By Amanda Dyslin
---- — MANKATO — Sharla Boyer was decked out in a white cowboy hat, matching boots and a flannel blouse, which wasn't unusual.
As Boyer said, if you can't dress up when working with kids, then when can you?
What wasn't quite the norm at Sharla Boyer Family Child Care in west Mankato was the live folk concert going on in her backyard. Grammy Award-winning children's act Okee Dokee Brothers dropped by Tuesday afternoon to perform a private concert for Boyer and her kids.
“It's been just wonderful,” she said.
Child Care Aware of Minnesota — the agency that helps administer Parent Aware, which rates child care programs in the state — partnered with Okee Dokee for a mini concert tour Tuesday, hitting three locations in the Twin Cities and Mankato in a big yellow school bus.
The idea was to raise awareness for school readiness and Parent Aware in the most fun way possible. And the enthusiastic response from both children, parents and caregivers indicated the idea was a successful one Tuesday afternoon.
Most clapped along with every folksy tune, including the title track from their Grammy-winning album “Can You Canoe?” and “Growing Together,” written in support of Child Care Aware.
“I think they're tired of clapping, Justin,” said Joe Mailander to bandmate Justin Lansing. “I think it's time for some knee-slapping.”
The duo performed several songs and even incorporated a few kids into the mix, asking them to play instruments during a song. They also held an “auction” to win a copy of their CD. The winner was the one who did the most enthusiastic finger dance during the song: Boyer, who promised to share the music with all the kids at her day care.
“Everybody else here just won free tickets to the rest of this show,” Mailander said.
Calie Afdahl-Doble, a southern Minnesota quality coach for Childcare Aware, said she chose Boyer's child care for the Okee Dokee visit because Boyer started out without much knowledge about the program and has been eager to learn and grow.
“I'm just so glad people can come out and see Shar's place,” she said. “She's doing great.”
Boyer started her day care in November 2010 and after attending an initial information session about Parent Aware, took some time to decide if it was right for her before filling out her application. She knew it would be a lot of time and work.
“I decided, 'You know what? This is going to be a good thing for me,'” she said.
After the evaluation process and a great deal of training, Boyer received a one-star rating out of four in January. Afdahl-Doble said earning one star is not negative; it just indicates where the provider is at in the process. Also, one-star programs have access to resources, training and improvement-support dollars to help better their programs.
Boyer said she was eager to learn all she could, and she plans to continue on in the process of gaining stars with each renewal. Doing so requires such things as additional training and adding certain pieces of curriculum to the daily schedule, including everything from academics to physical activity.
Boyer said she's already incorporated all kinds of learning pieces from her Parent Aware experience, including good nutrition and exercise. Adding in the school-readiness elements has been rewarding, she said.
“I had a 5-year-old girl in the summer who didn't know her colors,” Boyer said. “By the time she went to school, she knew her colors.”
Parent Aware is a free service, focusing on quality early learning, that helps families find and select child care and early education programs. The star-rating tool began as a pilot program in 2007 and will be expanded statewide by 2015.
During the six-month rating process, Afdahl-Doble said the focus is on assessing the “quality interactions” (physical, social, emotional and educational) between the providers and the children, including the depth of the topic being explored and the allowance of the child to lead.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services leads Parent Aware in coordination with the Minnesota Office of Early Learning.
The song "Growing Together" is available as a free download on the Child Care Aware of Minnesota website, childcareawaremn.org.
Families can search the Parent Aware Star Ratings by going to www.parentawareratings.org or by calling 888-291-9811.