SHERIDAN – Inside a nondescript office building on North Main Street is a new play space. The floor is covered with geometric cushions, the walls with colorful decorations. The blocks are stacked in plastic bins. Kids squawk and giggle in and out as they find more toys, more space, more to discover.
Kids Academy Early Learning Center, Sheridan’s newest child care center, opened on November 1, 2021, amid high demand for child care spaces in Sheridan and a shortage of child care staff.
Larson plans to run several programs, depending on age, at Kids Academy. Although much of the building is still under construction, the academy will have a full play area in 2022 as well as classrooms for infants, 1 year olds and 2 year olds as well as nursery school for 3-year-olds and preschoolers. kindergarten 4 and 5 years old.
“I don’t feel like it’s just babysitting,” Larson said, as the children’s lessons and activities at the center are planned based on their development. Larson herself has a master’s degree in early childhood education and has made childcare her profession.
In the classroom, Larson explained, she and her staff practice the Reggio Emilia approach to play. Kids Academy is filled with “loose parts,” as Larson puts it, or toys like blocks, pillows, art supplies and more that can be turned into any number of play activities. These unstructured toys, Larson said, create active young learners.
After moving to Sheridan in the summer of 2021, Larson decided to open the Kids Academy in town, she said, after locals told her the community was in serious need of more child care. ‘quality children.
Kids Country Daycare founder Angela Peterson said there were often few childcare options available to parents in Sheridan; many daycares are full. Peterson said she had recently received several frantic calls from parents looking for child care.
Peterson attributed the limited availability to staffing issues. Quality staff have become extremely difficult to find, Peterson said, and she recently lost two staff members to higher paying jobs – jobs starting at $ 17 or $ 18 an hour – at large companies. Peterson said she didn’t feel comfortable raising her daily rates because families already pay high prices for child care and are still strapped for cash due to financial woes from COVID- 19.
“It’s tough right now,” Peterson said.
Research confirms Peterson’s observations. According to University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, wages are down for Wyoming daycares. The median wage for child care workers in 2019 was $ 11.46 an hour, a 2% drop from 2017. For Wyoming preschool teachers and daycare directors, wages were just as low in 2019, with an average of $ 13.27 – an 11% drop from 2017 – and $ 21.50 – a 13% drop from 2017 – respectively, according to the study.
Marsha Riley, executive director of the Child Development Center, agreed with Peterson. Staffing shortages, Riley said, have been a problem in child care for several years, exacerbated by the need to hire additional staff to meet cleaning standards in the COVID-19 era. Maintaining the center’s workforce – like educators across Sheridan and the country – is “about caring people and calling for the role of child care,” Riley said.
Larson also draws on the positive work environment of most daycares to inspire workers to start – and continue – working at Kids Academy.
Staffing for the academy, Larson said, started slowly due to its high expectations of potential employees and the state’s requirements for background checks on educators. She was able to hire four staff, but, according to the Kids Academy website, there are still five positions open at the daycare, including educator and kitchen roles.
Nonetheless, Larson said she was convinced that the environment of support and encouragement she hopes to foster among the staff at Kids Academy – an atmosphere, she said, hard to find in others. higher paying jobs – attract and retain staff.
Larson said COVID-19 has also changed the way families seek child care. Although Kids Academy is open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Larson said many families are now asking for part-time rather than full-time child care. Larson attributed the change to job changes related to COVID-19, particularly opportunities for parents to work from home.
Regardless of staff and COVID-19 issues, Larson is excited to welcome more families to Kids Academy. She awaits the completion of construction of the facility and the arrival of several infants in the spring of 2022. Ultimately, Larson hopes to build a family-centered space for the children in her care to learn and grow. .