For the parent of a young, school-aged child, finding affordable, quality daycare can be like trying to find a winning lottery ticket.
For Redwood City parents, that winning “childcare lottery ticket” came in the form of a business called the , which opened its doors on Roosevelt Avenue just over two years ago, in June of 2009.
The Creative Learning Loft (CLL) offers drop-in, after-school childcare for ages 4 and up at reasonable rates of between $7-10 per hour. They are open from 12-6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and have two buses that will pick children up from three nearby elementary schools—, and .
Once a child walks through the CLL doors—gated, of course, for safety—they are greeted by friendly, trained staff and a wonderland of toys and activities to enrich their afternoon. In one corner, you will see an enchanted forest; in another, a pirate’s treehouse to climb on and explore; in another, a reading room full of books and maps and globes to study the earth; in another, a dress-up closet full of costumes and a stage on which to put on dramatic plays or concerts. In yet another corner, you will see the “Claymation Animation Station” where children can actually make their own characters from clay and act out and film their own movies to take home on CD. An adjacent set of shelves is full of puzzles and other stimulating games to play.
Children are not left to their own devices at CLL—rather, the staff carefully plans out weekly schedules full of enriching, learning opportunities that engage the children’s interests and imaginations. Creative director, owner and founder, Darlene Hampton, says her philosophy is to make what the children learn at CLL so fun, they can’t help but enjoy themselves.
“It’s learning, without even knowing they’re learning,” she explained.
Darlene Hampton is a former art teacher for schools all over the San Carlos area. Armed with suitcases full of materials and curriculum, she used to be on contract with several schools in the area to come in to classrooms on a regular basis and teach art and other enriching activities.
However, after suffering a back injury, traveling back and forth to so many different schools and lugging all of her equipment and materials with her became too hard on her health.
“My husband said, ‘you need a place where they can come to you, rather than travel with all those heavy supplies all the time,’” she recalled.
That’s when the idea for CLL was born.
Darlene and her husband, Mark Hampton, designed CLL to be a place where kids could come after school and enjoy themselves and have fun, but also learn all the things she had noticed local schools were sorely lacking in their curriculums.
“CLL’s curriculum is put together from all the things I saw were missing, when I was at the schools,” Darlene explained. “These children need more than what the public can offer them. They need to be engaged.”
Darlene said she will frequently communicate with parents and even school representatives to find out what CLL’s regular children are studying at all times, so that she and her staff can design learning activities and projects that will build upon that curriculum, reinforce it, and enrich it.
Darlene and Mark say, their after-school hours of noon to 6 p.m. are booming.
“Parents really seem to love us,” she said, explaining how CLL’s convenient prices and hours are a big hit with local working parents. “They’re happy to have found us because we help fill in that four-hour gap after school by picking them up and entertaining them. And, we charge very reasonable rates.”
Darlene said, CLL has received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from parents all over the peninsula. When CLL first opened in the fall of 2009, they missed being open at the very beginning of the school year, so by then, most families had already made other after-school childcare arrangements and they had a tough time getting the CLL name out there.
But, the stay-at-home mothers and nannies who found CLL and began bringing their children in regularly, just to play and participate in the structured activities, really rallied for CLL and helped spread the word to other mothers with young children.
“They spread the word through mommy blogs up and down the peninsula, which was great,” she said. “That kept us in business the first two years.”
Families once again rallied their support for CLL when the business’ lease ended in June, and Darlene and Mark considered closing down because they feared a huge spike in their rent. Darlene said, many of their regular clients made it known to the property owners how much they loved CLL—and the property owners listened. They offered Darlene and Mark a two-year extension on their lease with no increase in rent.
Parents on Yelp.com can’t help but gush about the friendly staff and low prices as wel, and how much their children enjoy their time at CLL.
“The entire CLL staff is amazing! They care for my daughter, they care about us as a family, and they have a great service that they are offering the community by having a wonderful facility like this,” wrote Jackie S. of Redwood City.
“I know that when I come to the Loft, my family will enjoy themselves, with projects and activities that are directed at experiencing the things our public school systems have removed, like art, music, social interaction. It has always been a positive environment for them,” wrote Justin K.
“And, it's a wonderful change to come pick [my children] up, and instead of them asking, ‘where were you, why did it take so long, why didn't you take me too,’ it's now, ‘ALREADY?!! But I did this, and that, and this, and I'm doing this now, and just five more minutes?" Justin K. continued. “It's a real treat to have such a wonderful oasis in these rough seas. Too many people have given up, and left their children to their own Gameboys, and I fear for that generation.”
As for their next move, Darlene and Mark say, in two weeks, CLL will once again start opening their doors from 9 a.m. to noon on weekdays for younger children as well, as a playtime and enrichment center where parents or nannies can bring younger children from infants to 4 years old for fun and engaging playtime. Under four years old cannot be dropped off and left at CLL, but parents and nannies can bring them for playtime and stay with them.
“They join in on the activities, which is a lot of fun,” Darlene said. “When we used to be open for that back in the beginning, we would have as many as 46 children come for morning storytime.”
CLL also books private events such as birthday parties and functions for local groups like mothers’ clubs on Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information, visit www.creativelearningloft.com or call 650-261-1329.