Ready, Set, GROW! going strong during COVID

Friday, February 26, 2021

Kids at Ready, Set, GROW! Learning Center barely skipped a beat in their learning and socializing as they dealt with the pandemic over the past year. The daycare students follow a daily schedule, and each lead teacher creates a lesson plan that includes art, music/movement, reading, small motor development, and large motor development. Ages start at 6 weeks.

The center’s mission is to provide children with diverse and creative opportunities for growth, development, and lifelong learning. The non-profit child care service, located at 101 W. 5th St. in Alta, serves the Alta and Storm Lake areas. Roughly half of the families are in the Alta area and half in Storm Lake, Wanda Naslund, board member and treasurer, said. About 80 kids are enrolled. “Day-to-day we have anywhere from 40-60 of those kids that come to our building.”

Protocols changed in November when students and staff donned masks. Parents were notified that Childcare Resource & Referral strongly recommends that all children ages 2 and older wear a mask while attending daycare. “They’re doing pretty good. In our 2-year-old room, they struggle with it a little bit, but we kind of expected that, so we just try to encourage that as much as possible,” Site Supervisor Mandi Lange said. Masks remain a requirement for staff and students. Lange is in charge of day-to-day activities as the director listed is not currently on site every day.

“It’s gone very well,” Naslund said of the mask mandate. She said they try to keep face masks on the kids. “Our 3-year-olds are great. They’re pretty used to it. I think the kids have adapted to changes and the staff has adapted to changes. Our biggest challenge has been access to cleaning supplies as far as the pandemic goes because unfortunately we’re not considered health care and we’re not considered one of the higher ranked people that had access to that stuff, so that’s probably been the biggest challenge which is getting better.”

“But our kids have handled it really well, our staff has handled it really well,” Naslund said. “As far as the pandemic goes, we’ve kind of gotten through those challenges from last year and things are going well now.” She said kids 2 and above are asked to wear face masks if they are in a close group setting, and during naps and mealtimes masks are not required.

Ready, Set, GROW! in Alta started in Sept. 2016 and is in partnership with the Alta-Aurelia school district. “We partner with the school but we are our own LLC non-profit organization,” Naslund said. “The 3-year-old program is actually through the school. We just provide the before and after care and partner with the school.”

Fundraising helps to keep the center functioning, and they have an efficient way of conducting those projects to acquire what the kids want. The recent Butter Braid pastry fundraiser brought in more than $3,000 to purchase items for the classrooms. “I think it was a very successful fundraiser that we did. We were able to get quite a few items for our classrooms that our teachers had for their wish lists. So I think we did a pretty good profit off that,” Lange said.

Wish list items purchased include sound machines, new high chair, room divider, teethers, play dough, puzzles, dinosaurs, coloring books, musical instruments, train sets, play rugs and new gates.

“The Butter Braid fundraiser was awesome,” Naslund said. “The parents were primarily in charge of selling those, and so they did a fantastic job. With that money, each classroom had a wish list of items that they thought their classroom needed. We went through that classroom wish list and purchased items from that fundraiser. Any fundraising stuff that the parents are involved with, especially when it comes to selling items, the money from those types of fundraisers usually go back into the classroom,” she said.

A competitive spirit was part of the fundraising fun. The kids were told that the winning class in sales would be rewarded with a pizza party, and the winner was the toddler room. “But we actually let everybody have a pizza party because all the classrooms did so well, so we ended up celebrating throughout the center,” Naslund said. “We are so thankful for our fundraising dollars which are imperative to a non-profit daycare,” was the Facebook post in December.

The upcoming Charleston Wrap fundraiser begins Mar. 2nd. “It’s a little bit different of a fundraiser than we’ve done before,” Lange said. “It’s more of a virtual fundraiser, so we’re hoping that will allow us to get a little bit more of an outcome for it. Orders will be sent directly to the buyers so we won’t have to be a middleman.” Teachers and students will make another wish list for their classrooms.

Future plans include the center’s possible relocation to Storm Lake, the site not yet determined. Naslund said that although they have had a very good relationship with the A-A school district, opportunities exist in Storm Lake where they might have better access to support from area businesses including financial support, overall city support and better access to resources.

Ready, Set, GROW! has offered summer programs in the past but they are undecided about this summer. More information about the center can be found at