Lindsey Roels and Kayla Irwin have always loved children. They each have two of their own, and have dedicated their lives and careers to Early Childhood Education. Both trained at ACC, with Roels graduating in 2005 and Irwin in 2006. They’ve worked at other daycares, they’ve run them out of their own homes, and just this year, made their mutual dream come true. They’re now co-directors of the brand new Here We Grow Nursery School located in Grand Valley Community Church on the southeast corner of 18th Street and Braecrest Drive. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD)
So how did this partnership come to be?
Roels: We both started working together at the YMCA in the West End and that’s how we met and got to know each other really well — on a friends basis as well. And then we both kind of left to have our own children and stay home. And we always kept this dream between us because it’s always been something we talked about — to open a nursery school.
And we had had an offer in the past but it fell at the wrong time — just between us having children. And this kind of came up as a great opportunity to jump up and take it.
Tell me about the dream.
Irwin: We’ve always wanted to open our own centre. We’re trained and both of us have worked in pretty much all aspects of childcare — every age range — that kind of thing. I started out nannying. We’ve covered it all. We’ve run our own home daycares — each of us in our own homes — and our dream was to do nursery school and preschool. We wanted to be our own bosses, run our own program, do what we wanted to do. We’re very creative people, so we wanted to just do what we wanted in our own space.
So how did you end up at Grand Valley Community Church?
Roels: What happened was we had a conversation one day about how we were kind of tired of our homes being not our homes anymore, with the home daycare thing. And I took the initiative to just start making some phone calls, contacting a couple of places, trying to see who had spaces available. And I contacted the pastor at Grand Valley, and he was very quick to say, ‘Yes — we’re looking for somebody to rent our space.’ So it came up at a good time for both of us.
And when did you open?
Roels: Just in September of this year. But this was all set in motion last year, to get everything running. We had talked to the pastor, we got things rolling, then we started all the paperwork with Brandon Area Planning, the fire department, and licensing — things like that.
Irwin: It’s been a long time coming!
I bet! You don’t really realize how many hoops there are to jump through until you try and start your own venture.
Irwin: That’s right. And there’s a lot of people to please to get it open! And we were running our own daycares at the time and each having two young kids at home and trying to get this off the ground all at once. It was a lot for the last year. But was worth it.
Now I knew from a very early age that I didn’t want to be a mother. But I really admire people who do take on such an important role. Now you obviously love kids, or you wouldn’t have trained in Early Childhood Education anyway. But you have your own children, and now how many kids are attending your pre-school? I would think it would be overwhelming — it would be for me, anyway.
Roels: We have 80 spots here. So we have four classes of 20. But our own children take up 12 spaces because they’re in each class. So we’re filling 68 spots.
And are your classes all full now?
Irwin: We’re not quite full yet. Our mornings are, but we still need to fill our afternoons.
What age group do you cater to?
Irwin: Our ages are from three to five — fully potty-trained.
Roels: We do have some under three, but they’re potty-trained. So if they’re potty-trained, we are willing to take them a little younger than three. But they have to be potty-trained.
Now you have the sessions mapped out in Monday-Wednesday mornings, Monday-Wednesday afternoons, and Tuesday-Thursday mornings and Tuesday- Thursday afternoons. But you said you were being flexible, especially this year. So what does that mean for parents?
Irwin: A lot of the times, it is Monday-Wednesday, it’s Tuesday-Thursday — it’s not whatever days you want to do. But this year, since we don’t have a waiting list, we’re trying to accommodate what people need. That being said, if we do end up having a long waiting list, we will probably be a bit stricter about when children come.
But we want to make it work for parents — we know how hard it is for childcare for parents. So our goal is to work with parents and be as accommodating as we can be.
What are some of the things that you offer? There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the success of the pre-kindergarten classes in the Brandon School Division — it gets kids learning, gets them socializing that much earlier. So that’s what you’re working on as opposed to just, essentially, babysitting services, for lack of a better term?
Roels: Yes. What we do here is still offer a lot of free play, because we believe that kids learn through their play. So our goal is to set up the room so that they’re learning, and we really feed off of their ideas. But our biggest thing that I think we provide that a lot of centres don’t anymore is ‘circle time.’ And that is about a 25-minute window where we’re sitting together as a group, we’re socializing, and we’re learning at the same time. Whether it’s reading books, singing songs — I do a lot of repetition with them, too — we’re doing days of the week, counting our days — things like that. So we ARE preparing them for that kindergarten setting where they do have to do a little bit more structured activity.
Irwin: But our planning is also based on observation of the children. What they’re interested in, that’s what we plan for. So we’re not a theme-based curriculum. We’re play-based and we’re emergent in our activity planning but we still offer a lot of structure to get them ready for kindergarten. And we are doing pre-kindergarten readiness with the older ones who will be going to kindergarten next year.
You mentioned the circle, which I imagine can be raucous at times. But people complain today about kids’ behaviour, and I never think it’s too early to start insisting on politeness and to wait until somebody else finishes talking. And I’m thinking 20 kids in a circle for 25 minutes — holy moly! So is that an element of what you’re teaching in those times?
Irwin: That’s why we want to start doing that, because in school, they are expected to sit for a certain period of time, and to know how to do that. And if children haven’t been to a pre-school setting or even a daycare setting, a lot of children have problems with that. So that’s why we want to keep instilling the structure. So our whole program throughout the morning or afternoon is very structured, but it is based on play. So the children kind of don’t really realize that they’re learning at the same time — that’s our goal.
Roels: And with circle times, or any activity that we’re doing, we both are able, because of our background, to adapt to any group. So if I have something that’s more meant for four-year-olds at my circle, and I sit there and go, ‘I’ve got more younger ones,’ I can change my circle in an instant so I can hold their attention. We both have that ability to do that because we have the background — we know what we’re doing. So to say ‘getting them to sit for 25 minutes’ — sometimes it’s more singing than reading. Sometimes it’s felt-board stories or movement games. So we know what we need to do to keep our kids focused in that time slot. And that’s just from our training and from our years of experience.
What is it you love about kids and/or love about what you do? Do you ever get to the point where you’re just at the end of your rope?
Irwin: There are days …!
Roels: From the mom standpoint, yes. Because my own two kids are here, I don’t get that break from them.
But with the kids we have here, there’s nothing you can pinpoint as one specific thing you love. Because it’s the stories they tell you, it’s the way they play with you, it’s how they involve you in their play, it’s that they give you hugs, and they rely on you, and if someone has an accident and you’re changing their clothes and you have to calm them down — you can’t pinpoint one thing that makes you love what you do.
Both of you, though — your eyes are shining when you talk to me about this — you’re just beaming about it! So anything to add, Kayla?
Irwin: I’ve always said you can be in the worst mood possible and there’s so much stuff going on in your regular life and you have responsibilities and everything’s so serious, but we come to work every day, and they light you up. They light your day up. They make your day so exciting, and they come and give you a hug, and they say, ‘I just love you.’ And their stories — their imaginations just get me — I just love it every day. Because it’s fun. It’s fun to come to work. We have a great time.
And are you both having more fun than you did when you were on your own?
Roels: Oh yes! We talked a lot sometimes because near the end especially, things just got stressful with your home daycare and dealing with parents and it’s just you. Opening this with Kayla has been amazing — she’s been the best partner anyone could ask for. We’re able to talk and work things out together. And we have each other as that backup, and it’s nice to have that support system together. And that’s what makes the partnership work really well, too.
Irwin: We’re both creative and we just feed off each other. One of us has an idea and the other one just expands on it. And we’re reading each other’s thoughts already, and we know each other’s strengths. So we can just fill in the gaps.
Now I know you’re located in a church — is there a religious element to this at all?
Roels: It’s strictly secular. A separate entity is what they call us.
Irwin: We’re just renting the space from them. But they’ve been absolutely wonderful to deal with. They have bent over backwards to help us here. And it’s working out very well. It’s a brand new building and it’s just a huge space — we couldn’t ask for a better space to have. Everything we need is here.
Roels: And you couldn’t ask for better people to work with. The pastor here, Brian McNarry, is so accommodating. Anything — ANYTHING — and he’s right here instantly. ‘Hey Brian, when you have a minute can you come in so we can talk to you?’ And he’ll just drop what he’s doing and come in and talk to you. So he’s been absolutely amazing to work with. We’ve lucked out!
For more information about Here We Grow Nursery School, contact Roels at 204-761-5474 or Irwin at 204-761-8734.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 26, 2013