By Teresa Jagodzinski
WINSTED, MN “God definitely had a plan,” said Natalie Caouette of Winsted.
Named 2009 McLeod County daycare provider of the year, Caouette feels blessed to be able to do a job she loves.
For nine years Caouette has been getting up early and spending a very active day with the children entrusted to her care at Sunnyside Daycare.
But, if you would have told her 10 years ago that she would own a daycare, she wouldn’t have believed you.
Caouette got started in the daycare business because she and her husband, Joe, bought a house which had been an old funeral home, and it had a lot of space.
“I couldn’t do it without the unique house setting,” Caouette added. “It’s like a whole separate house for daycare.”
It was mentioned to the Caouettes when they were looking at the house about the potential for a daycare in it, but the they weren’t thinking about that when they bought the house.
“We didn’t buy it with a daycare in mind.” Caouette said, “We bought it because it was a good deal.”
After they bought the house, they realized they needed to utilize all of the space, so they decided to try daycare.
At first Caouette struggled with the idea of doing daycare, but now she says it’s a path she’s happy she took.
At the time she was a secretary at Littfin Lumber Co. in Winsted, so she took a leave of absence from her job to try out the daycare idea.
“For the first two weeks I was exhausted,” Caouette explained, “but once I got my routine down, I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
A typical day starts at 7 a.m. and goes until around 5:15 p.m. In between, there’s plenty of activities throughout the day and kids coming and going which is typical for many daycares.
Caouette explains that she runs her daycare like a family.
“I do things with the daycare kids that I would do with my own kids,” she said.
She has always had the help of her four children, Ashley, Nicole, Amber, and Spencer.
“My kids always bonded with certain daycare kids,” Caouette said.
Ashley has even followed in her mother’s footsteps by having her own daycare.
Even when Caouette sees the children outside of the daycare setting, she treats them like family.
“Kids hug me when they see me outside of the daycare,” she added, “they truly become part of the family.”
One of the many rewards of her job is seeing the children mature and grow up.
Caouette said her goal is to get each child to be the best person he or she can be.
She does many fun and educational activities in her daycare, as well as activities outside of her daycare to help her reach her goal for the children.
They attend story time throughout the year and participate in the summer reading program at the library.
They visit the nursing home around Christmas time, and every year they adopt a soldier and write and send packages to that soldier.
To ensure the children are getting proper nutrition while in her care, the daycare is a part of the food program, so she follows the guidelines set up by the state for nutritious meals and snacks.
Caouette is licensed for 12 children and she averages eight to 12 children, both part-time and full time, in her daycare. Their ages range from three months to 10 years.
But even after nine years, Caouette knows she can always learn more, especially from other providers.
Caouette goes to training and learns from the other providers who are there.
“I love going to training,” she added.
She also takes online courses which she likes for the convenience of doing them whenever she can.
Caouette was nominated by her daycare families, but they did it without her knowing about it.
In January, Caouette received a letter informing her that she had been nominated which was a complete surprise to her.
Her husband Joe wasn’t as surprised because he had supplied the daycare families with some information they needed to send in with the application.
“He knew and didn’t say anything,” Caouette added.
With the letter was a questionnaire for her to fill out with information about her and her daycare.
Then, in February, she was notified that she had been named the McLeod County daycare provider of the year.
Caouette was surprised to win because it was the first time she was nominated.
In May, she will attend a conference in Mankato where one daycare provider from Minnesota will be chosen to attend nationals.
And next year, she will be a part of the committee that selects who will win the award.
In the mean time, Caouette continues to be busy every day with the daycare and loving it.
“I’m not doing anything special,” Caouette added, “I just do my job.”
She plans to continue to do her job and serve the families of the community for many years to come, she said.
“I can’t imagine not doing it,” she added.