," she says with a smile.

She'll soon find out how many others share her green vision.


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