The Granite Falls-based childcare center, Puddle Jumpers Learning Center, announced last week that it will open for business on Monday, June 25. The new center is owned and operated by Jessica Busack and Emily Balfany and is located at the Granite Falls campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
According to Busack and Balfany, the center will highlight the emotional, physical, and social development of children through experiential learning. Busack stressed how the educational component of Puddle Jumpers set them aside from other child care providers. “That’s the difference,” she said, “no matter their age, they are learning all day long. It’s ‘school’ for babies and toddlers.” Busack called this approach “learning with intentionality,” and explained that it would help prepare children for preschool.
The two teachers explained that even when children aren’t learning ‘formal’ educational curriculum, engaging them in games and other activities helps give them greater control and understanding over their own bodies. “Until you can control your own body, it’s hard to learn something else,” Busack explained. Balfany agreed, adding a majority of learning actually occurs during ‘play time.’
"The social development will be a key focus as well at the learning center. As little people, they have big emotions and have trouble understanding them and what to do with them. Our goal is to teach them the skills on what emotions are and how to handle them to create positive relationships with friends, family, and caregivers. The social and emotional readiness is just as vital as academics when talking about readiness for kindergarten," says Balfany.
The new facility has the capacity to care for 20 preschoolers, 14 toddlers, and eight infants. Local parents have already begun enrolling their children at Puddle Jumpers, through vacant spots remain. They still have openings for toddler and preschool aged children and limited infant openings.
In recent months, the pair have worked with state officials to receive final licensing approval. The remaining regulatory hurdles were overcome last week, and Puddle Jumpers is now officially certified for operation.
Nevertheless, Busack and Balfany are still working tirelessly to assemble play equipment and organize toys and materials. They recently secured a contract with Granite Falls Health to cater meals at Puddle Jumpers.
Meanwhile, most of the construction work is complete. Aus Flooring finished installing the new floors and a brand new door was successfully installed by Balfany Construction connecting the toddler room to the rest of the facility. Throughout the process, Puddle Jumpers has received technical and financial assistance from the Granite Falls Economic Develop-ment Authority.
Busack and Balfany say that they are looking forward to opening day. Both women have backgrounds in childcare. Balfany, who is a 2008 graduate of Yellow Medicine East has a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education from Southwest Minnesota State University. She also has a license in Parent Education from the University of Minnesota and a teaching license from the state Department of Education. After teaching elementary school for two years, she moved back to Granite Falls to coordinate the Early Childhood Program at YME for four years.
Busack also graduated from YME (in 2002) and earned an Associates Degree in Child Development from Rasmussen College. Since then, she has worked for 15 years as a preschool teacher in North Mankato.
They say that getting Puddle Jumpers off the ground and running has been a thrilling, albeit exhausting, process. They describe the “juggling act” of balancing financial affordability with sound investments in equipment, facility upgrades, and staffing. Still, they are optimistic about their upcoming opening, and can’t wait for the first kids to walk through their doors.
For more information about Puddle Jumpers, please see their website at www.puddlejumperslc.com, or call (320) 564-0122.