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As a child grows up, they find themselves fascinated with toys, love, and being around their friends. A daycare center provides that and more, and KinderCare is no exception.  

Located off Herndon Parkway, KinderCare offers several programs for kids ranging from 6 weeks to 12 years. In essence, from early childhood to the end of elementary school.  

Christine Ashman is the center’s director. Having worked in child care since 1990, Ashman says Kindercare is about more than providing care; it’s about giving the kids a foundation for success. 

“The kids are engaged, and they’re always having new experiences,” Ashman said. 

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KinderCare has several locations within the Fairfax area, including in Chantilly, Sterling, and Reston. 

Each location has a staff dedicated to bringing the best out of the kids while helping shape them for what lies ahead when they leave the center and their early years of education. Also, they have the pleasure of making the experience fun for the kids and helping them learn new things. 

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COVID-19 caused a shift in those plans. Ashman says the center closed on March 23, 2020, and re-opened on June 1, 2020, albeit with restrictions. Staff was required to wear masks at all times. However, the ones most affected were the families that utilize the daycare’s services for their kids. 

“It was a hard time for all of the families, all the children, and all of the staff,” Ashman said. “The community really counted on us for care, for education, and socialization.”

Just the thought of not being near friends or even enjoying the company of others is challenging for a child. While being at home and being safe is a priority, it’s reasonable to believe that getting back to normal is something everyone covets. 

It was a very tough time for all. Upon returning to the center, however, Ashman says the excitement between staff and students was palpable. 

“When the kids returned to our center, it was just so joyful because they were so happy to see each other and so excited to see the teachers and be welcomed back,” Ashman said. 

However, returning came with new rules and the chance to improvise and make the transition smooth and enjoyable for all. Ashman says that her center has an excellent program for families to utilize curriculum pieces at home while having access to several online resources that could be shared with families, like virtual storytimes for the younger ones. 

Also, with the help of her staff, Ashman created a video and set up a health station to make sure the kids were safe and healthy. 

Additionally, the center had a sign-in station set up outside the school so that only staff and students could enter the building. Now, parents can drop their kids off in the lobby instead, at least until it’s safe to have parents in the building.  

“We had a board asking the questions that were really important such as have you or anyone in your family had any signs of illness, fever, cough, etc.,” Ashman said. 

Such policies may be hard for some kids who are used to having their parents personally escort them to their classes or for some parents who can’t bear the thought of not bringing the kids to the classroom door themselves. However, these are all for safety purposes. As for wearing the masks, Ashman said several kids, particularly the 4-year-olds, found it very enjoyable because of all the different designs. 

Eventually, the masks will fade away, and daycare centers will be back to what they once were before the sudden shift in times. Ashman credits her staff for their resilience and the parents themselves for being so proactive. 

“I really give credit to the staff, the teachers, because they’re just phenomenal. The ones that we have here and you know, they know what’s going on outside, they know the risks,” Ashman said. “I attribute the children’s excitement for being here to the staff that’s here.”

As for the families, Ashman says that while kids are certainly excited about getting back to seeing their friends and taking advantage of the many great resources that KinderCare offers, the parents are also happy for the fact that their kids are in good hands.  

“Parents are very excited to be able to get back into the building eventually,” Ashman said. “They’re very cooperative when we are still asking them to wear masks. The kids just love being here, and it’s just such a happy place.”

This is the final story of the “Breaking Free” series. Sravan Gannavarapu, an intern with the Fairfax Times, will be returning to school at Boston University.

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