By: Marie Huey

Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases the great work happening in quality child care and preschool settings across Minnesota.


Children play and learn in Larson’s outdoor garden.

Kris Larson’s Family Child Care program in White Bear Lake takes full advantage of learning opportunities in the great outdoors. The children read, eat, and do art projects outside whenever possible. They thrive in the outdoors, and it gives them the space they need to move their bodies and explore. And this year, their outdoor curriculum received a big bump.

Larson earned a Terri Lynne Lokoff/Children’s TYLENOL® National Child Care Teacher Award this year to enhance open-air learning in her program. Larson added a greenhouse, rain barrel, and composter, among other garden supplies. The new equipment will provide more educational opportunities for the children, allowing for an even richer experience. The only drawback so far is that the excitement has led to premature tomato picking by the two year olds and overzealous watering by the preschoolers.

With children ages 9 months to 9 years in her program, Larson adjusts each lesson to the various ages. For instance, while the older children might sort and label the vegetables during their gardening unit, the little kids are expected to play with the food items and practice naming them. The mix of ages works well, with the younger children learning by listening to the older ones talk. The big kids also enjoy having the little ones to play with and teach.

While Larson makes the most of her space at home, both indoors and out, she also takes the children on field trips. Recently the kids visited a local restaurant where they observed how pizza is made and were then able to eat their own delicious pie.


Larson’s indoor space: perfect for singing, dancing, and learning.

Larson approaches her work with creativity and intention. She adjusts the learning to relate to children’s interests. Formerly a software engineer, Larson started her family child care to be with her four children when they were young. She found that she enjoyed the work, and she decided to continue even as her own children grew. In May she completed an Early Childhood Studies degree at Metro State University, enhancing her experience and existing knowledge in the field.

Her high-quality, Parent Aware Four Star rated program exemplifies the capabilities of a family child care to meet the developmental needs of children, from social-emotional to school readiness.

“I strive to provide a play-based environment that supports children’s development, interests and needs. This is created and modified through knowledge of child development, observations and parent input. Then I step back and give the children time to explore,” Larson said. “Their interest, curiosity, creativity and wonder can be observed when they have ample time to play. The continued support for family childcare, centers and programs that promote play is critical for children’s early learning success.”