By Marie Huey, Public Policy & Advocacy Coordinator
Video by Kristie Thorson, Communications Specialist
Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases great work happening in high-quality 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.
“Because quality is crucial.” Natalie Marose’s slogan for her licensed family child care is apparent in all aspects of the program. Each space is set up for learning. Each activity has a purpose. Each interaction is an opportunity for growth. The ways she incorporates quality are unique and customized to her skills and space.
My Friends Christian Child Care and Preschool is located in Bloomington, Minnesota, right next door to the house where Marose lives. The thirty second commute is challenging when there is ice on the ground and gate hinges, but that’s about as difficult as it gets.
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The entire space is dedicated to the child care program, and it is designed specifically for young children. Natalie likes being able to have separate spaces for her work life and personal life. Parents appreciate it, too. One parent noted that it is nice to be able to talk to Marose on neutral ground.
My Friends is accredited by the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC), which emphasizes qualities such as relationships with children, developmental learning activities and professional business practices. The rigorous accreditation helps keep Marose in on top of her game.
Crowd Favorite: The Backyard
The indoors aren’t the only place for high-quality learning at My Friends. Marose’s backyard is a Certified Nature Explore Classroom. This means she has stations around the yard for different types of outdoor play. From sandboxes to a natural building area to a dirt digging station, the outdoor space is intentionally set up with opportunities for children to play, explore, and learn. Dirt digging is one of the children’s favorites, and it is even more exciting when it turns into a mud pit.
Focus on Literacy
Literacy skills are a priority in Marose’s program, and she incorporates them throughout the day.
Marose participates in Minnesota Reading Corps, which brings a literacy tutor to her program two days per week. The curriculum she uses to structure her day is also literacy-rich. She uses Handwriting without Tears and a customized variation on Creative Curriculum. Children listen to and discuss a story in circle time. They also write in journals every day, dictating their stories to Marose. Children can then share their stories to their peers, who ask questions about the story.
While the morning preschool time is geared toward children 3-5, the toddlers are always present and often join in.
Supporting the Whole Child
Meals and snacks are served family style, so the children must communicate about what they want and wait their turn for the food to reach them. When it’s time to bundle up before outside winter play time, the children largely dress themselves, with only a little assistance from Marose. It takes a little longer, but it builds their skills and confidence.
Marose’s child care does not begin or end with literacy, however. Positive social-emotional development is another important part of her program. She supports children to learn how to regulate their emotions and gain independence.
Much of the time, Marose’s role is to stand back and let them work on it. Whether it’s doing a puzzle or getting dressed, letting them work through a task helps them learn they can conquer it. That sense of self confidence builds on itself, allowing the children to try progressively more difficult tasks.
Of course she occasionally intervenes to resolve a conflict, but mostly her goal is to facilitate the children’s learning. After years of experience, she knows that this learning happens at different rates for each child. She likes the setup of family child care because the mixed ages really allow each child to develop at their own pace. Rather than pushing them to fit into a rigid timeline of developmental expectations, Marose believes that “The children will get to all the things they need to get to if we provide it for them.” Since children are often with her for multiple years, she is able to build deep relationships and be very in tune with their individual needs.