MARQUETTE - One Marquette resident was recently added to a growing list of outstanding people making waves in the field of education all across the world.
But Amy Ahola, owner and operator of Child Central Station, a small home group daycare in Marquette, said her first thought was: "How do you find me here in the U.P.?"
It turns out, how they found her is exactly why she was made one of software-giant Microsoft's Worldwide Education division's 365 Heroes in Education.
Marquette residents Jason and Stephanie Nadeau’s son, Alex, 17 months, plays with a car and a ramp at the Child Central Station Family Home Daycare on Bluff Street in Marquette. One of the center's owners, Amy Ahola, was recently named one of Microsoft’s 365 Heroes in Global Education. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Ahola said one of the people who helps make the final decision on who will be named to the list follows Ahola's education blog, www.childcentralstation.com.
It was Ahola's use of social media, blogs and other Internet communications that earned her a place on the list, right alongside people from all across the globe.
Ahola holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Northern Michigan University and master's level certificates in training development and human performance improvement. She has operated the daycare with her husband, Allan Johnsen, since 2005 and has been working with children for most of her life.
Her blog is comprised of classroom tips and teacher training ideas that coincide with her simple educational philosophy - children, especially young children, learn best when they are at play.
"There's a common misconception that learning only happens in a structured classroom type of environment," Ahola said. "Although we have a classroom, we are very much a child-centered emergent curriculum. The children play and they play and they play and they play - and that's how children learn."
Ahola's center is based out of her home on Bluff Street in Marquette. It's hard to miss in the summertime, with a colorful rock garden flanked by several, brightly-painted tires, and an outdoor classroom that could rival most any playground within the city.
One of Ahola's core beliefs is that children should spend as much time outside as possible, and that belief caused her and her husband to truck in 19 tons of sand, turning the couple's backyard into a giant sandbox.
They also have a mud pit, a water wall, a music station with a number of musical instruments made from recycled or repurposed items, and even a garden for the children to help with.
"We're trying to make it so we can spend - when we don't have a foot of snow covering it - our entire day outside if possible. We are very much of the philosophy, anything you can do inside, you can do outside." Ahola said. "Young children spend a lot of time indoors and plugged into things ... As concrete learners, they need to use their senses. They need to be engaged in active play and I think spending time outdoors, it releases them sometimes, of 'when you're inside, don't run, don't yell,' all those things that are so important for young children to be able to do and they're spending less and less time outside doing it."
Ahola's center has no television, and she only uses her laptop to look up information on specific topics the children ask about.
She has an iPad that is only used to record the developmental progress of each of the children under her care.
Ahola is currently licensed by the state of Michigan to house children aged infant up to 12 years and may have up to 12 children in the home at one time.
She said the iPad helps keep her up-to-date with the children's development in a way paper and pencil never could.
She records conversations with the children, keeps records of the children's artwork and makes notes on how that artwork came to be. She keeps track of the children's thought processes and the questions they ask. And she also takes hundreds of photographs. All of that data is easily accessible and easily sharable - something she said the parents especially like.
As Ahola spends her days recording and note-taking on the progress of her charges, she's also letting them steer their own learning environment in whatever direction they want to go.
Utilizing a child-centered emergent curriculum, Ahola rarely directs the children on what task they should be performing at any given moment. Rather, she lets them choose.
"Children learn through experiences and children learn through play," Ahola said. "I'm very much a believer in hands-on, free-will participation in activities. We spend a lot of time with an emergent, play-based curriculum. I have somewhat have an assumption of where the children are going to take things and what they're going to do, but I run with them."
For more information on Ahola, visit her blog at www.childcentralstation.com.
For more information on Microsoft's 365 Heroes in Education, visit www.dailyedventures.com.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.