Kenowa Hills — On a Thursday morning at the Kenowa Hills Day Care and Learning Center, teachers in the Willow room watched baby Levi with admiration.
“Levi is living his best life in that swing,” said lead teacher Jennifer Beke.
And he has company. The new infant room at the Early Childhood Center opened Oct. 4 for six of Kenowa Hills’ youngest learners.
“How great is it for them to have the opportunity to start in school so young?” observed Learning Center Director Cali Lipscomb.
Lipscomb spoke while sitting on the floor as she held baby Adeline, as baby Joshua crawled around the play mat and tried to grab her shoe.
“On the first day, no one moved and there were lots of tears,” Beke said. “Now they’re napping longer and starting to explore, and I love that.”
Phase one of a 2020 bond focused on updating and renovating the center, including a new entrance off Kinney Road, an additional secure entrance and office space for childcare, and two new daycare classrooms, including the Willow room.
Families who live in the district can enroll their infants, ages 6 weeks through 12 months, but there is currently a waitlist for the infant room. Full- and part-time day care is offered Monday through Friday for $260 per week or $60 per day.
“Being able to support the Kenowa Hills community by offering child care that extends all the way down to infants takes a lot, but it also means that we can give our families an option that is hard to find,” Early Childhood Center Director Luke Scholten said.
Inside the Willow Room
Designed for infants, the Willow room has a main area with toys for play and a rocking chair for feeding. A small room off the main room houses cribs for each child in the program and muffles outside sounds with white noise played through speakers.
Lipscomb said they were “very intentional about the decisions made for filling the room.”
“Jen met with infant and toddler consultants and toured GRCC’s infant room. Our team’s collective feedback helped decide what we needed for the babies,” she said.
Unlike other classrooms in the ECC, infant room staff allows parents to bring their children in through a separate door and leave their bags and car seats in the mudroom.
“We didn’t want parents to have to wait in the normal drop-off line with their infants and hand them off to a teacher from their car,” Lipscomb said. “It’s a lot easier on the parents.”
The mudroom, equipped with storage cubbies, changing stations and bathroom stalls, joins the Willow room with its new sister room, the Birch. Lipscomb said Birch is preparing to welcome toddlers later in the month.
‘Communication is key’
In a room of six infants, with three more planning to join in November, Beke and her two teaching assistants, Heather Morris and Courtney Bronkema, read books, encourage sensory play and manage each child’s feeding and sleeping schedule.
“My favorite part of working in the infant room is being able to watch their development from the beginning and being a part of their development,” Morris said.
Willow staff were in the ECC program before taking their new positions in the infant room.
After 13 years at the ECC, Beke has learned a good support system is needed when working with young kids and, especially in the infant room, “communication is key.”
“It takes a while to learn about each kid and get to know them, but eventually we’ll incorporate more sensory, social, emotional, cognitive and language learning and activities into their days,” Beke said. “We now have the chance to see them from infants until they go off to middle school in this building.”
Beke also gets to share her time in the new infant room with her 4-month-old granddaughter, Emily.
“Since my first grandchild, who is now 6, this age has been my passion,” she said, “I told Cali, if we ever opened an infant room at the ECC I would take the lead. It can be crazy and crying, but it’s my passion and my zen.”
Said Lipscomb, “Jen was a huge part of making this happen for us. Lots of planning went into this whole process and it’s so rewarding to see it all come together.”
Scholten also expressed praise for the work put into planning the infant room and sees it as an “nvestment for Kenowa Hills families.
“We now get to work with families from before students’ first steps all the way through walking across the stage as graduates,” Scholten said. “Eighteen years of Knighthood sounds like a great opportunity.”