We hope you’re enjoying the Resilient Neighborhoods series which has focused on the Mt. Airy community of more than 9,000 residents in the northwest corner of the city. This is the third of three profiles of business owners who work in Mt. Airy in diverse fields. The moniker of Mt. Airy CUREator references Mt. Airy CURE, the community’s economic development nonprofit, which is working diligently to improve its business community and overall quality of life.
This CUREator profile features Constance Brinson, owner of Constance Constant Care, a Mt. Airy facility that cares for preschool-age children. Here’s her story.
Growing up in Moultrie, Georgia, a town of approximately 15,000 in the southwestern corner of the Peach State, Constance Brinson didn’t envision moving to Cincinnati, nor did she imagine she would become a childcare professional. However, at age 18, a promise to support her sister when a job brought her to Cincinnati became a career and passion throughout Constance’s adult life.
How long have you worked in childcare and owned your business?
I’ve worked for myself for 22 years, since I was 18 years old in childcare. I’ve never worked in another facility. I’ve progressed from caring for children within my own home, being licensed to care for up to six children in my home, then licensed for 12, and now in a nonresidential facility with six employees where we care for and educate over 40 children aged three months to five years. There are typically 30 to 35 children in the facility at any given time.
How did you train to be a child-care worker and business owner at such a young age? You must have been really motivated.
I started it because my sister wanted to move to this area from Georgia, and she wanted me to guarantee she could find a good daycare center. I didn’t know anything about that, so I decided I could learn to care for her children myself. I educated myself about how to be a childcare provider, the certification required to do it, the regulations. It was a lot to learn, but I was motivated to help my family.
My dream was to be a judge. This isn’t quite that, but I’ve found I have a talent for it. I’m comfortable with the kids, comfortable talking to parents about what their kids need. I’ve had the children I’ve cared for grow up and then send their kids to my center. Some have ended up working for me. It’s been a wild ride, something I never would have imagined, but it’s been very satisfying.
Do many of the children live in Mt. Airy?
I would assume so, but I don’t know for sure. They may start out here, but their family situations may require moves to College Hill or another nearby community, but they still come to me.
Do most of your employees live in Mt. Airy?
I can’t say. People have a lot of different situations after the pandemic and blending families because of the higher cost of living. I don’t pry into their personal lives; I just want to make sure they’ll be at work and that I can maintain the right ratio for caring for the children.
What are some of your favorite activities to do with the kids?
My motto isn’t to prepare them for kindergarten, it’s to have them ready for first or second grade. In this day and age, kindergarten isn’t enough. Teachers are overwhelmed. Teachers in school have a high ratio with about 30 kids to a class, so I want them to be able to read, speak in complete sentences, add, and subtract, and other basic skills. They will often be exposed to new languages in school, so I try to incorporate Spanish lessons as well.
How can parents better prepare their kids to be successful in daycare settings?
Great question. It’s not as hard as some parents think. You can simply sing the ABC song in the car to help them learn without distracting you. Or count how many lights you pass or how many colors you see. It’s easier to present lessons as part of everyday life in multitasking than sitting them down at the table for a lesson.
What are some of the more common behavioral issues that you’re seeing since COVID?
The behavior issues are very individualized, but with COVID, parents kept them home for an extended amount of time because they were leery of it. The kids who have been home for a longer time have had a harder time adjusting. It was the same with the schools. There were digital lessons, but it was more relaxed, and the kids didn’t absorb the information as well and didn’t have the opportunity to interact with their friends.
After COVID, are kids being brought into the program later?
Yes. It’s changed. A lot of the kids coming into the program now, they don’t seem to know as much. Kids were safe at home, but there wasn’t daily structure. Kids weren’t challenged to learn something. They treat the digital world as fun, not as a way to learn.
Kids are coming in at a year or a year and a half, and they’re still using pacifiers and baby bottles and their speech isn’t as far along. A lot of parents make the mistake of not making that transition. When parents go to work, the children’s work is daycare. Children learn and develop their own identity away from their families. The transition is hard when you start later in daycare. Children feel like they’re being left. When you start younger, kids are more used to the routine.
Have you had to change your program permanently post-COVID, or have some things gone back to how they were before?
It depends. Of course, it still hasn’t gone away. And now we’re in flu season. We still take temperatures and make sure kids thoroughly wash their hands when they come in. One significant difference is that I invite fewer guests to speak to the children because I’m more concerned about what viruses come into the center since COVID.
Has parental involvement become more of a challenge?
Most definitely. You can talk to any daycare center worker. It’s like pulling teeth. I’ve never had children of my own, so I can only say what I think it feels like to be a concerned mother. Parents say I don’t understand but given my experience with so many different types of kids, I think I have an idea of what kids need to know to be prepared to learn.
I think a lot of it has to do with behavior. Kids are exposed to things we weren’t. The Internet can be a great tool, but it can be a hindrance without proper supervision. Kids watch TikTok videos, they’re impressionable, and they start mimicking behavior they see, and some of it’s not appropriate. During dress-up time, they will pretend to be things they shouldn’t be. I try to steer them in the right direction. Some things shouldn’t be exposed to a child.
Society has changed a lot, and it’s important to help children be children and learn and grow gradually. You try to keep up, but it’s like trying to run behind a bus to catch it. Every time I get close, it moves ahead, and I never quite get there. A lot of children will suffer from being shown this kind of content too early. I wish there were more resources available to give children places to play that connect families.
What is most rewarding about your role?
It’s very rewarding when the kids remember me, and especially when they say they want to come work for me when they’re old enough. It means a lot to me when my kids go onto kindergarten and come back to visit and say, “Miss Constance, I write nice and neat just like you showed me.”
When kids type and text, they speak in code. I teach them to spell out their words. I still teach cursive writing because the core values are still important. You still need to know how to properly sign your name. It’s a reward when they thank me. I want my day care center to nourish the brain as well as the body and help teach them to learn about their world.
There are parents who have begged me to keep school-age children. I had a system where I gave kids a snack, then sent them it to do their homework and check their work and signed my name and dated. I can’t mix the ages, though, because there are so much school-age kids see that preschoolers shouldn’t be exposed to.
You have to develop a lot of trust to make that happen.
You do. I used to care for school-age kids as well as preschool, so I had them for a very long time. They come back and visit me, and they ask if I remember them. I remember names better than faces, and I’m amazed to see how they’ve grown when I know who they are. They say, “Miss Constance, I learned so much from you. If I stay around here, I’ll send my kids to you for daycare.” It really warms my heart.
I was strict, still am, but you have to combine discipline with love. Life is serious, and the lessons you learn at that age are so important. Using your manners, correct diction, speaking in complete sentences, saying you’re sorry, showing empathy. If you teach these lessons early, kids are prepared to learn. If children came to school more prepared with life skills, education would improve, schools would be under less strain, teachers wouldn’t be overwhelmed and quitting like they are.
Thanks so much for your time, Constance. I know Constance Constant Care’s parents appreciate your dedication to their kids.
You can read earlier articles in the Resilient Neighborhoods – Mt. Airy series here.
The Mt. Airy series has been made possible with support from the City of Cincinnati and Homebase, the leading resource for community development, focused on sharing resources, funding, and expertise that helps transform neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for the residents of Greater Cincinnati.