Salvation Army child care center in Syracuse introduces STEM, ‘calm room’, and more

By Hugo Bravo

The Salvation Army’s Cab Horse Commons Child Care Center in Syracuse, N.Y. has new amenities that will give families and their children new ways to learn, relax, and grow.

“We’ve turned some unused offices in our building into an indoor mini-gym, a calm room, and even a room for STEM activities for toddlers and infants,” says Chandra Chandra Smith, director of early childhood education services at the Salvation Army in Syracuse. “These will serve as support services for children with early intervention needs.”

Smith says that about 30 percent of children at the day care are receiving some type of response to intervention (RTI), which identifies struggling students early on and gives support needed to thrive in school.

“The center’s ‘calm down room’ is for kids who may be having a difficult time in the classroom,” says Nina James, assistant director at Cab Horse Commons. “A staff member can take a child in the calm room, which has goldfish, bean bags to relax, and books that focus on your feelings. There, they can get one-on-one attention. Before we had the calm room, a child who needed that special attention had to sit in my office, and I had to find them something to do.”

“We were all just so on top of each other,” adds Smith.

The Child Care Center has also incorporated new STEM activities for children, such as tube connectors that can be built into tents and tunnels, and light-up boards where a child can make their own designs. One of the more popular toys is a high-tech carpet that interacts with its own app on a cell phone. When certain cards are scanned through the phone, pictures on the carpet move and come to life.

“Among teen education, STEM has been a focus in our city for a while. Now, we hope to give younger children a head start by introducing them to basic STEM concepts through hands-on, sensory based toys,” says Smith.

To decorate the new spaces, the art department from Bishop Ludden High School in Syracuse painted two large hanging murals, illustrating characters from various Dr. Seuss books.

“Before, we had Salvation Army pictures on the walls, but we needed something to make it look brighter and inviting when our families come to see us,” says James.

The murals from Bishop Ludden are more than beautiful decorations; Smith says that making that connection with the high school could open partnerships for future collaboration and introductions to the work of The Salvation Army.

“Next school year, we might work with Bishop Ludden again with more murals, volunteer opportunities, or even ask them to teach an art class especially for our kids,” says Smith.