Creative Child Activity Centre
Within moments of meeting her, you know that Sandie Hebb loves what she does. Her warm smile, calm voice, and relaxed manner all indicate that she’s great with children, and that she understands what they need. She also understands what families need in order to maintain a sense of balance and contentment in their busy lives. They need to feel like they are part of a community. They need to know that their children are safe and happy. And, they need to have some flexibility in the daily details of their lives. Details like lunchtime and after school care for their children. That is exactly what Sandie provides to families through the Creative Child Activity Program.
Based in Halifax’s Sir Charles Tupper School, the program began 16 years ago. Sandie, herself a Tupper alum, former PTA president, a volunteer, and mother of two former students at the school, saw the need for an engaging, flexible lunchtime and after school program in the area.
At the same time, she was looking for a career that would allow her to do something she enjoyed, and still maintain a balance between her own work and family life with husband Mike, son Jared and daughter Sarah (and Jack Russel – Riley). When she realized that she could meet those needs, and fulfill her desire to work with children, Sandie harnessed her entrepreneurial spirit and created her own lunchtime and after school childcare business. Hundreds of children and their families have since benefited from that idea, and Sandie enjoys the role she plays in their lives. “It’s so nice watching the children grow and thrive and become their own little person. They are just amazing,” she says.
Today, the Creative Child Activity Program provides a fun, enriching, community-oriented lunchtime and after school program for over 40 children from grades primary to six. Sandie is passionate about making sure that all her kids enjoy their time at The Creative Child.
“We do something for everybody,” she says. But there is no need for diversions or distractions like TV or video games. With a comfortable student-to-staff ratio of 15 to 1, and access to the very best learning games, crafts, and activities, there is plenty to keep the children’s minds engaged.
“We’ve always really, really tried to expand their minds, but they don’t know that we’re doing that because it’s such fun,” explains Sandie. In addition to keeping little brains active, The Creative Child Activity Program emphasizes keeping the body active.
“We have lots of outdoor time,” she says. Outside, the children have their pick of everything from sidewalk chalk to skipping ropes to footballs and soccer balls. The Creative Child program also makes the most of the outdoors no matter the season. “Even in the winter, when the snow is falling, we’re out building snowmen because fresh air is so important,” says Sandie. The nurturing, stimulating and co-operative environment of the program also promotes a sense of community within the multi-aged group of children.
“The grade sixes help the little ones so much,” Sandie says. “Everybody gets along, and everybody learns to co-operate. It’s great to see it.” Even siblings who keep their distance at home have been known to come together to play and help each other during their time in the program, much to the surprise and pleasure of their parents.
Families are free to use the program based on what suits their schedule best, whether that is just a few days a week, different pick-up times on different days, or changing it up on a monthly basis, with the fees adjusted accordingly. This goes a long way to relieving stress on families requiring flexibility.
“We accommodate parents so that they don’t have to worry,” Sandie says. “The parents feel safe. They can come talk to us. They can phone me – they do phone me – at home anytime during the day or night. It’s a community.”
That same flexibility and sense of community also extends to the Creative Child Activity Program’s nine staff members. Offering flexible work schedules in a caring, family-friendly environment makes it easy for Sandie to attract and keep highly qualified people who want to work for her.
“The best thing is that some of the kids that have gone through my program from primary to grade six are university students, and they are now working for me,” she says.
We have students in junior high who come back to volunteer with us – which is wonderful for us and helps them with part of their curriculum.
She is eager to share her small business experiences and encouragement with them, saying, “I tell the young people I hire, ‘Yes you to can be successful and stay here in Nova Scotia. There are endless opportunities. Open your minds, and start something of your own!’”
A strong proponent of families spending time together, Sandie also believes that there is no better place than Nova Scotia when it comes to raising children. “Nova Scotia is a family-friendly place,” she says. “You can balance both work and family. And there are no long commutes. In other places, some people spend 2 and 3 hours commuting. That’s time you could be spending with your family.”
When families have a good work-life balance, and have time to connect with each other, and with their communities, the children benefit from a true sense of belonging. “They don’t necessarily think of it as Nova Scotia, but they think ‘this is my space,’” says Sandie. “They feel safe. This is kind of like a little cocoon, and everybody protects them until they grow up.”
Sandie is also happy to spread the word about Nova Scotia’s strengths. “I believe there is no other place like this, and I tell everyone,” she says.