Helping a young mind develop and preparing children for the future is what the Elmwood Early Learning Center is striving to do.
The Elmwood Early Learning Center opened Sept. 1 and is in the Elmwood School District building. Allison Hinrichs, co-director of the Learning Center and lead preschool teacher, said they have their own secure door parents use so they don't have to come through school when dropping off or picking up their children.
Ashley Zierl, co-director of the Learning Center, said a survey was sent to community members and it was decided there was a need for the facility. She said on those surveys about 30 children in the community were in need of daycare.
Zierl said they try to make the day fun for the children so they want to come back every day.
"[We have] play-based learning and individual-based for each one's need," Zierl said.
Hinrichs added that they make sure to have enough teachers to help with each child's needs. The student to teacher ratio at the daycare depends on the age of the child. Hinrichs said for children 6 weeks to 2 years old there is one teacher for every four children; children 2-2.5
years old there is one teacher for every six children; 2.5-3 years old has one teacher for every eight students and 3-4 years old warrants one teacher for every 10 children.
Starting Jan. 1 the Learning Center will have 14 children enrolled. Zierl said when they opened in September they had eight children, so they have already seen an increase and hopefully will continue to get more children.
Hinrichs said they do have room to expand as more kids enroll. Right now there is another classroom they could use and she said eventually they could have their own wing or section in the school.
The advantage of children going to daycare at the Learning Center is they are getting prepared for school.
"[Children get] familiar with routine of school and building," Zierl said. "Getting them ready for 4-K with social skills."
Besides getting used to the school building, children at the Learning Center can also participate in the school lunch program just as other students at the school do.
Any child that needs and qualifies for speech and/or occupational therapy can be provided with that service during the day without interrupting their normal routine since it is done right at school.
An important aspect of the children's time at the daycare is to be able to go outside when weather allows.
"We have two secure playgrounds just for them," Zierl said.
Zierl said the playgrounds are padlocked when not in use to make sure it remains safe for the children and meets all safety regulations. One of the playgrounds is a grass area and the other has wood chips. Hinrichs said the two playground types allow all children to be able to use one of the playgrounds.
The teachers are constantly looking for new ways to engage students during the day.
"Art and sensory projects every day for development and growth," Hinrichs said.
During the day Hinrichs said parents are always able to know what is going on with their child through the Kinderlime application. This application allows parents to see when their child is resting, outside playing or when the child has been signed in or out of daycare.
Zierl said they try to work with parents as much as they can to make the experience the best it can be.
"We listen to their [the parents'] needs and we do what we can to meet them," Zierl said.
She said initially when they opened their hours were from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. but some of the parents said they could not make it to work on time with these hours. So the daycare now opens at 5:45 a.m. to accommodate those parents.
While the Learning Center is in the same building as the school, it does not follow the same schedule as the school. Zierl said the daycare is open year round. She said if they do need to close due to bad weather where they feel it would be unsafe for staff to come in they notify parents through the Kinderlime application.
Even in the summer, Hinrichs said they will be open and finding activities for the children to participate in.
"This summer [children] will get to explore a bus for those going into 4-K," Hinrichs said.
The Elmwood Early Learning Center is a non-profit facility, Zierl said, and they do not use taxpayer money to fund it. She said they are tuition-based and use the tuition money to pay for employee wages, supplies and rent to the school for their space.
Hinrichs said they have plans for the future and growth of the Learning Center. She said they hope to expand their preschool program and be able to offer the community a pay for service program. This would allow children ready to transition to 4-K who are not enrolled in the daycare to come in for a preschool program and get acquainted with the school at the same time.
Zierl, who will be co-director until the end of 2017 said she stepped in as co-director while they were still searching for a full-time director. She said she wanted to be a friendly face people would recognize as this is her eighth year in the Elmwood School District. She also has a passion for this particular area.
"Early childhood is where my heart always was," Zierl said.
Hinrichs has served as co-director with Zierl since the start and will be taking over as director on Jan. 1. So far Hinrichs has been happy with her experience.
"It's been a whole new experience," Hinrichs said. "It's been fun. It's been a whole new adventure."
For more information on the Elmwood Early Learning Center e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-639-2711 extension 4.