WINDHAM — Green Sprouts is a different kind of child care center.
Parents know it as soon as they see the signs telling them to take off their shoes and make sure their car engines aren't idling.
"We do want it to be like home," owner Deborah Markarian said.
But there's more to it. Green Sprouts also aims to be eco-healthy and eco-friendly, reducing a child's exposure to toxins or other environmental health hazards.
Green Sprouts, which opened in April, is one of more than 700 child-care centers throughout the country recognized as eco-healthy by Eco Healthy Child Care. It is the only New Hampshire child-care center currently recognized with the designation on the group's website.
The business had to comply with 24 of 30 standards on a checklist. Green Sprouts did better, meeting 26 of those standards.
"We're fragrance free, because children might have allergies," Markarian said. "We use real wood. We don't use mercury thermometers. We recycle."
There are paper towels in the bathroom, but children use cloth napkins at lunch.
"We do welcome cloth diapers," Markarian said.
Those are better for the environment than disposable diapers, she said. But Markarian also said they make sense for families, too, because they are more affordable.
There is no wall-to-wall carpeting and very limited use of area rugs. Art materials are non-toxic.
"We're very conscious of the materials we use," Markarian said.
Green Sprouts uses as much natural lighting as possible.
The outside play area is natural. There is grass, no pavement. There is a garden, which the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension helped Green Sprouts get started.
Lorrie O'Connor, UNH Cooperative Extension's school gardens coordinator for Rockingham County, said this may be the only child-care center in the county to have established one.
O'Connor expects there will be more interest in eco-healthy and eco-friendly practices by child care centers in the future.
"The whole gardening and healthy eating [movement] is starting to be done through schools now," O'Connor said.
The eco-healthy practices of Green Sprouts were important to parent Jill Bedard, who brought her daughter, Georgia, there.
"We are using cloth diapers, so that was a big thing for me," Bedard said. "I love the garden. The place is not crazy with toys."
Signs direct people to remove their shoes and turn off their car engines. Some parents don't know what to think the first time they see them, Markarian said.
"They are kind of puzzled," she said.
But then she tells them about the eco-healthy philosophy of the center.
"Then they think it's a great idea," Markarian said.
At Green Sprouts it is all about trying to keep kids healthy and environmentally aware.
"That's the goal," Markarian said, "that the kids will be healthier and we are teaching them about the environment."
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