BACK TO BASICS DAYCARE AND PRESCHOOL
With any piece I write for this blog, I’m always wondering where to start, and I feel like that goes without saying for almost everything humans do. Where do we start, where do we begin building our foundations? I ask myself where I’m going to start when I try a new recipe, and when I have a BIG idea, like buying rollerblades when I have no business experimenting in balance. I ask myself where to start when I want to do something good.
How you begin something, be it a project, a new job, or even a bar fight, is an integral step in your process. Everything you expand upon in the future needs to rest on the foundations you’ve built. Hopefully you are using something concrete, like, say, concrete. And while everything in your life innately has a beginning, how about the foundation of your life in itself? Where do we begin?
There is a preschool teacher in Medway, Massachusetts who is laying a concrete foundation for her students every day. And now, in a world with increasing technology, increasing standardization, and decreasing opportunities for children to socialize appropriately, she is always walking uphill.
Wendy Kilty, owner and teacher of Back to Basics Daycare and Preschool, has dedicated her life to educating and shaping the minds of children. Over Zoom, Wendy tells me about why she made her transition from Operations VP at a bank to opening her own pre-school. Let’s be real: That is a pretty drastic career shift.
Accounting for the Kids
For Wendy, it truly is all about the kids. “[I] started having children, and then realized what am I doing? I need to be home with my children.” Wendy sounds so sure and secure in her decision to leave her career when she speaks to me. The more you talk to her, the easier it is to understand why. Her love for teaching and helping children is big and loud and bright. She is matter-of-fact when she speaks, always mindful and in control. Someone that speaks with such determination and focus surely has always known what she wanted to do, but that’s actually not the case. She found her passion accidentally: “I decided to go into early education. At the beginning [it] was to work the schedule that my kids were in school. Being a single mom at the time, it worked out great.”
Wendy is the kind of teacher you used to wish for as a kid. She is calm, in control, and truly, genuinely enjoys being around and teaching children. While you’d think that would be the norm for most elementary schools, I would like to point you to one of the most famous teachers.
So, where is Miss Wendy molding minds?
Wendy recently found a new space for her school, and it’s very exciting. Just as finding her passion was a bit of an accident, so too was the blessing of this new facility. “This February I expanded, and it was quite by accident…I took over a childrens indoor play place and cafe…Now it’s Back 2 Basics Preschool and Daycare.” When she went on to describe her new building to me, I found myself wondering, am I too old to attend a daycare? “It’s got the ball pit, and slides, and jungle gyms, and ziplines, well, one zip line, and little saucers…We made classrooms. I opened February 1st, and started with two little classrooms, and we’re building up and by June 1st I will be at full capacity, so I’m excited.” At the time of this piece, Wendy has reached her full capacity for her school. And she’s right: this is so exciting!
This school sounds like any child’s dream. These interactive play spaces rival Chuck E Cheese, and this is a school. Wendy has curated a space that caters specifically to our youngest community members which is, again, a surprisingly rare find in our education system. What really makes Back to Basics Preschool and Daycare so special is the incredible level of empathy demonstrated by its main teacher.
A School to Vouch For
Wendy tells me about a state program she signed up for through the State of Massachusetts. “I branched out to the voucher program, so I work with the state to bring in the less fortunate.” This voucher program allows students to attend her daycare when their parents are otherwise unable to afford it. Childcare is, after all, prohibitively expensive. In fact, Massachusetts ranks number one for the cost of center based daycare in the country – and not in a good way.
Now, there are certainly benefits for schools that are a part of the voucher program. During a 3 month Covid-19 shutdown, Wendy was able to use the funds from the program to keep her school open, and thank goodness for that. But Back to Basics really shows its true colors here. Wendy didn’t sign up for the voucher program just because she should, because Wendy does everything with specific intention. “Another reason that I started the preschool was that it just seemed like…I know I struggled when my kids were little to put them in preschool. I didn’t have the money to do that. So when I opened Back to Basics way back when, one of the other things I said was ‘I’m gonna keep the cost low and I’m gonna help these parents that are struggling and more so single moms.’ So it was an affordable preschool.”
It’s so refreshing to hear someone talk about how they remember how hard something was for them, and instead of taking the attitude of “I did it, so can you,” Wendy is actively doing everything she can so that other young parents, or single parents, do not have to experience the hardships she experienced. And if we’re staying on the theme of Miss Wendy encompassing attributes that should not be rare in the teaching world but are anyway, yes, it is rare to find someone with this attitude. So many of us choose to pull the ladder up behind us and forget where we came from, but not Wendy Kilty. Wendy extends her hand, again and again, as demonstrated by her motives behind her teaching.
“I can do this,” she tells me of taking on the burden of childcare and education. “I can really start learning more and be able to help kids overcome a lot of these [unhealthy behaviors] like anxieties, and depression and wild behavior and all those fun stuffs that go along with childhood.”
Hang on. Depression? Anxiety?
I asked Wendy if there really are a measurable amount of young children experiencing these symptoms. Not only did I get a solemn yes, but apparently this has been getting worse. But why? What’s going on?
2021 Is A Scary Place
Honestly, yes, that’s kind of the answer here. 2021 is a much different world than 1995 when I attended kindergarten (shout out to Mrs. Hunt, sorry I got everyone to tie their shoelaces together that one recess). Our lifestyles have really changed in the past couple of decades. With the introduction of the internet and, not long after, affordable technology, we’re seeing the results of a dramatic cultural shift in our children.
A big part of it, it seems, is lack of quality time at home. In 2021, it’s rare to find a family where one parent can afford to stay home and take care of their children. Day care is becoming more and more necessary. “Some of these kids I have from 7 o’clock in the morning to 5:30 at night, that’s a long time to be away from your home.” And while Wendy does focus entirely on creating a rich and engaging atmosphere for her students, she sums up her one shortfall succinctly: “I’m not mom, and I’m not dad.”
Long hours at the daycare center are not going to measure up to quality time at home, but let’s focus on the key phrase here, quality. As noted above, things are different in 2021. Drug addiction has skyrocketed thanks to the Opiate Epidemic, which can lead to infants needing to go through detox upon birth. And while divorce is not anything new, it isn’t any less traumatic for a young child just because they can now zone out on their iPhone. These are just two examples out of a countless array of variables that could stunt a child’s development.
Wendy paints a pretty clear picture. “[For the] first three years [of life] either they can crawl around and roll around and touch things and feel everything, or they can sit in a high chair in front of a television, or in front of a phone. I’m the first way: I want everyone to be able to experience everything. Roll around. Touch things. And that’s where I think they become a well balanced child.” Of course, I’m not about to sit here and demonize parents who sit their kid in front of a tablet now and again. Women are raising children in more isolated settings than ever before; if you need to plop your toddler down in front of Paw Patrol so you can scream into your pillow for 22 minutes, I’m not going to mount a high horse and gallop across your moral compass. But when your child’s only source of entertainment is one screen, there can be physical consequences as well as emotional ones.
“They’re only using one side of their brain, the other one’s sitting dormant,” says Wendy. The internet provides us with limitless knowledge now, so one might presume that it would provide benefits to growing children. However, we have to think about things in terms of human development.
Scrolling through a tablet using only your thumb instead of running around outside, collecting sticks and berries or climbing trees, have children not developing the way humans have been developing for centuries. Fine motor skills are not being developed.
This isn’t just happening at home, and the problem is not concentrated within too much screen time. Wendy talks about the detriment caused by systemic changes in our education system. “We’re drilling in these kids the MCAS, all the pressure we put on them now of learning, learning, learning, but it’s all academic learning. It’s not real life learning.” Personally, if I had a dollar for everytime I threw my hands up in frustration and cried to my cat WHY did I not learn about finances in school! I would be in a much better financial position, especially considering I did not learn about finances in school. “I do think that we’ve taken a lot of stuff, like gym class and shop class, and home economics, and all of those life skill classes have been taken away. I think it’s… I don’t think it’s good.
“Woodworking [for example]… You’re still doing numbers, and measurements, and hammering, and cause and effect, all that fun stuff. Basics.” When she spells it out like that, it does become obvious, doesn’t it?
Basics seems to be the operating word here, and for good reason. “I’m still old school. We don’t have electronics, we don’t have televisions. I think with kids being able to do hands-on [learning], that anything can be taught.” How is Wendy combating screen time, long hours away from home, and rampant standardization? You don’t have to look far for the answer; it’s right in the name.
Back to basics
Wendy’s school takes a step back from the bells and whistles of new tech that seems to hurt more than help. She tells me it’s important in early childhood education to take into account every stage of development. “For the first 3 years you’re trying to get to the different milestones. Getting to those milestones, and being creative getting to the milestones and adapting to how each child is going to learn, I think that’s the biggest thing. There’s different ways of learning. And not everyone learns the same way.”
The basics of storytelling, of time spent outside, of curriculums built to engage, not just keep busy. The basics of simply being around other children. The basics of having a small enough facility where your teacher:student ratio is more than acceptable, and every child gets enough attention. These seemingly simple basics we do with and for our kids have a tremendous impact on their lives, for the rest of their lives. Wendy knows this from experience. “I have parents that I can go into the grocery store and their kids are like 21 now, and they’re like thank you, thank you so much for starting that beginning foundation.”
There are a lot of adults walking around Massachusetts with a solid foundation, and they have Miss Wendy Kilty to thank for that. There’s one lesson that’s always being taught at Back to Basics, no matter where you are developmentally: “Kindness.” Wendy didn’t miss a beat when I asked her to describe Back to Basics in one word. “We’re teaching compassion.”
Check out Back to Basics Daycare and Preschool Facebook page here. You might not be young enough to attend next semester’s class, but we could all use a lesson on compassion. Wendy Kilty is a lesson in compassion. You don’t have to be a child to learn from her.