Fort Fairfield parents have a new option for preschool and after-school child care.
Little Sunshine Learning Center opened on Jan. 22 in the former Mama Bear Day Care building, after a complete renovation by owner Jacqueline Shaw and her husband, Tim.
Shaw wants to help relieve Aroostook County’s day care shortage. Whether it’s because more families need services or providers face financial or staffing trouble, the area has been called a child-care desert, with 2,600 children needing service and fewer than 600 available slots.
Closures of facilities like Miss Jordyn’s Child Development Center in Caribou, at which owner Jordyn Rossignol served more than 100 children, have left parents and dozens of children with few options.
“I think it was eye-opening to the child care community that she closed,” Shaw said. “I saw such a need in this community, and then I saw the need in every community. Before we even opened, I had a wait list.”
Child care has become such a need across Maine that the state budgeted nearly $59 million to revamp its child care system, an effort led by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. Sparked by a 25 percent drop in day care across the state, the plan includes higher pay for child care workers and more subsidies for parents.
In fact, Jackson helped Shaw secure a state child care grant, she said.
Little Sunshine can serve 20 children, 10 in its preschool program and 10 in an after-school session. The center already has nine in preschool and five attending after-school programming, Shaw said.
The Shaws have two young boys, Jonathan and Logan. Working with children has always been her dream, Jacqueline said. And because she saw such a need in the region, she believed the time was right to open her own business.
The couple lease the building from the town of Fort Fairfield.
During a public hearing in May 2023, six residents spoke in favor of the arrangement. No other comments were received, according to town meeting minutes.
While Tim Shaw started construction, Jacqueline got to work on Maine licensing requirements, a business plan and program development.
Her former employer provided much support, she said. She worked at Miss Jordyn’s until the center closed, and Rossignol provided guidance and helped her build lesson plans.
“She guided me and pushed me to open,” Shaw said. “I don’t think I would have been able to do this without her, honestly.”
In the brightly decorated rooms, signs contain encouraging words: “I can do hard things” and “I am loved.” One bulletin board is designed to help kids learn the days of the week, the months and what the outside weather is like.
Mornings follow a routine, but afternoons are open to different activities, Shaw said. Each week revolves around a theme, and daily activities go along with that. When the weather is more agreeable, there will be lessons and things to do outside.
She believes children learn through active exploration of their environment, and also wants to help them learn to express themselves, she said.
Chloe Fleck’s son, Ryker, attends the preschool program. Fleck said her family is new to the area, and had been looking for a preschool for a couple of months.
She was impressed with what Little Sunshine offered, and is grateful the center is open.
“This preschool fit every one of my needs,” she said. “It has a curriculum, great hours and the teachers are amazing.”
Though the facility has been open barely two weeks, Shaw said the community response has been overwhelming.
“They love it,” she said. “I haven’t had a single negative comment from a parent, which makes my heart happy.”