Some of Peggy Elsasser's biggest fans are also the smallest.

Chaysen, 4, wants to be a hockey player like his dad was in college. Bright-eyed Clara will remind you that she is 4-1/2. Addy, who turns 2 in July, likes to see how high she can go on the swing set.

The three are playmates at Little Helpers Child Care, the daycare center that Elsasser runs out of her Woodbury home.

June 21, they got to visit the Washington County government center, where their grownup friend was honored as a 2016 Family Child Care Provider of the Year.

"I am fortunate to do a job that I love," said Elsasser, one of two child care professionals to receive the award from the Washington County Board of Commissioners. "It's a tremendous honor to receive this award and humbling because there's a lot of people who do the work."

She was introduced by Rebecca Barnhart, social services supervisor.

"Peggy's goal is to partner with parents to meet the needs of the whole child," Barnhardt said.

Before becoming a full-time licensed child care provider, Elsasser, worked as an occupational therapist and stay-at-home mom.

"I eventually had people from my neighborhood and my church ask me if I would be willing to care for their children," she said. "It started with one family and I took care of their three daughters. The oldest is graduating from college. Word spread. People began to ask me."

Opening her home to children was more rewarding than the somewhat clinical role of consulting occupational therapist, she said, although she remains a licensed OTR.

"I realized what I really liked most was the one-on-one connection to children and their families," she said. "It's not just working with the kids, it's working with the parents."

This philosophy is evident in the long-term relationships she maintains with former Little Helpers and their families.

"We've been to many graduations, high school and college for early children in our care," Elsasser said. "It's always great to get those Christmas cards and see how kids have grown. ... There hasn't been any weddings yet, but I expect it will come some day."

The curriculum at Little Helpers includes reading, alphabet, colors and shapes. Elsasser also is an active playmate to the kids, throwing a Frisbee, pushing a swing or pulling a wagon.

The kids also learn gardening and healthy eating by planting and cultivating their own fruit and vegetables on an "edible estate," a community garden across the street on the front lawn of neighbors John and Catherine Schoenherr.

"They're really much more eager to try fruits and vegetables when they're part of the process," Elsasser said. "I try to build upon what they're interested in and build that into my curriculum."

Caring for eight kids, ages 7 months to 5 years, doesn't seem so challenging when she remembers that her grandmother raised 16 children on a farm in North Dakota.

"When I think of my busiest day, I think of my grandmother," she said.

A 2016 Family Child Care Provider of the Year award also went to Peggy Babcock of Forest Lake.

Nominees are reviewed by an ad hoc committee comprising of members of the Washington County Child Care Council and the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association. They recommend two individuals and submit their names to Washington County Community Services/Child Care Licensing Program and MLFCCA.

To nominate someone for next year's award, visit " target="_blank">