Definitely Not ‘The Day Care’

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “center” is a point, area, person or thing that is most important or pivotal to an indicated activity.

In 1986, a busy group of Northern Door parents decided it was time for their young children to have a child care center of their own. At first, the parents took turns caring for each other’s children. In a very short time it was apparent that this would be a job for professionals and Northern Door Children’s Center was born.

It is now a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit with a 13-member volunteer board of directors and a teaching and administrative staff of 19. Originally housed in the old Sister Bay Schoolhouse, the Children’s Center moved to its current 9,600-square-foot building in 1999. It is licensed for 112 children.

Early childhood education has come a long way since the 1980s. With curriculum for even the youngest infants, Northern Door Children’s Center (NDCC) is not a day care. It is a high-quality early childhood center that provides a comprehensive educational program for children six weeks to five years. In addition, NDCC offers an afterschool program and a school-aged summer day camp experience.

Cindy Trinkner-Peot, executive director since 2000, is very clear: “We educate children, not days. Please don’t call us the ‘day care’! We prefer being called the Children’s Center. This is because we are an important center point of education for young children and families in northern Door County.”

One of the unique features at NDCC is the Infant/Toddler Loop. “Looping,” also known as “continuity of education,” is a system in which a group of infants within the same one-year age span starts a class with one or two teachers. That class of students and teachers are a unit for three years, changing rooms together as the children grow.

“Typically in early childhood education, children are ‘promoted’ by themselves to the next classroom and teacher based on age or certain developmental milestones like walking or potty training. It is very difficult and stressful for children to have to constantly change teachers and peers,” says NDCC Education Coordinator Pam McGee. “Research on children’s early brain development tells us that it is strong attachments with a consistent, highly trained teacher and the same peers that allows for optimal brain growth.”

NDCC started its first loop in 2001 with a group of infants who are now in the sixth grade. Every new group of infant students since then has been part of a loop and children join a loop no matter what their age when enrolling at the Center.

When the children are ready to transition to NDCC’s “Prescholar” preschool classroom, one of their looping teachers goes with them for a specific time period in order to help them adjust. The Prescholar classroom has two groups of looping children, one older and one younger. This is done deliberately to give the students an opportunity to experience a mixed-age classroom.

Current research in early childhood education endorses this classroom style as it gives children the opportunity to interact, both as a peer teacher and as a peer learner, creating a more natural “community” experience. The focus in Prescholar is on enhanced and enriched learning centers that allow the students to explore, with teachers facilitating and extending the learning process. In addition, literacy-based Spanish language lessons are introduced.

Students who are four years old by Sept. 1 each school year enter the 4K program. At NDCC, the 4K classroom is designed to offer children a wide variety of educational experiences in the areas of literacy, math, science and social studies. Children participate in project-based activities that allow for hands-on, experiential learning.

The teaching team in this classroom includes a teacher certified in pre-Kindergarten education by the Department of Public Instruction. The 4K students also participate in daily journals, enriched learning centers, and six-week long “specials” each year, such as martial arts, swimming lessons and studio art lessons.

Education isn’t just for the students. All teachers at NDCC who do not already have a degree in education or a related field must enroll in college and begin working toward a degree in early childhood education. The State of Wisconsin offers a scholarship program called T.E.A.C.H. to support early childhood educators in completing a degree.

In order to make the educational experience affordable for families, NDCC fundraises 25 percent of the cost of operating the Center each year. Many community partners, such as local churches and individuals, help by donating scholarship dollars that allow the children of families having financial hardships to attend the Center. NDCC works diligently each year to assure that every four-year-old child in the Northern Door community is offered the opportunity to participate in a 4-year-old Kindergarten program, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.

Since 1986, Northern Door Children’s Center has evolved from a small parent cooperative to a high-quality early childhood learning facility. Located in Sister Bay at the corner of Highway 57 and Country Walk Drive, NDCC operates Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. Community members are welcome and encouraged to stop by the Center and take a tour…just don’t call it the day care.

Karen Corekin is the Community Relations Coordinator for Northern Door Children’s Center.