What is more important that a safe, comfortable place for children? That is the question that Madonna Strawn thought about when she looked around and saw that there were not many places in the Village of Pawnee for parents to take their children. “We opened in June of 2014, after purchasing the building in October of 2013,” Madonna said.
The building after purchase required a bit of updating. “We added a bathroom, and split the other room in two to make two classrooms. The school age kids had to have their own space separate from the babies and toddlers. There was already a kitchen so we just had to add appliances.”
The building had been many things in the past. A video store, a tanning salon and Madonna said even a gun shop at one time before she bought it. When her son Brian married her daughter-in-law Keelie who has the education and experience to run a daycare, she felt that together they could fulfill the need for a daycare in Pawnee. When asked why she wanted to undergo this type of business when her children were already grown, she said it was due to need and love of children. “I did a lot of babysitting when I was young, and there are not a lot of daycares in Pawnee.“
She wasn’t sure if the daycare would take off. While there are not a lot of commercial daycares, she added, “There are a lot of home daycares, so I was a bit reluctant to do this.”
The turning point was the fact that her daughter-in-law Keelie already knew the needed Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) requirements that it took to get a daycare up and running and keep it in compliance. “I started working at a daycare while in college in 2007, and I worked there until we opened here.”
While in college, Keelie obtained a secondary early childhood degree, with a major in psychology. She attended Springfield Benedictine and finished up at University of Illinois in Springfield.
When opening the day care Keelie said they had to work with several state agencies. They had to meet DCFS standards as well as the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Fire Marshall, and meet state pluming standards as well. “Every three years DCFS goes through the rooms and checks the supplies, toys, etc.”
Besides the very thorough audit every three years, they also visit once a year besides, and occasionally just pop in. Thankfully Keelie is very organized. “It is easy if you keep the paperwork updated. I make checklists,” she said.
The state visitors have noted how organized she is and appreciate it every time they visit!
Madonna’s daycare accepts children ages 6 weeks through twelve years. “We are licensed for 29 children,” Madonna shared.
They currently have eight babies. Babies are those from six weeks to one and a half yeas old. Then there are the preschoolers. At Madonna’s they offer Preschool classes. The school is not as full though since Pawnee Elementary is now offering all day preschool.
“The school bus picks kids up for school before and after at the daycare,” Madonna added.
At Madonna’s Child Development Center one thing that sets them apart is that all the staff, except for the cook are all qualified daycare teachers, there are no aides. Each teacher meets the DCFS qualifications.
At Madonna’s they have seven busy employees. To work at the daycare you must be at least 18, and have already graduated from high school. At Madonna’s Child Development Center, they go beyond with the teacher requirements.
When the daycare first opened, Madonna said that she worked there for a while and left her full time job. She soon found that the teachers didn’t really need her assistance as much as she had anticipated. “I thought you took care of them, but you teach them. I wasn’t needed here as much as I thought,” she laughed, so she went back to her full-time job.
Madonna just recently retired as the office manager at Teejet Technologies in 2021. Now she enjoys coming into the daycare, and having the little ones recognize her. “I pop in and out and cook once in a while.”
The best part of the daycare for Madonna is the happy kids. “I like knowing the kids like to be here.”
Keelie agrees, “It is easy when the kids want to be here.”
She said that happens when they keep to a schedule. “It is so important for a structured environment; we cover gross and fine motor skills in blocks of time and try to get the kids to follow.”
At the daycare kids participate in circle time, they have centers and learn important tasks like drinking from a cup, filling out worksheets, and their ABC’s, and colors. They sing songs, and play games that enhance motor, and social skills. “They do a lot of things with their hands and feet,” Madonna said.
“The most important thing they learn is to stay in a enter for a while, to stay still in one place and focus,” this she said is so valuable before they get to school.
Madonna added that learning to share is also very important, and Keelie added just being kind as well. At the daycare the children receive a simple breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. They have a nap and play outside whenever the weather allows.
“Our biggest challenge is expenses going up,” Madonna said. “We try not to up prices, but sometimes you have to COVID, and inflation affects everything, payroll, insurance, etc.”
The Strawn family is a busy one. Madonna with her husband Lynn have two stepchildren, Jeremy Strawn who is married to Lisa, they have two children ages 14 and 12, Sarah (Strawn) Maley is married to Jamie and they have two children 17 and 14. Then together she and Lynn have son Brian that is married to Keelie and they have three children ages 7, 6, and two. Their youngest son is Lance, and he is married to Julia and they have two children ages 4 and 2.
Whether filling a need for their own family, or the Village of Pawnee, at Madonna’s Child Development Center they are open to provide quality childcare for children and make them feel at home while away from home. Call 217 646-8231 for details.