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No need to leave home for day care

Editor's note: This is the first article in an occasional series, in which the Central Times explores the variety of businesses and services available in the area to central Pasco residents.

Parents need not take their children to Tampa for day care and preschool. Several such facilities are in central Pasco.

"Parents need to know what's available right here," said Elba Wood, owner of Quail Hollow Creative Kids in Wesley Chapel. "Many of our parents just drop their kids off on the way to work in Tampa. We have a great location."

She and husband, Larry, run the day-care center, which is just off State Road 54, near Interstate 75. The Woods bought an existing center, Quail Hollow Christian Academy, and opened May 2 after extensive renovations.

Elba Wood graduated from Bayamon Central University of Puerto Rico. She has taught public and special education for 10 years, and also ran a day-care program out of her home for three years. Larry Wood graduated from Georgia Southern College and taught for many years before entering the real estate business.

The Woods say their business is not just day care, but actually an educational foundation for preschoolers about to enter public schools.

"They are learning developmental skills, such as shapes and colors," Elba Wood said. "They are not just playing. Even babies at 18 months can learn. This is an instructional setting, not just babysitting."

Creative Kids only accepts children ages 18 months to 5 years old. No afterschool children, or latchkey kids who need watching until their parents come home from work, are allowed to attend.

Their presence, Larry Wood said, would mean distraction for the preschoolers.

"We only handle preschool-age children so that we can concentrate on preparing them for elementary school," he said.

Devany Neff, said the main reason she chose Creative Kids for her sons Clayton, 4, and Austin, 2, was its educational approach to day care.

"Of course, convenience is wonderful," Neff said. "But I like that the Woods do less babysitting and more teaching. The only problem with the age range is that I have to find a new place for Clayton next year."

The center teaches art and music, language, time and space experiences, basic science and math, hands-on activities, and social and physical development.

These experiences develop self-confidence and esteem, which is the goal of the center, Elba Wood said. Children learn to make decisions and solve problems, which fosters better self-image, she said.

"We fervently hope that in treating each child with love and respect, they in turn will learn to treat others with that same love and respect," she said.

Children learn their ABC's by associating a letter with an object. For example, they may eat an apple for the letter A.

Growth could be explained by diagramming a plant's growing process, but instead children planted their own seeds in the school's back yard. They are nurturing the plants and watching them grow.

The Woods want to keep a family atmosphere for both children and parents so that they feel safe and comfortable with the program.

Kid's Stuff Pre-School and Day Care in Land O' Lakes also is concerned with providing a homelike setting for their children.

"We offer a different kind of service for children," said Laura Hrisko, assistant director and preschool teacher at the school. "We have separate rooms for each age group so that they feel more comfortable. The children come first, and our job is to meet their needs developmentally."

Kid's Stuff's instructors pick new themes each day, ranging from creepy-crawling creatures to oceans. They then talk about subjects that relate to the theme.

The school moved from Lake Padgett seven years ago to expand its facilities. The school accepts children ages 18 months to 11 years. It has 11 classrooms. Enrollment is about 200, and others are on waiting lists, Hrisko said.

"We have excellent teachers, but more importantly we have a long-term staff that can work with the children as they grow," she said.

Robert Huber, owner of Sugar N' Spice Day Care in Land O'Lakes, said that the reason children are learning at an earlier age is that they are being given choices, instead of being forced to learn.

"We work with an education technique called high-scope, which is training through interaction with children and hands-on participation," he said. "We're trying to mold children now to prevent adolescent problems."

Huber is president of the Big Brothers program in Tampa, and has been involved with the organization for 10 years. He studied teaching for a year at Michigan State, and is now taking accredited day-care classes at Hillsborough Community College.

A homelike atmosphere is equally important at all schools, Huber said.

"We were excited last year when we had our first second-generation family," he said. "One girl from our school had grown up and started her own family, and now her child attends."

One problem for day-care schools, Huber said, is that public schools are slowly taking over the day-care industry.

"The school system is really hurting small, family-owned centers," he said. "I'm concerned because schools keep saying they're short of money, yet they keep doing things private businesses can also do; and we can do it cheaper. There's just too much waste in the system."

Of prime concern to parents when it comes to day-care programs: Do the owners really care, or is it just a business to them?

Neff said the best thing to do is visit the centers many times and learn how they operate before deciding which is right for the child.