Structure and love in equal measure have proven a recipe for success for Hollie Wilkes.
Wilkes is the owner of Ms. Hollie & Friends, a home-based childcare business that’s nurtured more than a hundred young children over the course of 20 years.
Her only advertising is word-of-mouth. She only accepts private-pay clients. Never has more than seven children from infants through 3 years.
And there’s always a waiting list.
That’s how sought after her services are.
Ms. Hollie & Friends is located in a converted garage at her home on Lovers Lane.
“I invite parents in. They look around the day care and I give them a contract to look over,” she said.
And then she gives this one tidbit of advice.
“I tell people to go by their gut.”
Although she’s licensed to care for a dozen children, Wilkes sets capacity at seven children, only two of whom are under the age of 2 years.
Presently, her youngest charges are a couple of 1-year-olds.
“A small group is a really good thing,” she said. “I have time to focus on manners and politeness.”
More than once she’s been told by teachers at Purcell Elementary School that they can spot a Ms. Hollie graduate just by the manners.
She’s been drawn to care for young children for almost as long as she can remember.
When she was in sixth grade, she was a frequent volunteer at the pre-school that was attached to the elementary school.
She was an assistant director of a child care facility in California.
Then “I had a little boy and wanted to do it (child care) at home,” she recalled.
Like commercial day care, in Oklahoma the home day cares are licensed by the Department of Human Services.
It’s largely a matter of following a large policy book and completing periodic continuing education.
But it takes something more if children are to thrive. And thrive they do under Wilkes’ care.
On a typical day, children arrive starting at 7:30 a.m.
Those youngsters start the day with free play and a snack.
“Everybody’s here by 9,” she said. “They play, have circle (songs and stories), do crafts, go outside, have a small group activity and then lunch.”
The noon meal is followed by a nap, with another snack and more play when they awaken.
The children are picked up by 4:30 p.m. and Wilkes acknowledges that time “doesn’t work for just anybody.”
Activities are theme-based.
She does it all with the assistance of a part-time helper. Reilly Bennett has been with her four years.
She is “absolutely wonderful” with the children, Wilkes said.
Wilkes believes that children need a chance to be children and that is centered on play.
Once a child enters public school, “the requirements are so strict, kids don’t play anymore,” she explained. “They don’t have the time.
“And that’s where they learn their socialization.”
Wilkes has noticed over the years that behavior she used to see in second graders, she now sees in kindergartners or 4-year-olds.
Her two sons are grown now – Kyle, 22, is a University of Oklahoma student and Hayden, 18, attends Oklahoma City Community College.
But her nest is far from empty.
In fact, her business just had its first “day care grandbaby” when a woman who was one of Wilkes’ first charges recently had baby.
There are other home-based day cares, but not many that can say they’ve been in the business for 20 years.
“I think you go in with expectations of play and fun. But it’s a lot of work,” she said, “and unless you can find the joy in it, you’ll burn out really quickly. There’s a big burnout rate.”
So far that hasn’t been an issue for Wilkes, who said she’s thought about retiring.
“But I really don’t want to,” she said, adding she hopes to stay in the business “at least five more years. Or 10.”
She paused just a moment and then amended that.
“Til God says ‘no more.’”