Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center opens

By: Patricia Coate - Apr 08, 2016
Source: Sequim Gazette
It’s 12:30 p.m. on a Wednesday and the lilting and laughing little voices that breath life into Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center are getting a well-deserved nap.

That break gives owners Erin Bell and Helana Coddington a chance to talk about the business they opened on March 2 and run nearly 12 hours a day, Monday-Friday.

Both have 14 years of experience in child care facilities working for others, Bell said, who has a degree in early childhood education. Coddington grew up in the business as her parents ran a child care center in Tacoma for 30 years. She has a child development associate degree.

Their paths eventually crossed and, Bell said, “We found we had a different philosophy than the places we had been working in and Helana and I had philosophies that really matched up. Last spring when the building became available, we said, ‘Let’s open our own center.’ We spent seven months getting funding to do this and we are licensed through the state — there’s a whole checklist we had to go through to get licensed.”

Coddington credits their opportunity to community lenders and Craft3, a “nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution lender with a mission to strengthen economic, ecological and family resilience in Pacific Northwest communities,” according to its website.

“It was much bigger than a local dollars and cents loan,” Coddington said. “They all worked together for full funding.”

From a child’s viewpoint
Bell explained, “We like to take a child-centered approach where others have taken a teacher-centered approach. In our child care center, you observe children to find out what their interests are and plan your activities around those interests. Young children won’t necessarily be able to verbalize what their interests are so that’s why we observe them while playing.”

A natural, homelike feel is what the pair decided to incorporate with lots of focus on the outdoors and nature. In two good-sized fenced play areas, children get to dig in sandboxes, lug around small logs, feel the grass and hear the birds. Right now the preschoolers, ages 2½ to 5, have seedlings growing inside to plant in the center’s garden soon. They also get an outing of several hours every Friday to explore nearby Carrie Blake Park.

Hours are 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and three age groups are accepted: infants, 1-12 months; toddlers, 1-2½ years; and preschoolers, 2½-5 years. With the center being open barely a month, the parental grapevine already has sent two infants, eight toddlers and 12 preschoolers the center’s way. Full capacity is 35, Bell said, and the center bills for services by the half-day and full-day. If clients qualify for subsidized state Department of Social and Health Services payments, the center will accept their children.

“We have to provide developmentally appropriate materials for each class,” Bell said. “In the infant room, we feed babies when they’re hungry and interact with them when they’re awake. It’s all based on their needs and appropriate toys. Having been in child care, we love watching kids learn and grow — when a baby starts crawling, we get as excited as the parents do — and toddlers, they’re excited about everything!”

In the toddler and preschooler rooms, there are activities that teach skills, such as dexterity, and more basics that are important to know before kindergarten like colors and numbers, plus others that allow for lots of imagination.

Up to the task
Of the center’s five teachers, three are working on earning degrees in early childhood education. Bell and Coddington also are committed to constantly raising the center’s status.

“We are part of the Early Achiever state program that helps centers improve the quality of care and so we have a whole checklist, from the right toys to the right materials,” Bell said. “After we feel we have accomplished that (checklist), raters come from the University of Washington.

“Based on our rating, we get grants to improve upon areas that we didn’t score as well in. It’s a neat program because it pushes centers to go the extra mile and look at all aspects of of their center. Grants to improve even further is a great reward.”

Bell added that teachers are eligible for scholarships to continue early childhood education through the Early Achievers program.

“It’s a huge thing the state started in 2012,” she said. “We just really like the idea behind it because we see what we’re doing well and areas for improvement.”

In another progressive mode, Bell said, “We’re going to be starting a parent advisory board to come together to talk about the center — what they would like to see us do regarding activities and food — and they’ll have a chance when we hire to put their 2 cents in on who they like.”

Other goodies
Bell said the center is in the process of setting up a Farm to School program through Nash’s Organic Produce for snack and lunch vegetables. Another “neat” thing, according to Bell, is that every Tuesday, the preschoolers make bread from scratch and eat it for lunch.

Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center recently joined the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce and will host a ribbon-cutting at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 22, followed by an open house.