by Paul Rignell
Devon Amundson worked a career in retail management before becoming a mother, welcoming a daughter, Kallyn, and son, Kaden, into the world with her husband, Mike.
A few years later, after Kallyn had entered first grade, Devon found her next career without needing to leave their Elk River home, by welcoming more children into the home weekdays for breakfast and lunch, learning and play.
Now, through four years as a licensed professional and in just her first year of eligibility for the honor, Devon has been named Sherburne County’s Child Care Provider of the Year, officially for 2011. Nominated by the parents and families who contract with her and selected by the Elk River Area Child Care Providers Association, Devon has received a plaque and will represent the county at an annual state conference in Bloomington in May.
“(The news) was exciting. I was honored,” she told the Star News. “To know that my families are pleased with the work that I’m doing, that means the world to me.”
Always wanted 11 kids, almost there
Supported by Mike, who works a career in mechanical design, Devon began to open their home each day for children other than their own when a woman friend with a new home-cleaning business became pregnant, and the friend asked if Devon would consider watching the child while the friend was running her business.
“She didn’t want to lose her clients,” Devon said. “(My work) kind of snowballed from there.
“All my life, I said I wanted 11 kids. That was my magic number. My husband said, ‘No.’ But I found a way to have 11 kids, minus one, because I’m only allowed 10 (under the license).”
Though they spend most of their mother’s work day in the fourth and second grades, respectively, at St. Michael Catholic School in St. Michael, Kallyn and Kaden count among the 10 children Devon is allowed to watch. But that will change later this year, and Devon could open the home to an 11th child if she should so choose, when Kallyn turns 11. “She’s considered kind of a ‘helper’ at that age,” Devon said.
Devon opens each weekday for the kids, now including an infant who turned 3 months old this week, with breakfast by 8 a.m. For most of them, “I try to mix it up,” she said. “We always have a grain, maybe pancakes, cereal or waffles, with fruit and milk.
“It’s interesting to be in this job and see what other families’ eating habits are,” Devon added. “I have a ‘you have to try it’ rule, for sure. I love that I can turn picky eaters into non-picky eaters.”
Mondays are mellow after breakfast. That first morning of the week is “Movie Time Monday,” which should be self-explanatory. On Tuesdays and Thursdays after breakfast, all of the children of a certain age gather with Devon for preschool sessions. “That’s a sit-down, more structured time,” she said. “That’s our music time, and letters and shapes, and colors and numbers.”
The younger children have access to a play area across the room, but the ones who are closest to that preschool age tend to gravitate quickly to where the older kids are huddled, where there is always an extra chair or spot on the floor. “They always want to know what’s going on,” Devon said, “so they’ll come and sit with the other kids.”
Wednesdays are days for special projects and events, often involving arts or crafts and related to themes Devon has introduced to them on other days. It’s common to tie together different animals with letters of the alphabet for a craft. The children recently made “marshmallow monkeys,” she said.
Friday “is our ‘free play’ day,” she added. “Everybody looks forward to Friday.”
After daily lunch and rest time, the routine leads Devon to load the children into a van for a ride to St. Michael to pick up Kallyn and Kaden from school.
When the van returns to the Amundsons’ driveway, the kids have a snack and then free play until their parents or other arranged adults come to bring them home until the next visit with Devon.
“We spend a lot of (afternoon) time outside, when it’s nice out,” she said.
‘My kids love her’
Michelle Sandager is a parent of two girls, with one in kindergarten and the other about to turn 2, who has known Devon as her weekday childcare provider from virtually the start of Devon’s career in the field.
“I knew we would get more one-on-one attention, because Devon has a smaller group,” Sandager said. “I think it’s awesome that she’s gotten this award. She deserves it wholeheartedly. I’d never want to go anywhere else. My kids love her. They are always giving her big hugs. You know from their reactions that they love it here.”
Living in the neighborhood, Melissa Hofstede, another mother of two, learned of Devon’s work when walking down their street on a warm afternoon. “They always seemed like they were having a good time,” Hofstede said of kids in the yard. “I actually stopped by one day and asked (Devon) if she had any openings. I wanted to move (my kids) closer to home. When she had an opening, she called about a month later.”
Hofstede said the children learn a lot through their visits. “They come home with a lot of different projects,” she said. “They come home with things they’ve learned that I know I didn’t teach them.”
She added that she appreciates Devon’s emphasis on health and activity, which the children bring home — “My kids will tell me if I’m eating something that’s junk food.”
Devon wishes the other families well as they leave the Amundsons’ home, yard and curb each day, and always says she looks forward to their next visit. “I love doing this. It is just that simple,” she said of her typical day with children. “I love watching them grow and learn. I’ve loved all of that stuff with my own kids, and this is just continuing it. It’s a blast.”