By Earl Horlyk
Don’t call Donna Oldenkamp a babysitter. Instead, the Indian Hills Apple Tree Preschool & Learning Center employee describes herself as an early childhoodprofessional.
Oldenkamp’s job: caring for the personal and educational needs of your kids when you’re at work. And since the children in her charge are ages 2 and under, potty patrol is a major mission. “When you’re dealing with small kids,” Oldenkamp said with a harried laugh, “it’s all about the potty.”
And Oldenkamp, herself, the mother of three grown children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, is the right woman for a stinky job. “Believe it or not, I think I have the best job in the world,” she said in a roomful of ankle-biters. “These kids are the lights of my life.” With 25 years of experience — the majority of which has been with Apple Tree — Oldenkamp is a potty training pro.
Likewise, Brenda Thelen — with more than 21 years of experience — knows a thing or two about preschoolers.
Caring for kids from newborn to 4 years of age inside her Northside Sioux City home, Thelen didn’t intentionally set out to be a day care provider. “I spent 10 years selling jewelry for a living,” she said. “It was only after my two sons were born that I decided to work from home.”
Yet Thelen knew child care was a profession that ran in her family.
“My great-aunt Mary Ann ran a day care in Morningside for 30 years and my mom is still a ‘mother hen’ when it comes to her kids or any one else’s,” she said. “I was taught by the best.”
According to Diane Merchant, director for the Indian Hills Apple Tree, her young charges are also “taught by the best.””With so many children are being raised by working parents or grandparents, quality child care is truly a necessity,” she said. “Parents demand the best for their kids and we are here to provide it.”
Merchant said the first five years are important to the development of children.
“Everything that we do is designed to shape the social, emotional and cognitive skills of children,” she explained. “The type of person a child becomes is often determined before age 5.”