A new area childcare center is bringing a mission of inclusivity toward those who need it the most.
“We want to be for all – so any income status, we want to make sure we can do that,” said Brandi Randel. “Any religion, race, ethnicity, medical issues, physical issues; we want to make sure we can accommodate anything like that, to serve as many children as possible.”
Randel, along with her husband, Brent, founded Lil Sprouts Playcare LLC in the fall of 2018. Their center, located at 1250 E Commercial Rd., Ottawa, features an 86-child capacity and currently accepts infant to pre-kindergarten age kids.
The center has garnered attention for its partnership with the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corporation (ECKAN), a local community action organization, to provide childcare to economically disadvantaged families. The partnership will allow ECKAN to place 4 to 8 children from ECKAN families at Lil Sprouts, and will assist the center with costs.
“Our long term vision is that every child has a place to go for safe and high quality care,” said Clara Cox, ECKAN Head Start director. “Our goal is to place between 4 and 8 kids here. We’re going to work very closely with these children and track their developmental milestones, which we’ll report to the state. Our hope is that [Randel] does so well here that we’ll be able to place more children here as time goes.”
The ECKAN partnership fits with Lil Sprouts’ overall goal, Randel said.
“We want to be able to help parents in a market that isn’t easy to navigate,” Randel said. “Infant care is really hard to find, especially center-based infant care. Our partnership with ECKAN helps with the cost of things like diapers, wipes formula, and extra expenses that [Department of Children and Families] doesn’t cover.
“Those kind of things that make childcare truly an option for a family that doesn’t have high enough income.”
Without community action organizations like ECKAN, many low-income families face a stark reality when it comes to childcare.
“For a lot of these families, a third of their pay or more goes to childcare,” said Kimber Corn, ECKAN head start assistant director. “Between that and housing, what are they living on?”
Subhead: Found and Flourish
Over a decade of childcare experience already behind her at the time, five years ago Randel and her husband began positioning themselves to open a childcare center.
“We put our house and our cars on a five-year plan to pay off everything, and we got them done and four,” Randel said. “That gave us lots of personal assets that we could build a business with.”
The center currently cares for 22 children using an intentional curriculum designed to foster development and independence. The curriculum is built around the idea of “intentional free play,” Randel said. The idea is to offer a choice of activities to children tailored to their interests that also address specific areas of development.
“It’s providing children the experience they need to become independent,” Randel said.
For parents, Lil Sprouts uses an app called Brightwheel to keep them updated on their child throughout the day.
“Parents are able to get notified all throughout the day how their child is doing – when they use the restroom, when they eat, when they fall asleep, how they play,” Randel said. “They can see receive those notifications all throughout the day or in a daily report at the end of the day. It keeps them up-to-date on how their child is progressing.”
For Sara Knudsen, mom of a 21-month-old at Lil Sprouts, Brightwheel provides peace of mind.
“It gives me updates on when he gets changed, when he gets fed, and if he gets hurt they give me a report, so I can see it right when it happens,” she said. “It’s such a relief, that I’m able to check my phone throughout the day, and while I’m at work, and see how my son is doing.”
Lil Sprouts also cares for children by caring for their employees.
“The goal we have with our employees is that we are like a family together,” Randel said. “The hope is that we don’t have high turnover. You want those same teachers to be there from the time the children are infants to the time that they are 5. You want them to maintain that connection with that child.”
For Amber Vorbeck, Lil Sprouts teacher, the extra attention to employees makes a difference.
“I don’t mind being at work, I don’t mind pulling extra hours, because the Randels are such caring people and they make you feel like family,” she said. “[Randel] approaches things with more of a teaching, learning and loving message than any other daycare I’ve been in.”
As a 13-year veteran of the childcare industry, Vorbeck also enjoys the Love and Logic approach to child discipline Lil Sprouts employs.
“Say for instance, if a child were to bite and hurt another child. They wouldn’t just go into time out and think about what they did; they have to now go and help take care of their injured friend,” Vorbeck said. “They are learning that, ‘What I did hurt somebody, and I have to help take care of them.’ It teaches them to have empathy for the other child, rather than just thinking ‘I’m in trouble.’”
At the end of the day, Randel enjoys providing a meaningful service in the community, she said.
“We provide the security of knowing that, Monday through Friday, 6 to 6, parents have a place that is educational, safe, responsive to put their child so they can go better their own lives,” she said. “I think that’s the most rewarding part, is knowing that this is the place for that.”