Mary’s Little Lambs Childcare and Preschool has been named the first five-star Step Up To Quality (SUTQ) licensed family child care provider in the Mahoning Valley, recognizing their exceptional learning and development standards, staff qualifications, administrative practices, along with family and community partnerships. The rating is the highest possible by the Ohio Department of Education and Department of Job and Family Services, with standards based on national research leading to improved outcomes for children.
MaryBeth Bush launched Mary’s Little Lambs more than two decades ago after struggling to find adequate childcare for her own children. Today, she’s licensed for up to six children ranging from six weeks to 12 years old. Most have been with her for years, including younger siblings of children who have aged out of her care and, in some cases, the next generation of her past clients now grown with families of their own.
“I’m the oldest of eight children. We have three kids, with my youngest about to graduate from Champion High School. And we have eleven children on the childcare roster,” she said. “I’ve been taking care of infants for as long as I can remember, and love knowing we’ve made a difference in their lives.”
Children begin arriving at her home as early as 6:30 am. They usually enjoy time together each morning reading or creating arts and crafts, before taking part in science, math, large muscle, and other educational activities in the lower level learning center. After snacks, they may go outside to her playground, ride bikes in the driveway, create chalk art on the sidewalk, or play other games. Storytime follows lunch, and then an afternoon nap. Some days also include visits by Warren-Trumbull County Public Library staff and other activities led by a gym instructor. Parents begin picking up kids around 4:30 pm but she frequently remains open later to help working parents.
“But we never have the same day twice. Being a smaller provider means I can more easily adjust each day to what the kids need,” Bush said. “And since we have kids together of all ages, the younger children are helped by and learn from older children, including their own siblings. They are usually separated by age groups at larger childcare centers.” Bush provides a more personal touch, too, such as when she sends parents cell phone photos of their children at play.
In addition to running her business, Bush founded Helping Association for Professional Providers of Young Children (HAPPY) Homes Ohio Association, an official Ohio affiliate to National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC). Happy Homes helps build better relationships among preschool organizations by sharing state certification, professional development, and potential funding information, as well as simply providing mentoring and moral support. The group has had as many as 50 current members, and collaborates with Trumbull County Jobs & Family Services, State Support Region 5, Child Care Connection, NAEYC (Ohio AEYC), NAFCC, as well as other public and private organizations with similar missions and goals.
“The nature of our work sometimes leaves individual providers in isolation,” explained MaryBeth. “HAPPY Homes brings everyone together each month not just for speakers and professional development but to also network with others who understand our business.”
These collaborations, along with her focus on safe and quality programming, led to Mary’s Little Lambs earning the highest State of Ohio quality rating for early learning and development programs. The measurement accounts for teacher training, development of school readiness skills, commitment to continuous improvement, and focus on family engagement.
“Their goal was to raise the quality bar. A lot of it we were already doing. We just needed to make a few small improvements and do a better job documenting it for the State,” said MaryBeth. “I knew we could do it.”
To learn more about and enroll in Mary Little Lamb’s Childcare and Preschool, call MaryBeth Bush at (330) 847-1957.