Nestled in the Gateway National Recreation Area locally known as Sandy Hook is a unique daycare center where children love to go. Sandy Hook Child Care Center is housed in one of the oldest buildings on Fort Hancock. With no more than 15 children in attendance on any single day, the focus is on a family atmosphere. Making the most of the rural surroundings, the children experience visits to the beach, nature walks and private tours of some of the park’s historical facilities.
Sandy Hook Child Care Center (SHCCC) is a nonprofit daycare that was founded more than 30 years ago. It remains the only licensed daycare facility within the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area. Throughout the years, it has undergone many changes and physical improvements. But it still maintains the cozy, warm atmosphere it has had since the beginning.
The center’s focus is on the needs of children rather than the bottom line. Parents affiliated with Sandy Hook understand the importance of teaching children positive social interactions and stewardship of the environment, as well as academic and developmental skills. SHCCC is run by a volunteer board of directors consisting of parents, alumni and former teachers. All decisions and responsibilities ultimately fall into the parents’ hands, creating a feeling of community and belonging— a family atmosphere. A high level of parental involvement allows for reasonable fees and a sense of ownership not found at many daycare facilities today.
SHCCC provides superb structure for the children, allowing them to learn at their own pace in an encouraging and safe environment. With an integration of all age groups, children have the opportunity throughout the day to be with kids of all ages. The younger ones look up to the older ones and soon start imitating their “grown up” behaviors, while the older ones learn to be gentle and nurturing toward the younger children. It reflects a house full of cousins of all different ages.
The theme-based curriculum centers on a new theme every week. Examples of themes include Healthy Habits, Good Manners Week, All About Me, Community Helpers, My Body, and Caring for Myself, My Earth and Others. Daily learning is tied in with each week’s theme. And every day the children complete an activity related to language development, cognitive development, art, motor skills, music and movement. SHCCC offers a balance of structured learning and learning through experience and play.
Children at Sandy Hook are with the same teachers and friends from the first day of childcare to the last. They are able to grow and learn with the same familiar faces, and they never have to go through difficult transitions to new classrooms with new caregivers and a new set of friends. Teachers know the children in and out, and in most cases have watched the kids grow since they were babies. Teachers feel lucky to be able to witness each and every milestone of each and every child and don’t have to worry about moving children up to an older classroom.
Building a community spirit, the high school students of the adjacent Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) join the children each week for story time and arts and crafts. Last year, the high school students designed and painted a Dr. Seuss mural for the center.
The summer months at SHCCC bring new adventures, including the opportunity for many of the older children to participate in the Junior Ranger program operated by the park service. Winter months bring visits to the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium’s fish tanks, History House and the local firehouse.
The end of the day at SHCCC is an unusual scene. The children hug their teachers goodbye and say “thank you” and “I love you.” Some don’t want to leave! Many parents form friendships and carpool relationships. Parents have also been known to make lunches for other parents’ children. Through it all, lasting friendships are created among families.
Parents who enroll their children in SHCCC do so for all the benefits the school provides for the children. They cherish the idea that their children are being nurtured and are growing in a caring and creative environment.
To find out more about Sandy Hook Child Care Center, call (732)291-2368 or visit sandyhookchildcare.org.