It’s a rainy afternoon and half of the College’s students can be found sitting quietly in class, dreading the moment they have to go outside and brave the downpour. The other half can be seen walking across campus with gloomy expressions on their faces.
Just when it seems like there isn’t a happy soul around, a burst of laughter comes from a room in Forcina Hall. For the kids at the College’s Child Care Center, a little rain is nothing to ruin their afternoon, not when they have a video of “Coco the Talking Gorilla” to watch.
Most students at the College have at one point or another walked by that small playground outside Forcina, wishing they could play on it, perhaps never questioning why it was there.
“People aren’t aware that we’re here,” Connie Danser, coordinator for the Child Care Center, said. “All we have is a tiny sign outside our room.”
Although this is Danser’s first year at the College, the Child Care Center has been around for over 20 years. Starting off as a babysitting group for students, the venture evolved into a licensed childcare center over the years.
Today, the center offers childcare services for the children of the College’s students, faculty, staff and alumni. Children between two and a half and five can be dropped off at the Center based on their parent’s schedule.
“People can sign up for just what they need,” Danser said. “We have people doing all things, full-time or half a day, twice a week.”
The fees for service vary depending on the amount of time children spend at the center, with a lower fee offered for current students. According to Danser, this is one of the best things about the Center.
Another thing Danser values as a strength is the fact that that the center’s staff is able to pay individual care to the group of children in attendance.
“The small group allows everyone to get individual attention and it’s easy to watch their behavior,” Danser said.
The number of kids in the classroom ranges from day to day, but the staff, consisting of Danser, her co-coordinator, Nikki Robinson, and nine student workers, is always there to assist the children. The student workers are required to bring in lessons and outlines for the children, but they also bring their energy and enthusiasm.
“The student workers bring so much to the Center and that makes this place unique,” Danser said.
Tori Barrett, junior elementary education and sociology major, has been working at the Child Care Center since her freshman year. She is very happy with her working environment and is also grateful because she’s gaining experience in her field.
“I appreciate working there because all of my co-workers also enjoy their job, and it shows in the way they deal with me, parents and the children,” Barret said. “There are so many times that I actually enjoy going to work, because with the stresses of classes and life, the kids there bring a much-needed simplicity to things and can always make me laugh.”
Among the activities available to the children at the Center are creative art, rhythm and music, books and story time, campus walks and, of course, toys and games time. The children are, for the most part, divided in their favorite activity by gender: the girls enjoy creative art activities, while the boys would rather play with blocks and cars.
“I like the blue cars and black cars,” was one boy’s response when questioned about his favorite toys.
According to Danser, a classmate invited this boy over to his house to play, reassuring him that he would be able to play with the blue cars since they were his favorite.
“This shows how sensitive the students are to each other,” Danser said.
This kind of caring environment is not always easy to find.
“I have years and years of experience, but this is the most fun I’ve had,” Danser, who served as the director of the Princeton University childcare center for 15 years, said.
The children also go on a series of trips throughout the semester. They recently visited the Howell Living History Farm, taking most of them on their first-ever yellow school bus ride, which Danser said they loved. The group also went trick-or-treating for Halloween at Green Hall and the Student Life offices in Brower Student Center.
In addition to all the fun, however, Danser also said she believes that the children who attend the Child Care Center come out ready for kindergarten.
“My favorite activities are the ones that allow (the children) to express their own creativity,” Danser said. “They are given the opportunity to make their own choices and are very well-prepared for kindergarten.”
There is one activity, though, that may not allow for much creativity: nap time. Around 1 p.m., all the children get into their sleeping bags for this time. They sing the Teddy Bear song, which ends with the lyrics, “turn out the light, goodnight,” before quickly nodding off to sleep.
But the quiet doesn’t last forever. An hour later they are up and at it again, ready to learn and play. Then the time comes for the children to leave – which Danser said is the only time they experience separation issues – the children are sad not to leave their parents, but to leave the Child Care Center. All is well, however, because they will be back, running around their playground or sitting inside on another rainy day, but always enjoying their time.