Of a total 2,826 active child care programs in Nebraska — 18 of which are in Dawes County — Jennifer Baumann was selected as one of two Early Childcare Champions by the Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative and We Care for Kids. The two organizations are partnering in a year-long campaign to recognize early childhhod workers through Nebraska, selecting two champions each month, and Baumann was nominated by the family of one of the children she serves.
The owner of Little Angel Playschool began her program in August of 1999, and provided daycare out of her home for a couple years. She and her husband have children of their own, she said, and were needing an extra income to help pay for child care. After helping with another program, it was suggested she start her own.
“It never even occurred to me,” Baumann said, “but once I started I loved it. I sought out every avenue I could to improve. Any type of agency or program that comes along, I jump on it the second I hear about it.” She further added hers is a Step 5 program in the Nebraska Step Up to Quality. She explained this is something of a rating system, with five being the highest. Further, Nebraska Step Up to Quality brings awareness to the importance of early childhood education.
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In 2003, a house next door to the Baumanns came up for sale. They purchased it, and it became the new home for Little Angel. “I love being over here,” Baumann said of the new location. “You can walk away from your program at the end of the night. It really helps with some burnout.” She added that it can be difficult doing day care out of the home because it can make a person feel like he or she never leaves the job.
Building relationships is “hands down” Baumann’s favorite part about providing child care. She provides care for kids starting at birth, but has had kids up to ages 9 and 10, though most leave the program at age 5. “There’s some before and after care, depending on what their needs are. We usually get a lot of siblings that come back for the summertime. Speaking to the relationships she forms, she’s received graduation and birth announcements from kids for whom she’s cared.
When another center closed in Chadron, it left several kids in need. At the time, Buamann had a part-time employee in Kasey Wild. With the sudden influx of kids, she brought Wild on full-time.
“I have loved it,” Baumann said of hiring Wild. “I have a relationship with staff, because when you’re the only adult here it’s kind of nice to have someone to visit with. The kids love her. She is a great help with our special needs children, and she’s been an invaluable asset.”
As for daily schedules, There is a “this then that” format, always with a look at what’s next. There’s no formal timeline, Baumann said, because it’s more of an abstract concept to kids. There’s times for meals and snacks, stories and play, as well as a recharging rest period.
“Our day is about play,” Baumann said. “We play every day, and play is not a four-letter dirty word. Play is how they learn, and we are very big about promoting how they learn.” Many people hear the word “play,” and it has a negative connotation, she said, and that’s not what it is. “Any activity can be broken down into one of the seven early learning guidelines the state offers us.”
These guidelines are: social and emotional development, approaches to learning, health and physical development, language and literacy development, mathematics, science and creative arts.
For instance, playing with a ribbons gives children the opportunity to learn colors, develop their fine and gross motor skills, and learn differences in size by comparing ribbon lengths. “It’s all about the communication you’re building and the experiences they’re building,” Baumann said. She likes to set up the environment to provide materials that address kids’ interests and their next milestones.
One of Baumann’s current focuses has been transitioning the back yard into an outdoor classroom, and she will be submitting for a Nature Explorer Outdoor Classroom Certification. The $1,000 from the Early Childcare Champion award will go to this project.
“Delightfully surprised” is how Baumann felt when she received the award. “I know we work hard at what we do, but to have someone nominate you is an honor. . . It meant a lot to know the families felt that strongly about you. Relationship is the keystone to what we do. It’s not just the kids we take care of; they become part of our family.”
For those looking to start in the day care business, Baumaan emphasized there are a lot of resources including grants and agencies. “There’s so much more than when I started. It’s amazing how much help there is out there now. Learn that other providers are not competition, but your colleagues. Work with each other, talk to each other, share ideas and see how you can help make your community better.”
Bauman and Lori Retzlaff are co-presidents of Panhandle Area Child Care Services (PACCS), which has been around since the 1980’s, and provides networking, support, and state approved trainings to care providers.
There is an open house at the center this Thursday, Jan. 12, beginning at 4 p.m., and Baumann noted it will be renamed to The Playschool at this time.
“I love the community, Baumann said of being in Chadron. “We’ve had some wonderful families come across our paths that we are happy to consider part of our family. You just never know who needs you, and the more you reach out into the community and be a part of it the better it is.”
The nomination for Baumann states, “I am thankful every single day that our child has the opportunity to grow in this facility. And grow he has. I am amazed at how he has truly blossomed into a responsible, kind, considerate toddler. And I know I have Jennifer to thank 100%. You know she has created something special when your child wakes up on Saturday asking if he can go see Miss Jennifer.”