By Donna Scheidt, Little Explorers Discovery Center
Little Explorers Discovery Center (LEDC) is licensed for 99 children from birth to eight years of age. LEDC offers an accredited early childhood education program along with two meals and a snack for all children attending the Center. LEDC’s doors are open to all children whose parents are either working or going to school, but gives priority to low-income working families. Childcare is made affordable for families with low income through a sliding fee scale based on a family’s income.
Our youngest children are infants. LEDC provides iron-fortified formula and baby food for infants and partners with the Capital City Diaper Bank to assist families with basic needs. Along with degreed or Child Development Associate (CDA) certified teachers LEDC has volunteers who provide hugs and snuggles for this very young population.
Our toddlers, including two and three year olds, enjoy many activities; including singing and dancing, art activities like coloring and painting, science, math, literacy activities, planting vegetables, comparing colors, shapes and sizes, listening to stories, and sensory exploration like playing in water and cooking experiences. In addition to enjoying lots of activities, our four, five and six year-old children take field trips to explore businesses and activities in our community like bowling, parks and a florist shop. All these activities are designed to increase body and brain development, help children feel secure and cared for, and help children successfully enter kindergarten.
LEDC doesn’t do any of these activities alone; we’re a United Way partner agency and rely on United Way support to keep our doors open. Thanks to United Way, our parents working minimum wage jobs are able to go to work every day knowing their child is in a safe place and they are able to afford childcare. In addition to helping families that work minimum wage jobs, United Way is often the only help for those families that “fall between the cracks”. Sometimes parents make just enough money to disqualify them for any type of assistance, but not enough to support their family. With a sliding fee scale with five different categories, these families will receive some assistance from United Way.
LEDC hosts Parent classes for families attending the Center. These classes primarily focus on Conscious Discipline by giving parents tools to help understand, regulate and control their own emotions and behaviors as well as helping teach children how to self-regulate. These parent classes are sponsored through a grant from United Way and help families integrate positive discipline approaches at home, matching the same approaches used while their children are at the Center.
LEDC is part of the Early Childhood Initiative sponsored by United Way. Thanks to being a part of this initiative, our Center staff is trained in the use of Conscious Discipline and local Center directors get to meet together and discuss the successes and challenges of childcare as well as share important information.
As a United Way agency, LEDC partners with other agencies to better care for our community’s most vulnerable population. For example, The Sneaker Project provides a new pair of shoes for the children from low-income households. For many of these children this is their first new pair of shoes. The Boys and Girls Club allows LEDC to use one of their vans two mornings a week for field trips, stretching those United Way dollars even further. Salvation Army and Rape & Abuse Crisis Service (RACS) have both provided services to families attending the Center who are homeless or suffering from domestic abuse, and we assist families in shelters in need of childcare whenever possible. By working together, United Way partner agencies serve families and individuals living in poverty in many ways with a goal of helping these families and individuals work toward a better life.
LEDC has been a United Way agency for about 50 years. The best part about being in business for this many years is when helping families becomes full-circle. We have had many graduates return to the Center as parents. Even though they no longer need United Way support and are able to pay the full fee, they return because of their experiences as a child were positive, and they feel safe coming home. We are so grateful to provide our services thanks to the support of being a United Way of Central Missouri partner agency!