Things are off to a bright start for Stepping Stone Early Learning Academy after opening their second daycare location on Feb. 3, beginning operations at their larger centre near the Muskoka Wharf one month after opening their child care space in the Gravenhurst Child and Family Hub.
The centres at 180 Brock Street and 420 Muskoka District Road 169 offer child care with an emphasis on art and nature for toddlers and preschool age children. Subsidies for both locations are available through the District of Muskoka, and the Hub location also offers strike day care for kids up to age 12. Anya Kerr, operator of the child care centres, was working to open the original location near the wharf when the opportunity came up to apply to operate the child care space in the Hub. She submitted a proposal to the district and when they reviewed Stepping Stone’s program statement, they told her that they’d like to use it as an example for all child care in Muskoka moving forward, she said.
“Our program statement is really harmonizing a love of the arts and creativity and nature with all learning activities,” Kerr said. “We incorporate science and nature into just about every activity, whether it’s literacy and language or numbers and counting.”
Last week, the kids learned about temperature by doing a project that showed how water freezes and melts. The lesson was blended with the arts as the kids made paintings in warm and cool shades of paints, learning that colours also have temperature.
This week’s theme is caring in honour of Valentine’s Day and Family Day, so the kids are learning about caring for each other, caring for nature and animals, and caring as a form of inclusion for people of different races and cultures as well as people with disabilities.
Instead of the usual cookie decorating, kids will decorate pitas with cream cheese and vegetables, incorporating the daycare’s philosophy of healthy eating. Come spring, the outdoor area of the daycare will include community gardens along with other ways for the kids to get involved with nature.
“I’m most looking forward to the way that our programs will expand over the spring because we are an outdoor based program, so the wintertime makes it a little more challenging to do as much nature exploration,” she said. “Right now we’re just trying to really find ways to bring nature inside.”
Along with programs expanding over the spring, the number of children will grow as well. Since it’s a larger centre with 47 spaces, Kerr and her team are welcoming students in waves each week rather than have all the children come at once. The approach allows an easier transition for kids who may have a hard time adjusting to daycare and allows the centre to properly train additional staff.
“The most amazing thing about what I’ve witnessed is every child that comes here doesn’t want to leave at the end of the day,” Kerr said. “I think that says something for the space we’ve created so far.”
Kerr’s husband, Rob, did all the renovations on the building, which acted as an art gallery years before, and made elements like a white picket fence for the play area. Kerr brought art back into the building by painting murals across the walls, including one with blue skies, fluffy clouds and trees that extend from the bottom of the wall up across the ceiling of the main room.
“I don’t think either of us expected it to be quite as magical as it’s turned out,” she said.
The experience of opening the two daycare locations has been a heartwarming one, Kerr said. While they’re only a week into operating their second location, she had her hopes for the new centre validated early on.
“There were a few kids here during our open house that all stood under the tree mural and they just looked up and said, ‘Wow!’” Kerr said. “Seeing their reactions and their excitement over what they’re taking in, that’s all I could ever ask for right there.”
To learn more about Stepping Stone Early Learning Academy and their programs, visit their website and Facebook page. For more information on child care subsidies, visit the District of Muskoka website.
See more photos of the daycare in the gallery and learn more about Stepping Stone Early Learning Academy and their philosophies in the article below. Photos by Maddie Binning