Every morning, Kathleen Gmeinweser finishes breakfast, sends her 14-year-old twins off to school and then heads to work.
But for the owner of As We Grow Preschool, her commute is just a few steps away, in the basement of her BX home.
“I walk down the stairs every day and it’s amazing because it’s ours and it’s a family business,” said Gmeinweser. “My daughter did a mural and my son helped build walls and shelves, and my husband did so much and we have really made it ours as a family.
“It’s been so positive, and I have been so lucky with the families that I’ve found so far.”
Open since Oct. 1, As We Grow provides all day care for children ages 30 months to school age — the licensed program offers morning preschool and then afternoon care. As well, As We Grow has a drop-in feature for busy parents who just need a few hours to run errands or get their grocery shopping done.
Gmeinweser is an Early Childhood Educator and has been working in the field since she lived in the Northwest Territories 30 years ago, when she helped out at her mom’s daycare.
“She was one of the first who offered overnight care in the NWT, and then I came out here, I did some nannying and then operated as licensed not required and then went to licensed,” she said.
Living in Vernon for close to 29 years, Gmeinweser wanted to be home when her son and daughter were small, and running a day care gave her the opportunity to do that.
“My husband said this is my calling, and I went back to school, through College of the Rockies online, and earned my ECE.
“I worked in centres in town, so once you do your training, you do your practicum to see what’s out there, and I wanted something that is personal to me.
“There are so many great centres in Vernon but I wanted to have my own personal touch.”
With sunlight streaming through the windows, the bright space is just waiting to be explored by preschoolers. In one corner are cozy red chairs for curling up with a book, in another is a kid-sized kitchen stocked with all of the pots, pans and tools little ones need to “cook” up a tasty treat. Colourful red tables are surrounded by blue and red chairs to enjoy not only snacks but a Three Bears Basket Story, name tracing and leaf matching.
Gmeinweser includes a wide variety of activities to keep kids engaged, such as nature walks, where leaves and other treasures are brought back for exploring texture. Tiny hands grasp miniature rolling pins for rolling out pumpkin playdough. A light table is the perfect spot to explore shapes.
“As a care provider, one of the things I love is you can take elements of the community that you like and you can bring them into your centre.
“I also do a food program, where we talk about healthy choices.”
To keep parents up to date on what their children are doing each day, Gmeinweser uses ClassDojo, where she shares photos and videos from the day’s activities.
“I use it to communicate with my families all the time, I send pictures and it makes them feel involved.
“I also do an emergent reading program with the children, which is great. They are three, four and five, so they can’t read yet but because we do so much by rote they learn it,” she said. “I do a printed pamphlet that they take home and get to hang on their door knob and the children go home and read with their parents, so they are bonding with their parents and making the connection.
“So that’s one thing I am passionate about; another thing is I try to make it personal for each family so when the families come in, I try and get to know Mom and Dad on a more personal level, and their family dynamics, and I try to incorporate them into the day.”
With four children currently enrolled, As We Grow has room for more students. It’s $39 per day and the preschool is open mornings from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parents provide snacks for their children so there is no conflict over food choices for kids who might be picky eaters.
“The best part is knowing that at the end of the day, I don’t have to drive anywhere, I walk upstairs and my kids are home from school.”