DREAM TURNS INTO REALITY
It's hard enough being responsible for your own children, let alone 44.
But Jamie Gillund is fulfilling a dream she has had for a long time.
"I've been in the daycare business for 20 years and this really has been a dream of mine," she said, looking around the Little Explorers Daycare Center in Ghent that she opened four months ago. "There was a big need for daycare around here and I wanted to start this daycare center to give those parents a place to take their children."
Each room at the center is designed for a specific age so there are no bigger kids mixed with the infants, lessening the chance for an accident. There is an Infant Room for those six weeks old to 16 months, a Toddler Room for those 16-33 months old, a Pre-School Room for those 33 months until their first day of kindergarten, and a School-Age room for kindergarten to 12 years old.
For parents who have school-aged children and need to get to work early in the morning, they drop their kids at Little Explorers and the school bus picks them up each morning and drops them off after school.
The staff of 14 includes Gillund as director and substitute teacher, seven full-time teachers, four part-time teachers, one other substitute teacher, and a full-time kitchen manager.
When you walk into the rooms, it's like walking into a large dollhouse with the miniature bathrooms facilities, toys of all kinds and small beds.
Gillund began working daycare at her home in Ghent 17 years ago and has been doing it ever since.
"Taking care of children is all I have ever done, from starting babysitting in junior high, then to work at the SMSU Child Care Center while going to college," she said. "I originally wanted to teach kindergarten but after working in a center I fell in love with the that type of atmosphere and decided I would one day open my own center."
After graduating from college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education, Jamie started an in-home daycare for 17 years before the opening the center on Oct. 21.
Realizing a need for additional daycare in the Ghent area, Jamie talked things over with her husband, Kurt, and decided to build and own a licensed daycare center in town.
They were able to see their plans come to fruition with help from Southwest Initiative Foundation’s (SWIF) Bright Beginnings Loan Program.
Gillund used the financing to outfit her kitchen with commercial grade equipment.
That dream soon became a reality and Little Explorers Daycare Center, LLC opened Oct. 21, 2021 on South Collins Street.
The transition has gone better than Gillund even imagined it would.
"Overall, everything has gone much smoother than expected," she said. "We had a few bumps in the road but that has been mainly with the commercial kitchen since that is something I have never had experience with."
State COVID guidelines also put a little strain on the daycare center with quarantining children if they or their families are exposed to the virus.
"We take every precaution we can to prevent the spread of any illness we can," Gillund said. "Our staff disinfects toys daily in the younger classrooms. We wash sheets and blankets weekly, unless a child becomes sick, then it is washed that day. The center is also deep-cleaned every weekend."
The daycare center serves the children breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack each day.
"We follow the USDA food guidelines and make sure the children are eating components from all the food groups," Gillund noted.
Getting kids to take a nap has always been a problem area for parents, yet getting them to relax and take naps has surprisingly not been much of a problem for the Little Explorers staff.
"Nap time is about setting a routine," Gillund explained. "The teachers do an amazing job of keeping their nap-time routine the same. Dim the lights, play the same nap-time music every day, and each child has a specific way to be soothed to sleep that their teachers know.”
"The teachers I have are absolutely amazing. Most of them have education or degrees in Early Childhood and truly love what they do and care for the children like they are their own."
The daycare center is stocked with indoor and outdoor toys and activities for the children of all ages. Some of the toys are from Gillund's own collection from her home daycare, some were donated by local families, and many came from garage sales.
"I also had to purchase a lot of brand-new toys since I am required by licensing to have a certain number of toys in each classroom," she said. "For example, the preschool room is required by the State to have 48 large building blocks and 200 small building blocks."
The majority of the furniture was purchased from a company in Wabasso, while some was purchased from another child center that recently closed.
The children make coming to work enjoyable for the staff, who readily accept the challenges of potty training, helping children learn to eat solid foods, and more.
"Every day we are smiling and laughing about what the children say or do," Gillund said. "We had a one-year-old who must not have like the peas. While we thought she had eaten them all, I found a stash of peas in a laundry basket that was beside her chair."