Many parents joke that they wish their new baby came with an owner’s manual. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standardized, handy-dandy reference guide for making all of the right decisions as a parent. Most of us do our best to keep our heads above water—and dirty diapers, spit up, and temper tantrums—during those first formative years. In reality, all we want is for our children to grow up healthy and in a safe environment, and we compare notes with other parents to find the best baby food, the best diaper creams, and the best anything else that Junior puts on or into his or her body.
Robyn Scotland is a mother to three children under the age of 3, and she thinks about these issues like it’s her paid job—because now it is. After she had her first child, she had to return to work as a schoolteacher, and found it difficult to find a day-care facility that met all of her expectations, as well as one that didn’t have a yearlong wait list. So, she decided to open a place of her own. In 2010, she purchased a four-story building in Troy (75 Fourth St.) with her husband, Joseph, and began to actualize her dream: Eco Baby Daycare.
“It’s hard for a mom with her first child in day care five days a week for eight hours a day,” says Scotland. “It seems like there’s always a compromise to make on everything.” Eco Baby, which will take up the first floor and the back yard of the property, focuses on the core values that Scotland has formed as a teacher and a busy, environmentally conscious mom. “I feel like there’s always newer and newer research showing the effects of harmful ingredients,” says Scotland. “The first three years is so critical—everything they’re exposed to matters.”
It can be a bit daunting. Scotland is hoping to offer these services to families as educational tools, but also wants to remain flexible. “I want to work with families on what is important to them,” she says. “I’m not doing this to tell people what they should be doing, it’s just important to me.”
She is also trying to fill a void that she discovered when she went through the experience of trying to place her own child in day care. “We embrace cloth diapering, but we found a lot of places wouldn’t do it,” she says. “[Eco Baby] will have cloth diapering services and parents can also purchase NATY diapers. They are fully biodegradable.”
“We focus on whole child education—the social, emotional, and physical growth,” says Scotland. A good way to reach those goals, she says, is to start with good nutrition. “When I was working in high school, I was seeing kids struggle with obesity or who were malnourished,” she says. “It has a real impact on behavior and education.”
Scotland says that Eco Baby will provide breakfast, lunch, and two snacks that are fresh, locally sourced, and when possible, organic. She plans to buy food from Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany and from area farms, and Meadowbrook Farms will deliver milk in glass bottles weekly. “In an effort to reduce consumption of paper products, we will use cloth napkins at meals,” she adds. “They are made of organic cotton and were purchased from a small business owner on Etsy. We will also used hand towels instead of paper towels for drying hands.” There will also be a small fruit and vegetable garden outside.
Inside the 2,000-square-foot space, Scotland has waged a war on VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are emitted by or found in “paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.” They are also detected in household cleaning products, cosmetics, and carpets.
The list of health problems associated with VOCs is scary. The EPA’s website states that symptoms of exposure include: “eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.”
The paints that Scotland used for the decor are all VOC-free, and the floor is made of cork, a sustainable material. The day care will use green cleaners, and most of the furnishings are wooden. The rare plastic pieces, Scotland says, are made from “responsible plastic.” There will be no battery-operated toys, and the bedding in the cribs is made from bamboo. There will also be many plants inside, which reportedly have the ability to absorb VOCs from the air. In addition, Eco Baby will not use artificial air fresheners, nor will any employees wear artificial perfumes.
Scotland hopes to officially open by summer of 2013, and she’s finishing up some of the final details now. “I want this to be and have a family feel,” Scotland says, who will also live in the building with her own family. “We have responsibilities as parents and caregivers to make the safest environment for our kids. We can’t avoid everything, but it’s my responsibility in opening this type of business to create a safe and healthy place. First and foremost, it’s about the babies.”