The ABCs of Early Learning: Innovative Child Care at MudPies Downtown East

7 minute read

Holding hands, Nikki Pridgen and her 5-year-old daughter Ayanna walk into MudPies Downtown East. A teacher stands in the hallway decorated with artwork created by little hands, greeting each child enthusiastically by name as they enter the building.

As Pridgen watches, Ayanna puts her belongings in a cubby, washes her hands and joins her class. Pridgen beams as Ayanna’s teacher gives her a high five. Soon she hears the whole class of 18 sing a welcome song to begin the day.

“She’s always excited to be here,” Pridgen says to another parent as she turns to head out the door.

The rest of Ayanna’s day will be filled with coloring, painting, reading, teacher instruction and playground time—many of the same trappings you’d find at your typical daycare.

But MudPies isn’t a typical daycare—it’s an interactive learning experience and educational journey for the area’s youngest minds. Utilizing the latest in interactive technology such as electronic whiteboards, tablets and multi-touch electronic learning tables, MudPies is a place for children to explore, create and grow.

Just ask the parents of children at MudPies, many of whom work in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, and they’re eager to share why they chose the child development center. Sure, they like the convenience of being so close to the center, located at the intersection of Seventh and Patterson Streets, but it’s more than that.

“I wanted Ayanna to have a head start for kindergarten and elementary school,” said Pridgen, who is a project coordinator at the Center for Applied Learning at Wake Forest Innovations. “MudPies fosters her academic and social growth but also makes sure she has fun along the way.”

All the Bells and Whistles

MudPies Downtown East center, which serves children from six weeks old to age 5 and before & after school programs to age 12, has called the Innovation Quarter home since 2013.

“The work, live, learn, play motto of the Innovation Quarter and downtown Winston-Salem really resonated with us,” said Tony Burton, III, PhD, chief executive officer of Northwest Child Development Centers, Inc., the parent company of MudPies, a 501(c)(3) organization that operates four child development centers, including the Downtown East facility, in Forsyth, Stokes and Davie counties. “If people were going to live and work downtown, we knew there was a need here for high-quality early childhood education.”

The 16,386 square foot facility has all the bells and whistles – an onsite commercial kitchen, full-service cafeteria, online secure camera monitoring so that parents can watch a child’s activity from a home or office computer, a private room for nursing mothers, three fenced and covered playground areas and an electronic system so that only registered parents and adults can pick up children.

There is also a natural learning area, offered through an educational partnership with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, where children plant crops and learn the value of conservation and being good community citizens.

But this is much more than just a state-of-the-art daycare facility.

Foundation For Success

A hallmark of MudPies is its innovative, forward-thinking approach to early childhood education.

“We’re unique because we’re not a daycare or a babysitter,” explained Burton. “We’re here to educate and give children the best foundation for success in school and life.”

Burton’s passion for education runs deep. He was a licensed math teacher in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools system for several years and also led the county’s Office of Dropout Prevention, Intervention and Recovery Services division, working with students at risk of dropping out of school. During this time, Burton earned his doctorate in education administration, focusing his dissertation on the impact of early childhood education on dropout rates. He found a strong correlation between these two factors.

It was no surprise to Burton that the greatest impact on learning comes during a child’s early years. Recent national efforts led by President Barack Obama have focused on the value of early learning and expanding access to pre-k education programs for our nation’s youngest learners.

“Research shows that by third grade, indicators can determine if a student will be successful in school and their career,” said Burton. “I’m a big believer in being prepared. At MudPies, we’re exposing children to opportunities to explore and be leaders so that they’re ready for not just kindergarten but for their future.”

Top Teachers and Technology

Every day, three-year-old Murphie comes home from MudPies, eager to share her latest creation.

Murphie’s mother, Mandie Starkey, admires her daughter’s latest artwork as she listens to Murphie repeats the new songs and facts she’s learned from her teachers and through technology-enriched learning opportunities.

“Look Mom! I colored this on the computer,” says Murphie, eagerly holding a paper with a colorful image on it.

“I work for a tech company, so it’s cool to see how technology is incorporated into the classroom,” said Starkey, who is a graphic designer at Inmar.

Through a partnership with Hatch Early Learning, classrooms for ages two and up are outfitted with the latest technology for young children, including iStartSmart tablets and computers, interactive whiteboards and WePlaySmart tables.

The WePlaySmart multi-touch table allows children to play educational learning games in groups and learn skills like team problem solving, taking turns, listening and following instructions. Their conversations are recorded and used as a tool by the teacher to assess individual social and educational development. Teachers use the technology to enhance learning but it doesn’t replace teacher-guided instruction, and screen time is limited to 15 minutes per day for each child.

All lead teachers have a four-year degree, with many specializing in early childhood education. They use a state-approved, child-centered Creative Curriculum® that combines social, physical, cognitive and language development into various teaching methods, focusing on the individual child and developmental progress.

“The teachers always make an effort to make education creative,” said Starkey, who remembers her daughter learning shapes, colors and numbers through a hands-on exercise where each child’s height was measured in hearts on a chart.

While the teachers are experienced educators, Starkey says they are also caring, enthusiastic and attentive.

“It’s difficult as a working parent to leave your child in the hands of others, but MudPies was different,” says Starkey. “My daughter is exposed to art, technology, learning and play through the best teachers. They’ve truly thought of everything that makes for an exceptional early childhood educational experience.”

Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders

As MudPies Downtown East continues to grow – current enrollment is about 171 children – they are making improvements to better serve the needs of families and their children, like offering second shift, extended care.

“This has just been a dream of mine,” said Burton. “We’re supporting families and the ongoing development of our downtown community, while also giving children the educational framework to be successful students, good citizens and future leaders. We aren’t like any other child care center around.”

To learn more about MudPies Downtown East, visit or call 336.448.0341 to schedule a tour.

MudPies Downtown East
251 East 7th Street
Winston-Salem, NC  27101

by Katherine Files