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Little Huskies answers call for needed daycare

JACKSON -- As the owner and administrator of Little Huskies Daycare Center and Preschool, Amanda Benda teaches kids, ensures everyone obeys state regulations and even disposes of spiders for squeamish employees.

JACKSON -- As the owner and administrator of Little Huskies Daycare Center and Preschool, Amanda Benda teaches kids, ensures everyone obeys state regulations and even disposes of spiders for squeamish employees.

Little Huskies started operating this month, taking on many of the kids from the now-closed Little Tech daycare at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

"There were 43 children up there that were going to be without a daycare," Benda said. "We ended up hiring their whole staff. The kids, it was a lot easier transition for them."

Benda saw the need for child care in the area when she heard Little Tech was closing. Her educational background -- a degree in early childhood development and psychology -- meant she was in a unique position to start a new pre-school and daycare center.

"I've pretty much been around children my entire life," Benda said. "I've always wanted to be a teacher."

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When her son, Christian, was born, it made the idea of starting the new business even more attractive. Benda would be able to stay near her son and still give him a chance to socialize and learn with children his own age.

Advancing the idea from the drawing board to construction took planning, money and moxie. Benda and her family and friends worked with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the Minnesota Department of Health, the City of Jackson, the Jackson Fire Department and many other officials to get the job done.

State regulations tell daycare centers exactly what types of age-appropriate toys they need to have in every room. Minnesota even requires each room to have a musical instrument for every child.

Now, the 8,000 square foot blue-and-silver Little Huskies building on the north end of Jackson is chock-full of kids. Twelve infants, 14 toddlers, 20 preschoolers and 30 school-age kids attend the center each day, with another 23 kids that come for community preschool on non-school days.

"The good thing was the absolute support of the community," Benda said. "The school system has been great. We met with the kindergarten teachers; they were very supportive of what we do and how we do it."

Even with Little Huskies, there's still a child-care need in Jackson. The center has a waiting list, and parents are still calling and asking if there's any room. One of the rooms in the center that was meant to be a large office has been re-styled into another infant room so that Little Huskies could take in four more infants.

Children have plenty of structured learning time at Little Huskies, although they also get time to play and have fun.

"All the kids I've talked to say it's not daycare," Benda said. "They are already thinking of this as school."

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About 15 adults work at Little Huskies. Four are teachers, one is an assistant teacher and one is a cook. The rest are aides, who help watch over kids as they play and learn.

With all-day kindergarten becoming more and more common in Minnesota, preschool is often a child's first chance to meet other kids in a structured environment. A preschool experience can give kids a jump-start into the social and educational world of school.

"It's been a dream in the making for a while," Benda said. "It's finally here, thank goodness."

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