by TaLeiza Calloway
St. Joseph resident Sally Larson doesn’t have to remind her students about what’s next on the schedule. They remind “Ms. Sally.”
“We keep a very good schedule here,” Larson says with a smile.
Children rule at Country Kids Family Child Care, and Larson wouldn’t have it any other way.
On a Wednesday morning you might find children building a tower with Legos as bricks, playing piano in the music room or one of the older children reading to a younger one in a nook.
There’s so much positive energy flowing at the daycare site, it’s not hard to believe Larson was named Stearns County’s Child Care Provider of the Year. She received the honor last month from the Stearns-Benton County Child Care Association.
She remembers eagerly standing in line with other providers waiting to see who won.
“I was really surprised,” Larson said. “I was in line with daycare providers who have been in it a long time. I just thought, ‘Wow.’ You look down the line at all these women that are wonderful.”
November will mark five years since she opened the in-home daycare in a gray four-plex along CR 51. It’s all familiar territory as her love of children started long before that.
She and her husband, Jaime, served as foster parents for Stearns County for 14 years. They have three biological children: son Dakotah, 22, and twin daughters, 9. When their twins, Kallie and Kourtney, began kindergarten in 2007, Sally and Jaime started the daycare business.
“I think after they went to school, I just needed kids around,” Larson said. “I’ve always loved kids.”
What she enjoys most is witnessing the growth of the students throughout time. For many to go from not writing at all to being able to write the alphabet by themselves is something to see.
James (Drew) Lehner is also proud of his growth. The 5-year-old from Avon is eager to show off his penmanship to visitors. He also knows where everything is and what each room in daycare is for — including the “big boy” bathroom.
Even though Lehner is excited about his growing skills, his favorite part of daycare is unchanging.
“I like going outside because I can run around,” Lehner said.
Three-year-old Katelyn Jochman of Cold Spring agrees nothing beats being outdoors at daycare. She’s also a natural for organizing the baby-doll table and watching the dolls sleep.
Larson cares for 14 children. Their ages range from 4 months to 9 years old. In her opinion, daycare provides so much for children in addition to the educational component.
A big advocate of early-childhood education, she believes stability is one of the many benefits of daycare.
“Consistency is very important for children,” Larson said. “With working parents, this can be hard. You try to fit so much in at the end of a workday or even over the weekend. I think daycares are a good source of consistency.”
While she maintains the in-home daycare alone, her family is always there to offer help. Her husband is an extra set of hands and a handyman. Her sister Brenda, her son Dakotah and his fiancée often assist as aides, and daughters Kallie and Kourtney always volunteer to pitch in with the younger children.
Larson loves what she does. Even though she lives 800 feet away from the daycare, she still drives to work just to make sure she has transportation if it’s needed in a hurry.
When she goes on vacation, all she thinks about are her kids — often calling some of the parents to see if they would like to visit, she said with a chuckle.
“You get very attached,” she said.
Name: Sally Larson
Hometown: St. Cloud
Family: Husband Jaime; son Dakotah, twin daughters Kallie and Kourtney.
Business Name: Country Kids Family Child Care
Address: 15325 CR 51, St. Joseph.