Donna’s Daycare home away from home
The weight and importance of a job is often measured by the elaborate thoughts one has when they think about that career. Brain surgeon, physicist, astronaut as examples. Not on the list: daycare worker.
Donna Doucet, owner and director of Donna’s Daycare and Preschool in Orange knows this better than anyone. For the past twenty years it has been her daily calling to care for the children of others.
Being a home away from home for the most precious, vulnerable and busy members of someone else’s family is not only difficult for many reasons, but a giant responsibility.
“I had been around it, worked in daycare. I loved it. I still love it. I love being around the kids, being active with them,” she explains.
Anyone who has been around a toddler for even a few hours will recognize what it takes to deal with a small hoard of them all day every day for twenty years. It is a calling to be able and willing and still enjoy it. It is a calling.
“Yes, you have to love your job! People think, ‘Oh I baby sit all the time, I can do this.’ That is just not true. Running a daycare and dealing with them on this level is much different,” says Donna, “You have to love them all the same, not see black or white just each child and their needs.”
Donna finding her calling is evident. State mandated evaluations are extremely strict and have become even more so through the years. Each daycare in Texas is accessed on multiple levels. This includes the food they give the children, the cleanliness and facility worthiness, policies and following of procedures as well as their employees.
The scale of this evaluation system runs from one to three, with one being the lowest rating and three being premium. Keeping a three is tough but Donna has maintained a three level for all twenty years, having never been moved off of it even one time.
“It used to be that I didn’t tell people this. Then a state worker told me I should absolutely be telling parents this. I also started encouraging them, when they came here looking to put their child in daycare, to ask the other facilities they were considering what their state rating was.
Many came back saying the daycare acted like they didn’t know.”
She goes on to explain that with today’s internet, a parent can find out these things online and she recommends they do so.
Maintaining this rating has not been a one man task. This labor of love has been a shared venture, equally impressive and to Donna’s credit are her employees. She has five employees that have been staples.
One, Cindy Burkhead, Donna’s assistant director has been working with her for close to 20 years, another for 17 years, two have been with her eight to 12 years, and the new kid on the block is already at two plus.
“I must be a pretty good boss too,” Donna smiles.
What does one do with tons of toddler energy for eight or more hours? A better question might be: what does one NOT do? Toddlers are very energetic and curious. They are also dealing with a multitude of emotional outbursts, while trying to learn the world around them. But Donna’s is not a babysitting service, it is also a pre-school.
“Depending on their age, we start sitting them down and teaching them their numbers, letters and colors. We teach them to behave and follow directions as well as to respect others,” says Donna.
They incorporate many of the same incentives and requirements that the children will be taught under when they enter school.
Spanking, though allowed at age five, has never been used by Donna or her employees.
“We find positive reinforcement to work better,” she explains. Cindy adds it would be helpful if parents followed some of these patterns. Their favorite way to communicate with children is through the word ‘happy’.
“Children want to make us happy. They want their parents to be happy,” Cindy explains.
How one communicates with a child is key. ‘What you just did isn’t making me happy,’ is an example of this. Putting directions in the positive form is preferable than the negative. Saying, ‘You will respect others and their space’ is better than, ‘Don’t touch others.’
“It’s still a challenge at times,” remarks Donna, “When you feel it’s just too much you take a break and count to ten.” She said.
The special events and trips are a part of behavior incentive. There are trips to McDonald’s, skating, visits to see Santa, or a ride through the pumpkin patch. Each holiday or special event brings special craft times. Some times there are community visitors that come to them. Santa come for photos, Sparky the fireman dog come to help students learn fire safety, dental students from Lamar Orange will come discuss dental hygiene. They are being taught a multitude of behaviors and academic style knowledge.
Along with perfectly portioned nutritional meals and outdoor time two times a day, Donna’s kids get what it most important: love. She and her staff love each and every one of them.
“You have to. If you are just here for a check, they know it. You cannot deal with them this much and not love them,” her conviction on this is evident. “I am not the one at the desk here all day. I go out with them, I sit a teach them, I love being involved with them.”
Though the state mandates the amount of children each day care is allowed based on the facility size, Donna tends to run at or near her capacity of 55 children. Coming in the Spring to Orange will be the new and improved facility. Donna recently closed on a piece of property where she will build from the ground up a larger all new center. Meeks Drive will soon be their new home away from home. It will have extended hours and be able to accommodate more children, subsequently bringing more jobs to Orange.
She is excited and shows a bit of the endless energy it takes to work with children in the arena of daycare. But it is an labor of love.