‘Never a dull moment’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 24, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – Besides the teacher who opens the day care center each morning, Catherine Carter and her 11-month-old son, Devin, are the first to arrive.

“I brought clean clothes, but he hasn’t had breakfast or his medicine yet,” Carter said, handing Devin to teacher Shannon Mason at about 7 a.m. before heading off to work at United Mississippi Bank.

That’s a common scene at Mother Goose Day Care & Child Development Center, said Mason. “But that’s not a problem,” she added, changing Devin’s diaper as the tot gleefully throws the toy he’s holding into the trash bin.

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For the next hour or so, other parents bring their children into the center, giving a battery of instructions to the teacher. And, perhaps remarkably, both the children and their parents are almost fully awake.

But ready or not, day care is a necessity for the parents, most of them mothers, who brought their children to the center.

“If it wasn’t for this, I’d have to quit,” said Paula McCurty, mother of Courtney, 18 months. “Besides, (the children) love it. They spoil them here.”

“I would probably have to pay for someone to keep her if we didn’t have this,”&160;said Lamont Sheppard, father of 1-year-old Journee.

The center has its share of divorced and single parents, “and many of them don’t have family here who could keep the children while they’re at work,”&160;Mason explained.

Judy Wilson’s husband works in Arkansas every other week, so he is not available to care for 3-year-old Tyler during those weeks. It is a good thing that day care is available, Judy Wilson said.

“The drawback is that you’ve got to pay for day care, but if you didn’t have it, you couldn’t work … to pay day care,”&160;Wilson said with a laugh.

And Wilson is in the same boat with parents throughout the nation.

Almost 30 percent of preschool children in the United States are placed in day care or nursery school during the day. And families spend an average 10 percent of their income on child care, according to the latest census statistics.

But Wilson wasn’t thinking about the statistics. Instead, she was spending the last few minutes before the trip to work telling Tyler and 3-year-old niece Ashton Gullage goodbye.

Kneeling on the nursery floor in high heels, she gave them a kiss goodbye. “You be good today, OK?” she said. “You, too.”

Keeping on schedule

The schedule posted in the infant room is as time-specific as a diplomat’s itinerary. A 7 a.m. game time is followed by a 8:45 a.m. diaper check. Outside time is usually from 9:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., but has been cancelled due to cold.

“We sing, read books to them, … a little bit of everything,”&160;Mason said.

There’s also breakfast around 8 a.m., although feeding times for infants were somewhat staggered on this particular day. By 7:55 a.m., a teacher was busy feeding Devin instant grits.

“See?&160;He can eat the whole bowl, just about,” she said, pausing while Devin swallowed the last bite with a grin.

By 11 a.m., the day care’s young charges – about 50 children 6 weeks to 12 years old are enrolled – were eating again, this time a lunch of chili followed by fruit.

With full tummies, they were escorted to the “quiet room”&160;where, by 12:30 p.m., they sat with their heads in their hands, mesmerized by a “Rugrats” program on the television.

“This gets them quieted down enough to take a nap,”&160;Mason said, a touch of relief in her voice.

Renewed energy

After the nap, the center’s students had plenty of energy to start playtime again in earnest.

By 3 p.m., the 2- to 4-year-olds were at play “stations”&160;throughout the playroom – at the Lego table, at the Little People castle, in the play kitchen and at a workbench, where one boy waved a plastic “drill.”

The din of several preschoolers talking at once could be unnerving to some, but not to Manager Judy Parham.

“Don’t take that away from him,” she told one youngster who attempted to take a toy away from a classmate. “Be nice.”

There is method to the madness, for even the simplest play teaches crucial skills, said center owner Angie Arnold. One game involves putting cardboard “cookies” in the mouth of a puppet at one of the stations.

“It teaches them their colors,”&160;Arnold said, waving a green “cookie.”

Taking continuing education classes helps the center’s teachers think up educational and entertaining activities for their students.

The Louisiana Association of Child Care Providers requires child care workers to take 12 hours per year of continuing education classes, Arnold said.

“Of course, I’ve got four children of my own, so I’ve learned a lot from that, too,”&160;she added.

And the center’s parents notice the new skills their children pick up at Mother Goose. In fact, Wilson said that is one of the positive things about day care. “They always have preschool activities,” Wilson said. “They come home with something new every day.”

Another good thing about day care is that it helps children develop social skills, Sheppard said.

“This way, she gets used to being around our kids, … so she won’t cry when she starts going to school,” he said.

Day care also serves as an opportunity for older children to finish their homework and study for tests, and the Mother Goose’s school-age students are no exception.

In a building reserved for older children, one student was intent on finishing her homework, while the rest studied for the next day’s spelling test under the watchful eye of teacher April Maples. “When you finish with your homework, you can play on the chalkboard,”&160;Maples said.

Saying goodbye

At about 5:45 p.m., the older students went into the main building to play games with other children until their parents arrived to pick them up.

Dylan took three giant steps away from the group lined up against the wall of the infant room – but he forgot to say “mother, may I.”

“Oh, man,” he said, shaking his head as he walked back to the wall.

“Mother, may I?” Brittany said before she took two baby steps away from the crowd. Toddler Chris can’t talk that well yet, but he yelled something unintelligible as ran among the children along the wall.

“Come here, Chris,” a teacher called, and he gleefully jumped into her lap.

“Never a dull moment,”&160;another teacher said.