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Sutherland’s Little Prairie Family Daycare

BRODHEAD — Twenty-five years ago, Lori Sutherland was looking for a career change. Unable to find childcare openings in Brodhead, she placed her young daughter in a licensed childcare program in another town. When her daughter turned 4 and there were still no openings in Brodhead, Sutherland moved forward with her desire to change careers. “I already had my bachelor’s degree and decided to go back and get a degree in Early Childhood and start my own daycare. Best decision ever!” she said.

Today, Sutherland’s Little Prairie Family Daycare in Brodhead offers a play-based program for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. There are scheduled routines, but Sutherland said she likes to remain flexible to allow for learning opportunities that present themselves. “I live outside of town. This allows me to have a large area for outside play, and we have ducks, horse, dog and cats for the children to interact with,” she said. “We spend a lot of time outside exploring nature and using our imaginations. We love to be outdoors.

“I love watching the children as they experience new things. I try to see things through the eyes of your child and work with each child to be their best self,” she said.

Seeing life through the eyes of children has given Sutherland some special memories. “One day outside, I put a 2x4 on the ground and told the kids to imagine it was a tightrope, like in the circus. The first child was walking and talking to herself, saying ‘don’t look down, don’t look down, it will be fine.’  We all cheered for her like we were at a circus. Kids’ imaginations have no limits,” Sutherland said.

The job has its challenges, too. Telling a parent that she doesn’t have space to take their child is particularly difficult. “This is very heartbreaking to do when there are very few alternatives and often, they have to choose an unlicensed individual for care,” Sutherland said.

Her profession is also hard work. “Many people don’t realize that we are professionals, and most providers have degrees in education. Our workday is often 10 hours or more, and then we have the job of cleaning up and setting up for the next day. Play time is like science for us: We are watching and critiquing the abilities and struggles of each child to see where we can help them grow,” Sutherland said.

She pointed out that childcare is not the same as babysitting. “When you are a licensed childcare provider, you have met the state’s standards (there are a lot) and often go above and beyond these standards to provide quality care. Low wages, no insurance and high regulation are issues that keep many people from taking on this profession. If I could change one thing, I would like to see healthcare insurance added to this profession as a benefit.” 

To help offset these challenges, businesses can partner with local childcare programs to reserve spots for their employees, or offer resources or talents to the childcare programs, she said.

“Often a childcare program can use materials being thrown out for art or science or other activities. You can offer field trip experiences. And donations and gift cards to the local grocery stores are also excellent choices.”