With over 22 years of running a day-care, Barb Kaiser’s Lincolnville backyard has transformed into a variety of imaginary landscapes.
The centrally located 4-foot tall plastic castle has been the base for medieval battles, where 4-year-old knights try to rescue a toddler damsel in distress.
The bikes scattered throughout the yard on Thursday have been faithful steeds in conflicts between outlaws in the pioneer west.
“Children’s brains grow so quickly,” Kaiser said. “Play has to occur. I like to play, too.”
Even though Kaiser participates in freeze dances in her living room, she takes her job seriously. It requires a subtle touch, being several different adults to every child.
She needs to be a companion during play times, but she also needs to be a protector while children climb over manufactured forts. She needs to be a caregiver feeding children balanced lunches like chicken bites with vegetables and milk.
She also needs to be a teacher to allow those young minds to mature. She will sneak in math lessons, asking children to count their Cheerios. With children as young as 6 months old, she works with infants on sign language. Kaiser will also teach social lessons, trying to have children do as much for themselves as they can.
Kaiser also has to be the adult to say no, be stern when children act out.
“I’ve had some behaviorally challenged kids and they’re always the one’s to test you,” Kaiser said. “If I don’t do anything, they won’t respect me; I’ll be a pushover.”
Respect is a harder won commodity than control. Kaiser strives for respect and obtains it by communicating with children on their level, which often means stepping outside of the bounds of logic.
“They’re still learning that,” Kaiser said of children and reason.
She will also use a different approach in different situations. Although she tells children “lying is a no-no for Ms. Barb,” she will explain why lying was the wrong decision.
After earning the trust of children, Kaiser quickly earns the trust of parents. When she takes a two-week break from day-care usually she is greeted on her return with, “Thank goodness you’re back.”
This trust is the reason Kaiser has been in business for more than two decades. In that time, she has tried to make her house a second home for children. The walls of the home are decorated with child friendly images — Mickey Mouse shaking hands with a fireman and a collections of Raggedy Ann dolls near the television. Usually there is a layer of toys lining the living room floor.
Over time, the environment has changed. A room where Kaiser’s daughters once tried to keep out day-care children to maintain privacy, has been morphed into a two-level play room.
Some things stay the same, too. The dividing wall between the kitchen and the living room, on the narrow side has been marked hundreds of time with the heights of children, most of them faint pencil outlines, faded over the years.
Kaiser is now on her second generation of day-care children. Adults, who she can still see as toddlers when she closes her eyes, are bringing their own infants to her.
“That makes me feel old,” she said.
She has also witnessed some of her former pupils more grown up success. When Shelby Makovec and Ellie Miller were playing in the 1A state basketball tournament this past week, Kaiser could not help but think of them telling their wild, imaginative stories at lunchtime, eliciting giggles from younger day-care comrades.
Kaiser is also the mayor of Lincolnville. She has periodically stepped back from her chosen profession at times. She said if she was mayor of a larger town like Marion, she could not do both.
However, Kaiser is not planning to step away from her day-care. As much as parents miss her, she misses the children just as much.
“Sometimes you cherish silence, but others you miss the sound of kids playing,” Kaiser said. “That makes it all worth it.”