By LINDA LOBECK
KINGSFORD - With the state mandated all-day kindergarten this year, the Woodland Child Care Center has opened its enrollment to now include 2 1/2 year-olds.
Linda Lobeck/Daily News Photo
YOUNGER CHILDREN ARE now being accepted at the Woodland Child Care Center in Kingsford. Children, age 2 1/2 and older, can now attend the center and be involved in the preschool activities. Shown here are staff members with some of the children attending the center. In the front row from left are Sharon Quick-Dulan, director; Mara Tripp; Evan Scott, Seth Greenleaf, Macy Giesau, Laura Verley, Wyatt Kassin, Andy Yu, and childcare worker Marsha Nurmela. In the second row from left are Margot McRoberts, Alexander Erickson, Cassandra Olson, Ella Halfman, Gianna Novara, Jack Spreen, Zoe Reddinger, Christina Fraker, and child care worker Sheila Nault. Not pictured are Woodland Child Care staff members Rose Grailer, Deb Tompkins and Bev Soderbloom.
The numbers were lower with the kindergarten-age children in school all day, so the center was able to accommodate the younger children, who don't have to be potty trained to come, said Sharon Quick-Dulan, director.
"It wasn't just because of the numbers that we did this now. We've had several inquiries, too, from parents asking if we'd take their younger children into the program," she said.
For the past 12 years ago, the center has been licensed by the state of Michigan for ages 2 1/2 to 11, but they hadn't opened up the enrollment to take the younger children. When these younger children are brought into the mix, the required ratio between children and staff is higher. Quick-Dulan said that hasn't been a problem since they always have more staff at the center than what is required by the state. Plus, she is usually around as an extra person even when she's not scheduled to work.
"Without the kindergarten age children with us during the school day, we can gear the program more for early childhood education," Quick-Dulan said. "What we try to do is provide a structured routine for getting children ready to enter school."
The day includes plenty of time for free play, snack time, circle time preschool activities, art time to work on fine motor skills, and they always go outside and play every day, weather permitting.
Although the center is located within the Woodland Elementary School in Kingsford, children do not have to live in the Breitung Township School District to attend. The program is registered through the state of Michigan so there are no restrictions as to where the child lives. The center works with other programs in the community that children attend, including having the Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District bus picking up kids at the center.
"Another advantage is that the center is located within the school so we can work with teachers, speech therapists and other special needs personnel within the center," Quick-Dulan said. "It's a huge advantage to having a center here, plus it helps with the transition for the children when they enter the school setting. The children in the child care center become very familiar with the school so it doesn't seem so big when they start school. We eat in the cafeteria too and the children can have hot lunch or bring their own lunches each day," she said.
Having a very reliable and dedicated staff has also been a positive for the center," she said. She started as the director 12 years ago, and two of the original staff are still with her. The other three staff members have been with the program for a long time too - 10 years.
"We've had real consistency with the staff and that is a good thing for the children and the program. All of us are moms and all have something different to bring to the program - we compliment each other," she said.
The Woodland Child Care Center is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week. Quick-Dulan said that by 8 a.m., the older children are going to school and 8:15 a.m., the children involved in the Community Schools Preschool program are also gone. By 11:15 a.m., the preschool children are back and the entire center is off to lunch.
"By having the same staff here, we work well together and I think that is a plus for the kids. We can provide a quality for program for them," Quick-Dulan said.
"Through the years, the child care center has become an extension of a family," said Marsha Nurmela, child care worker. "The relationships we have are strong and we care for these children like they are our own. The children also develop relationships with each other through trust, fun and shared experiences and this helps them when they meet up with each other outside of the center. It helps them to make a transition into social situations and learn a respect for other people. I really value the people I work with here," Nurmela said.
Quick-Dulan said that children learn best through play.
"We introduce learning letters and numbers through moving activities and being active," Quick-Dulan said. "Numbers and letters are also used in play and are a natural part of all of our activities. We do many activities like a family would, including cooking."
Music is also used a lot with the children, especially when they are transitioning from one activity to the next or getting ready for lunch.
Any disciplining of the children takes a positive approach, she added.
Nurmela said that when working, for example with the four year-olds in the afternoon, she sees the children learning so much from each other.
"They learn the important skill of socialization just from being together," Nurmela said.
In addition to Quick-Dulan and Nurmela, the other staff members at the center are Sheila Nault, Rose Grailer, Deb Tompkins and Bev Soderbloom.
"All of us were at-home moms and we have carried those values to this work setting, making it a home away from home for the children," Nurmela said.
Quick-Dulan agreed. "The staff here makes each child feel special. We know that each child learns differently and they are treated as individuals. This is a very unique program that encourages growth. The center allows the children to be who they are in a safe environment."
The Woodland Child Care program also continues when school is not in session throughout the summer. Quick-Dulan noted that they have a greater variety of ages at that time and work to keep many of the activities separate according to age group.
"But we do come together and do activities similar to siblings in a family. We use the outdoor area here a lot. It's a great location to have a center with a top-notch playground area just outside the door. I can't say enough about the caring environment we have here in this building. It's phenomenal," Quick-Dulan said.
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.