Brynnen Hanson runs through a maze of cloth panels at AK Kids Early Learning Center on Saturday, April 30 in Kenai.

Brynnen Hanson runs through a maze of cloth panels at AK Kids Early Learning Center on Saturday, April 30 in Kenai.

Day care integrates curriculum

One local child care provider is hoping to better fill the niche of education-based day care on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Ashley Bulot-Hanson has been in child care since 2001. After being inspired by her aunt and the way she took care of children when Bulot-Hanson was young, she started with a home day care and moved into a commercial building in 2003.

Now, after years of searching, she has moved her operation into a building she said is more perfectly suited to her business in Kenai. AK Kids Early Learning Center on Bidarka Street had an open house on April 30 to let area parents know about the new location and services.

Rather than a run-of-the-mill day care facility, Bulot-Hanson said her business focuses largely on incorporating curriculum into the schedules of the kids that attend so that they are ready for kindergarten.

“We value academics, but we still strongly think that children need to learn through play at the same time,” Bulot-Hanson said. “So we choose to do a mix of traditional child-centered learning and teacher-directed learning so that we get both of that because … it’s just off balance if they don’t have both because they’re both so important.”

The kids at the center are encouraged to learn on their own by exploring things they find interesting, she said. There is also some emphasis on the natural world around them, especially during winter months when it is otherwise hard for kids to get outdoors.

“We like to sprinkle in stuff where kids get excited about learning about nature, so we do like a grow up wild Wednesday day,” Bulot-Hanson said. “That’s a program that inspires them to wonder and learn about nature and explore wildlife, so that’s pretty cool.”

While there is no shortage of day care facilities in the area, Ashley Palm, the center’s administrative assistant, said options are limited for parents looking for a place that does more than just day care. Palm found AK Kids as a child care option before finding work when she came to Alaska, and has since become the administrative assistant, she said.

“Where I’m from there’s quality child care everywhere and it’s expensive, but people pay for it,” Palms said. “Coming there … you don’t have as many options.”

Establishing businesses that blend day care with curriculum can be a challenge in the immediate area due to lack of appropriate buildings, Bulot-Hanson said. She has moved her business between buildings for the last several years, and has been looking for one like the building she is in now for many years as well.

Often, buildings in the area are not outfitted with the proper sprinkler systems required for day care centers. Even if they get installed, building plumbing often isn’t set up to support them, Bulot-Hanson said.

“It’s a struggle to find a building that you can do this business in,” she said. “It’s very expensive to retrofit what’s required.”

Bulot-Hanson said about four months of planning went into moving to her current location after she got the OK that she could lease it. Eventually, she’d like to open more than one location to better serve areas of the peninsula that are further removed from child learning centers, she said.

Another issue child care facilities can run into is keeping quality teachers, but Bulot-Hanson said she has been lucky in that her staff has remained pretty constant over the years.

“The turnover rate in childcare is high, and it’s always been high,” Palm said. “But at this facility it’s not.”

Bulot-Hanson’s new location can hold up to 49 kids at one time, but the children who go there vary between being there for pre-school, before and after school, and other needs, she said. Rather than just calling, she prefers interested parents to come make sure the center is what they really want before filling out an application, she said.

“We’d love for them to call and schedule a tour,” Bulot-Hanson said. “We want them to come see what we’re about, you know, that’s important.”

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