Dawn Felten has been a special type of ‘Mom’ to many children

Long-time daycare provider Dawn Felten enjoying some outside time with Braylee Konz, Weston Schuldt and Payten Felten. Photo by Clay Schuldt

By Clay Schuldt
Special for the Argus

On Mother’s Day we honor the women who worked hard to raise their children properly. Motherhood is a full time position and even the best mom needs a little help sometimes.

For over 25 years Dawn Felten has been running a day care out of her home. While Felten refuses to describe herself as a “mother figure,” she has been an extension of mother for numerous children in Caledonia.  Felten estimates that she has watched over 100 kids throughout the years. Currently she has 13 on roster, but never watches more than 12 at a time.

Getting started

“I didn’t become a licensed day care provider until 1986, but I was working a few years earlier as a substitute provider,” Felten explained.

“I was working part time in retail and I had three little ones under the age of six at home. This meant putting in many hours each week and still only getting part time pay. I wanted to stay home and this way (operating a day care business) I could make some money.” Felten also received plenty of assistance from her husband and children.

“My kids grew up with day care, helped on a continuous basis, whether is was helping with cleaning or playing with the children.”

Even today the Felten family remains in contact with the children who grew up in their day care.  “We still go watch the other kids play and do sports if we can.”

Even after her own children were grown, it was easy for Felten to stay in the business, as people continued ask her to watch their children. “I kept having good kids and good families.”

Remodeling and renovations

“We’re always fixing things as they get worn out.” In the Felten home, renovations are an ongoing part of the business.

“Over the years we’ve done a lot.  We’ve remodeled the interior of the house.  When we did upgrades, we did it for the daycare.”

After Felten first became a licensed day care provider, they added a play area to the back of their home, complete with a swing set and other playground equipment. A new deck, garage and driveway were soon to follow. The basement stairs alone have undergone numerous changes.

“We did our railings above our open staircase and when we first put them up there were not any codes at that point.  Then the codes came in, I had to take it out or cover it up.  For a few years I simply blocked it off and covered it up before we replaced it to meet the codes.”

Most of the changes are due to new regulations in fire, building and equipment codes.  Felten cited a recent equipment code change that was mandated for all day care providers dealing with cribs. “We have until December 2012 before all our cribs have to be up to new standards implemented in 2010.”

Some of the challenges

“For kids it is keeping them safely active. I firmly believe children need to be as active as possible.  Most of their time needs to be busy.  You want them to play the game of life as hard as possible without breaking the rules.”

And the rewards?

“The hugs,” Felten said without hesitating.  Over the years Felten has simply loved watching the children grow into adults.

“I like sitting and listening to them talk after they have grown up about the fun they had at day care.”

Some of the first kids she watched are now in their 30s.

“A lot of the children I’ve taken care of have children of their own.”

Felten anticipates that it is only a matter of time before she begins watching over second-generation children. Felten is currently the daycare provider for her own grandchildren.

In addition Felten has many great stories to tell about the children she watches over.

“There is never a day that goes by without something funny happening and my biggest piece of advice to new day care providers is to write those things down. You think you’ll remember, but you don’t because something funnier will happen the next day.”

One particular story that stuck with Felten over the years was a lunchtime misunderstanding. She had served the children mini-chicken drumsticks for lunch. As these were new at the time the children did not know what they were eating. Later that day one of the moms asked her child about what they had for lunch and the little one said that Felten served them “chicken bones”.

Being “Mom” for so many children?

“I don’t really look at myself as a mom,” Felten admitted. “I did when my kids were little, but as they grew up, Mom took on a whole new meaning. I am an extension of Mom, but Mom is a special word. I don’t ever want to take away moms, because they are the number one spot in their children’s lives. I take care of them, and I worry about them, but not like their mothers do.  They give me their children for a few hours, but they have them their whole lives.”