Children’s Choice celebrates 30 years

Jodi Schellenberg
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This July, Children’s Choice Child Development Centre in Prince Albert is turning 30 and recently celebrated with a barbecue on June 25.

The licensed childcare centre started up in 1984 after a need for more spaces was noticed in the city.

“There has always been a need for childcare,” said Gail Szautner, executive director of Children’s Choice. “It is important that childcare is licensed because then it is in what is regulated. There are some regulations that have to be met rather than just leaving it to chance and circumstance and maybe getting a good quality care provider but maybe not.”

Originally, the centre started out with one location at Dunn Drive with 65 spaces available.

“We have grown over the years, again to meet the need in the community,” she said.

After noticing a need in the west end of Prince Albert, the childcare centre expanded, opening Children’s Choice West located on 15th Street West in partnership with the Riverbank Development Corporation.

Riverbank Development was in the process of renovating a building to provide housing to low-income families.

“They wanted to put a childcare facility on site because a lot of lower income families don’t have vehicles,” Szautner said. “We opened up Children’s Choice West and we only have 28 spaces there, which is not very many. There is very little licensed childcare close around there.”

Since St. Michael’s School backed onto the apartment building, Szautner approached the Catholic School Board, asking to purchase some grounds to build another childcare facility.

Instead of giving them grounds to build on, the school division offered Children’s Choice the use of four portable classrooms they were not using inside the school. The partnership worked well, adding another 58 spaces in 2010.

In the same timeframe, St. Anne’s School was under construction and the school division asked Children’s Choice to run a daycare in that location as well since the one at St. Michael’s worked out so well.

All of the locations are always full, Szautner said, since there are not many childcare facilities in the West Hill area of the city.

“I think even looking at the need in Saskatchewan with the population growing the way that it is with the employment boom that is going on in this province, we are seeing more families with young children that require care,” she said.

They have also been given more childcare spaces at St. Francis School in the southeast part of the city. Spaces at the new facility will not be available until winter but it is already half full, she said.

“We have grown due to demand,” Szautner said. “We don’t go looking to build a bunch more facilities but it has grown because there is a real need.”

The daycare partners with different organizations to make it a success. Szautner said they are partnered with Kids First at the Children’s Choice West and last September partnered with the federal initiative Healthy Start, which promotes healthy eating and physical activity in childcare centres.

“We have always had healthy food -- Children’s Choice has never served hotdogs or Kraft Dinner, we do not serve ketchup or anything like that, but it just brings more to the forefront how important it is,” Szautner said. “Plus, when you are focusing on healthy eating, we do more of that with the children, so we are including the kids in a lot of the cooking activities.

“Physical activity we know, of course, is critically important,” she added. “We see it on TV and hear it on the news all the time that we are not physically active enough and children just running around is necessarily physical activity.”

Instead of having a structured daycare, similar to what children in elementary school are doing, Children’s Choice follows the Ministry of Education’s Early Learning Program guide called Play and Exploration, Szautner said.

“Play and Exploration is based on human brain development research,” she said. “We know that children learn differently and brains develop differently than what we had thought before.

“Children learn through experiencing and interacting with their environment -- physically and actively engaging as opposed to sitting (and listening).”

One example she used was instead of teaching children about weather through calendars and charts on the wall, they take them outside to experience it.

“That way we can taste it, we can smell it, we can feel it … It becomes a real experience,” Szautner said. “We are not trusting it to memory, we are learning through experiencing, through doing.

“By doing it, we learn it. I think that is the same for adults too -- when we experience something, we do it, we remember it better,” she added. “That is how our children learn is by actively engaging with activities rather than being instructed. Children do not learn best by sitting down and doing worksheets.”

It also makes the early childhood educators partners with the children, facilitating learning.

“We have conversations with the children -- we don’t just tell them what to do or worse yet, what not to do,” Szautner said. “It is all about having conversations and learning and guiding that learning.”

Working with the children for the last 30 years has been very rewarding, she said.

“I don’t know where the 30 years has gone,” Szautner said. “I can still remember the day we opened at Dunn Drive … It is amazing how fast the time has gone by and it has been exciting seeing so many returnees.”

Being able to shape children’s lives is an amazing and great experience.

“We are really happy to be part of the service community in Prince Albert and providing service -- there is no job as rewarding, in my eyes, as watching these children grow, learn, develop and create relationships with parents and families,” Szautner said. “That has been a big part of the reward has been the positive impact we have had on children’s lives and provide to families.”

Organizations: Riverbank Development, Catholic School Board, Francis School Ministry of Education

Geographic location: Anne, West Hill, Saskatchewan

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