Play-based learning makes McCandless child care center unusual

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:04 p.m.

A McCandless child care facility for infants, toddlers and school-aged children says its curriculum sets it apart from others.

Doodle Bugs Children's Centers — which recently opened its first Pennsylvania location in McCandless and plans at least five more area locations — focuses on playful learning, said Christina Fecio, director of education and training.

“We're different in the sense that we're 100 percent play-based,” Fecio said of the unique curriculum called Bravo. “We have a play-based curriculum. Kids are learning by doing.”

The facility can accommodate up to 220 children, from 6 weeks to 12 years old, who are divided into three age groups.

The play-based curriculum should not be confused with a free-for-all.

“It has a purpose,” Fecio said. “There's science, math — it's very purposeful play.”

Teachers give students individualized attention in programs that run all day, she said. “There's messy, fabulous stuff happening here at all times.”

Doodle Bugs pays attention to safety and comfort, requiring parents to scan their thumbprints before entering and only on days they're scheduled to be there.

In addition, the facility uses a program, Watch Me Grow, that equips each of the 13 classrooms with live video-monitoring.

Using a pass code, parents can log on online to see their child at any moment.

Doodle Bugs began in 1992 in East Amherst, N.Y., near Buffalo. Its founder and president, Anthony Insinna, then 19, opened a child care facility with his sisters. The siblings oversee 11 facilities in New York and the flagship Pittsburgh center in McCandless.

They don't plan to stop there.

Doodle Bugs sees potential for seven or eight centers in Western Pennsylvania, Insinna said. The operators chose the Pittsburgh area because it has steadily withstood most effects of the recession.

“This is actually a great market and economy,” Insinna said. “Parents need child care (facilities). They might be saving on not taking a vacation or something, but they still need child care. Parents continue to spend on children.”

Parents who attended a welcome party said the center is impressive.

The Watch Me Grow program especially appeals to Roberta Helmstadter of McCandless.

“It's very nice and new. It's clean and well-thought out,” said Helmstadter. “The kids can learn and play, and you can feel safe about it.”

The aim is to become more than just day care, Insinna said.

“The focus is on education,” he said. “... We lay the foundation for future education.”

Megan Guza is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at

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