Spotlight: Stepping Stones Child's Center celebrates 30 years
We spoke with Toni Brown, Executive Director of Stepping Stones Child’s Center on 2nd Street in Roscoe. Since 1991, they have been an Illinois state licensed, curriculum-based childcare facility for the families of the Roscoe, Rockton and South Beloit communities. They serve children from the ages of 6 weeks to 8 years, with transportation available to and from the Kinnikinnick school district, by offering a year round, hands-on, enriched preschool program, to enhance the early learning years as children and families grow and develop towards kindergarten.
How did Stepping Stones Child’s Center get started? I remember when I was younger, there was a daycare in the lower level of the Community Center in Rockton. That was late 70’s, early 80’s. I don’t remember the name of it back then, but I ran the childcare center in that facility beginning in 1989 for a Rockton couple. My degree from NIU in Elementary Education allowed me to purchase it in 1991. We were able to care for 50 students. In 1995 I purchased another childcare center in Roscoe that was the same size. Kinda sister centers, also licensed to care for 50 students. We continued on for several years with a lot of mileage on Hononegah Road between the two locations. In 2003 we purchased our current location on 2nd Street in Roscoe, did a huge gut and remodel project. We moved the Roscoe Main Street location into the new building in 2004. Shortly after, we moved the Rockton location into Roscoe as well. We have been housed under one roof ever since.
What tips do you have for keeping a preschooler under control?
- For the youngest children, be patient and know that they don’t have the full vocabulary they need to communicate with you about how they are feeling. They may hit, kick, cry, and bite. Usually that is a replacement for words they don’t have. Take the time to try and listen and figure out what you may be missing.
- For all ages, be very clear about your expectations, set specific boundaries and follow them. Until they completely understand the limitations and appropriate responses, they will test you. That’s only human, like driving 59 instead of 55. They need consistency and repetition to thrive. They need to be engaged and interested in something to stay out of trouble.
- Figure out what interests them… not what you would like them to be interested in.
- Spend quality time with them that includes conversation, hugs, and one-on-one attention when possible.
- Stay away from the electronics as a way of ‘keeping your child busy’ or ‘out of trouble’. They need ‘hands on’ activities for full development of the brain and motor skills.
- Praise them when they are successful, be helpful when they are not.
How has childcare improved or changed in the last 30 years? Childcare is finally getting a little more respect in the past 10 years, as more and more evidence is presented about how important the first years are for learning and growth. Early childhood providers have been labeled ‘babysitters’ for so long, but brain development studies have helped to understand how the “littles” develop and the importance of providing stimulus to foster that growth. They are truly sponges during that 0 to 3 age range. We track their milestones and communicate with parents to ensure that students are on track or receiving additional assistance if needed. All of this leads into the beginning of their next stage of learning in the school systems. Kindergarten is the new first grade, which makes preschool the new kindergarten. We have to keep up with the pace.
What do the children do all day? We provide a plethora of learning opportunities for the children that begins with simple social interactions, we provide themes designed to pique their interest and curiosity to learn more. When we learn about dinosaurs, we read about them, we talk about them, we draw them, we act like them, we sing about them, we watch videos about them, we ask questions about them, and then we teach them a little more. We help to develop their fine and gross motor skills as well as vocabulary, all through different forms of play. We teach them to share and be empathetic, we teach table manners and how to be respectful to others. We spend time inside and outside exploring nature, we sing, we dance, we do yoga, and we create on all levels. But, above all, we love them, we keep them safe and we celebrate their accomplishments with them. “Play is the highest form of research” – Albert Einstein.
Why do childcare workers earn so little, since they work with our most precious possessions? Such a great question. As I mentioned previously, we have been equated with ‘babysitting’ forever. There hasn’t been a real understanding of the true importance of early education. And, yes, my staff absolutely deserves more pay and benefits: a luxury they don’t have. They also work year-round, not just the typical nine months. Dollars for education come from our taxes but early education is not included in that calculation. My particular center is privately owned, so we are 85% supported by our parents and the tuition they pay weekly. Some centers do have subsidy help for parents that is provided by the State, but not near enough to cover the cost of care. We struggle, always, but especially now after the COVID situation. We chose this career not for the money, but for the personal reward and ability to make a difference. It sure would be nice to be appreciated and paid for the important work that we do with our (as you said) most precious possessions.
Click on the photo below to view a gallery of images from Stepping Stones Child’s Center.