Bernie’s expands to offer infant and toddler care

Nov. 14, 2013

by Käri Knutson

Photo: Esteban family at Bernie’s

Carla and Esteban Chiriboga pick up their two children — Liam, 4, and Sophie, 20 months — from Bernie’s Place, a UW-Madison childcare facility on the far west side of campus near University Apartments.

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It’s the morning ritual parents know all too well. Waking the kids up. Getting them breakfast. Cajoling them into getting dressed. And then the magic trick of getting out the door —hopefully with both shoes on.

No, it’s not easy. And it’s not any easier with more than one kid, however adorable.

But the morning ritual is a little bit easier for some parents, thanks to expanded child care offerings by the Office of Child Care and Family Resources.

Starting this past September, Bernie’s Place, located at #39 University Houses in Eagle Heights, began welcoming children ages 8 weeks to 5 years. Previously, it had offered care for ages 2 to 5.

That means one fewer stops for families like the Chiribogas.

“It saves us time and is so convenient. And it’s nice knowing they’re both in one place. I think it really helped her adapt.”

Carla Chiriboga

Sophie, 20 months, and Liam, 4, both attend Bernie’s. Carla, a medical coder with the Department of Surgery, and Esteban, a geographer for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, adopted Sophie in January. While they were looking into childcare options, the couple was thrilled to find out that Bernie’s could be home to both children.

“It saves us time and is so convenient,” Carla says. “And it’s nice knowing they’re both in one place. I think it really helped her adapt.”

Previously, 32 kids attended Bernie’s. Now there are 50, with 16 who are infants or toddlers.

UW-Madison’s early childhood care and education centers have traditionally focused on preschool-aged children, ages 2 to 5 years. Expansion of services for younger children has been a focus of the campus master plan for early education and care since 1997. Eagle’s Wing, Preschool Labs and the Waisman Center have all added capacity as their facilities have evolved. Campus groups, such as the Committee on Women and the University Child Care Committee, have long advocated for this much needed addition to child care services.

When Lynn Edlefson, director of the UW Office of Child Care and Family Resources, came to UW-Madison in 1997, no infant care was offered.

“That’s what I was hired to do,” Edlefson says.

“We’re making steady progress but the needs continue to be greater than the resources. The Bernie’s expansion is another way that our campus system is adjusting to the needs of our families.”

Lynn Edlefson

In 1999, the Infant and Toddler Center was opened, then the Preschool Lab on Mineral Point Road in 2000 and Little Chicks in 2007, all with new infant care offerings. Bernie’s, in keeping with the campus master plan for child care, is yet another option for parents now, Edlefson says.

“We’re making steady progress but the needs continue to be greater than the resources,” Edlefson says. “The Bernie’s expansion is another way that our campus system is adjusting to the needs of our families.”

While the children of different ages at Bernie’s may be in different classrooms with activities geared for their age’s interest, they still know the others are there.

“He can look through the window at her and wave,” Esteban says. “It’s a great place.”

Minutes saved in the morning and in the afternoon add up. Saving time and, most importantly, adding peace of mind for parents — those are the kinds of things Edlefson is thrilled to hear about.

“There are totally common sense reasons that make families function well,” Edlefson says. “We live in a community where most families are dually employed. They need a strong support system and access to a range of services for their children while they are contributing on campus. That’s our goal. We want parents to feel confident that their kids are in nurturing, responsive and high quality programs. ”

Another infant care expansion has just been approved, which means 22 more infants and toddlers will be accepted full-time at Little Chicks, with an anticipated start date of March 2014.

“Families need this,” Edlefson says. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is offering families assurance that they can have trust in our early care and education programs and that their children’s needs will be met.”

For more information, visit the Office of Childcare and Family Resources' website.