By: Marie Huey (Video by Kristie Thorson)
Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases great work happening in child care and preschool settings across Minnesota. From innovative early learning programs to parent perspectives on what works, check out the Early Education Spotlight for unique examples of Minnesota’s early learning successes.
Licensed family child care programs often make special adaptations to meet the needs of their community. Little Wonders Daycare in Waterville, MN, is a perfect example of this. Owner Brenda Novack knows her families well, and she tailors her high-quality program to fit their schedules.
Brenda is Two Star Parent Aware rated, and she is working toward Three Stars. Before starting her family child care, she worked at a child care center. That experience gave her ideas about how she wanted her own program to look, and the Parent Aware process has helped her polish the way she runs the show.
Location, Location, Location
Brenda’s rural location allows for unique dynamics in her program. Waterville is about one hour south of the Twin Cities, and Little Wonders is in Brenda’s mom’s house, which is right on Tetonka Lake. Observing nature on the lake is one of the perks of the location. They’ve seen geese, eagles, rabbits, and a fox. The kids also enjoy watching trucks drive on the frozen lake in winter to set up the ice houses. While safety rules prevent them from fishing or swimming during program hours, they use the lake as a natural source for scientific observation and learning. Brenda also teaches them to respect nature. Sometimes the children teach Brenda, too. They tell her all about farming, tractors, and combines.
While some parents work nearby, many do not. Some commute about a half hour to Owatonna or Mankato. One parent drives all the way to Minneapolis every day. In order to be at her job on time, she drops off her child with Brenda at 5:30 in the morning.
Outside and Inside the Box
Brenda uses Creative Curriculum and is intentional about providing learning opportunities for the kids. She firmly believes that “every experience is a learning experience” and she fosters that attitude in her program. Current favorite activities for the kids include puzzles and Legos, which are both great for developing problem-solving skills. While the bigger kids are building Lego structures, the younger ones enjoy filling up purses or buckets with Legos, dumping them out somewhere, and re-filling them.
Brenda is adept at utilizing the resources around her to enhance her program. On the wall in her main child care area is a display with pictures and maps that feature her daughter, Sarah. Sarah is in the Peace Corps in Africa. She sends photos and communicates about her experiences, which Brenda shares with the kids. They know where both Tanzania and Minnesota are on the map, but they were grossed out by the photo of an octopus she ate. Brenda values this opportunity to expand the children’s experience and bring some relevant diversity to the classroom.
Another example of her resourcefulness was in the use of boxes. She received a shipment of toys that came in large boxes. As they often are, the kids in her program were more excited about the boxes than the toys, at least for a while. She seized the opportunity and encouraged them as they made tunnels and trains with the boxes.
Brenda supports the kids to be ready for school, but that means more than just knowing letters and numbers. She helps them with social skills. She meets them where they’re at and helps them advance. Working in partnership with parents, Brenda works hard to provide children with skills that will prepare them for success.