For many folks, a birthday celebrated without cake is hard to imagine. But for Dawn Gauthier, director and owner of Ponderosa Playland, the only in-home child daycare facility located in St. George, birthdays and cake lost their inevitable association more than two years ago. That’s when she learned about the Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0 program at a food education program held at the Penquis center in Rockland. The program involves a discipline of daily providing children with at least five fruits or vegetables, two hours or less of screen time, one hour of active play and zero sugary drinks.
Gauthier is the first winner of Let’s Go! Knox County’s Redy Award, which honors “outstanding commitment, leadership and innovation” to the 5-2-1-0 program. “We don’t provide sugary treats ever,” Gauthier states bluntly, noting that she supplies her charges with a breakfast snack, lunch and afternoon snack five days a week. “It’s really not hard to do healthy celebrations or to feed kids healthy food daily.”
Gauthier has been focused on the well-being of the children in her care since high school. “I love kids! I think it began when my sister was born. She’s 15 years younger and I enjoyed being one of her caregivers. During high school I also worked for a daycare center.”
Twenty eight years later she’s still providing daycare services for children as young as four months and as old as 10. Eighteen years ago, when her second son was born, she began providing daycare in her home. “It was the easiest way to raise a family and keep working,” she explains.
Another reason an in-home daycare operation made sense was the home’s location. “I grew up in South Portland, but my grandparents lived here on 100 acres of land called the Ponderosa. I spent all my spare time here and in 1996 was able to put in this house across the drive from my grandparents. It’s a perfect location for childcare—we’re a good distance off the main (Wallston) road, which means we don’t have to be fenced in. Our kids have lots of places to explore.” She cites a frog pond and a field across from the house which is great for flying kites in summer or sledding in winter.
Gauthier gets valuable help in running her daycare center from teacher Beth Vanorse, who has a degree in early childhood education. In addition to basic caregiving tasks, the two carry out a pre-school education program each day. “I love being involved in each child’s early development,” Gauthier says.
Gauthier admits that as much as she enjoys her work, “no one chooses daycare because it’s easy. Five days a week working with kids all day is tough.” There are also the requirements that go along with maintaining her license to operate—these involve continuing education, trainings and meeting the state’s health and safety standards. The benefits of such requirements for the children, however, are enormous. Learning of the Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0 program is a case in point.
“It’s just about awareness,” Gauthier says. The day she learned about the program at Penquis she stopped serving juice and began encouraging the children in her care to drink more water. “We spend a lot of time looking for healthy food choices. And we try to be as creative as we can about indoor active play when the temperature outside is below 20 degrees, preventing us from being able to take the kids outside.” Dance parties, yoga and having the children leap from activity mat to activity mat are some of the solutions Gauthier and Vanorse have devised for this winter problem. They also get useful ideas from Mailbox Magazine, a publication for teachers.
Gauthier says she’s pleased to have received the Redy Award for her participation in the Let’s Go! program, but notes that “We’re not doing it for the recognition. It’s just the right thing to do.” —JW
Let’s Go! is a nationally recognized childhood obesity prevention program that reaches children and families where they live, learn, work and play. Let’s Go! is committed to changing environments and policies at childcare sites, schools, out-of-school programs, healthcare practices, workplaces and communities. The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center and collaboration across health systems and community health coalitions contribute to the program’s success in Maine. Contact Adrienne Gallant at 207-921-8951 to learn more about Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0.
PHOTOS: Top, Pen Bay Healthcare; bottom, Julie Wortman