get ready for the fastest four years of your life

Over that relatively short span of time, a child develops from a struggling infant to a confident, socially acclimated pre-schooler ready to take on kindergarten and the world. What happens in between is what KidWorks is all about. We view a child's development in terms of a spectrum. At one end, a child's needs are fairly primitive. Nutrition, a clean dry bum, a nice warm place to have a nap, some fun things to look at and play with. Slowly, those needs give way to more complex fundamentals. Social interaction, recognizing shapes and colors, identifying letters and numbers, creative expression, language skills. At the end, if all goes as planned, is a child fully prepared for entry to Kindergarten. But things start getting really interesting at age three.

Hey! What Happened To Our Adorable Little Baby!?

Age Three is a key transitional age for a child, and they're there in the blink of an eye. They enter this key age as cute, (maybe a little ornery) waddling tikes. Kindergarten is light-years away. Twelve months later- Oh my God!- Kindergarten's around the corner. Somehow in the span of twelve months your child seems more like a little kid and less like a little baby. They've only got a year to be ready! It's panic time....

Have you done the right thing?

Is your little one going to be able to walk into that big kindergarten class and do well?

The good news is, they'll do fine. Whether they went to KidWorks, or another quality center, or if they stayed at home with Mom or Dad, Kindergarten really is just the start of formal education. And, if you remember Kindergarten yourself, you'll recall there was quite a bit of playing, running around, snacking and napping thrown in there, too. 

So, what does a quality preschool do? Well,  it makes it possible for you to earn a living and give your family financial security. Someday that little bundle of joy will be choosing a college and it would be nice to be able to afford it. For your child, it provides a nice, clean, safe, fun, nurturing and stimulating environment. As children near Kindergarten age, a quality preschool begins to build the social and intellectual skill sets necessary to make the transition to school comfortably and with confidence. 

The Power Of Play ( Also known as "All that money for what!?")

Every good parent at some point looks at that huge monthly outlay for child care expense and wonders if they're doing the right thing. Is it enough that their child has a nice place to spend the workday? For that kind of money and time, shouldn't they be learning something? I don't mean the stuff they get from playing with others and interacting with their environment and learning their numbers and letters. I mean really super jumbo advanced learning, like maybe being able to compose a piano sonata, or name all of the heads of state in alphabetical order, or speak fluent Japanese?  

If you’ve looked around KidWorks, it’s obvious right away that the typical trappings of a "classroom" are conspicuously absent in all but our Pre-K rooms. Young children don't need to be confined to a desk or isolated in a boxy room in order to learn. Research, and our own experience, has taught us that children do much better in a space that is organic, dynamic and engaging to the senses. For us old folks, learning requires a conscious effort. It's like work. Kids don't make that switch; it's all folded into their daily experiences. As long as they're engaged, they're learning, and they really enjoy it. Our job is to keep them engaged, and progressively introduce broader and more complex concepts through a balance of formal curriculum, guided play and free play.

Preparing your child for Kindergarten involves so much more than academics. We'll get them there academically, we promise. But we also need to help develop the whole child.. Things like socialization, maturity, empathy, manners, personal responsibility and self-discipline. 

If we and you as partners have done our jobs, the first day of Kindergarten goes like this: Your child strides into the new elementary school like she owns the place, pausing for a moment to watch with curiosity the inevitable crying child/crying parent scene in the hallway. She walks directly up to her new teacher, introduces herself and politely asks where her desk is. Ready to go from Day One. Good manners, good social skills, good academic preparation. Your basic dream-kid for a Kindergarten teacher. 

KidWorks Pre-K Curriculum Vs. VPK

For the past fifteen years, our Pre-K classes have been taught the High Reach Learning HILS curriculum. This curriculum is intended for Kindergarten age students and is one full grade level advanced from a standard 4 Year Old curriculum. It is intended to be an accelerated, more challenging and more academically rigorous program, because our experience shows that our students can handle it. We begin laying the foundation for it in our two year old classes.

We  contacted the Florida Department Of Education and the Alachua County Early Learning Coalition (the agency which administers VPK locally) and asked them if our Silver Star curriculum met VPK standards..

Their determination was that our current Silver Star curriculum cannot be approved per VPK standards because it teaches concepts and skill sets that in their opinion are too advanced and therefore not age appropriate for four year olds. They would require that we step down one grade level to an approved 4 year old curriculum.

Based upon many years of strong feedback from graduated Silver Star parents, we know our program does an outstanding job of preparing children for Kindergarten, and our graduates already possess many of the skills being taught to their peers for the very first time. If your hope is that your child will fast-track into a gifted program when they enter grade school, it makes sense to us to give them that jump-start now.

There are two advantages to the VPK program: 1) Parents enjoy reduced tuition, and 2) the school gains immediate access to a large pool of children receiving the subsidy to fill enrollment. If neither of those things are a priority for your family, KidWorks' Silver Stars receive a program that, according to the folks who run VPK,  is more  academically advanced than anything taught in any VPK class anywhere in Florida. We believe VPK is a valuable program that serves a legitimate need, but we won't lower our standards or reduce our expectations of your child in order to participate in VPK.

Why Our Classes Rotate

Here's a good example of what happens when parents design a preschool for their own children. Way back when we were laying out what would become the Millhopper school for our then three and one year old boys (now both in their twenties), I was a little bummed that we were creating all of these cool spaces  but the kids were going to be stuck in one classroom all day. "They could rotate!", Cathy suggested. "I'll create a schedule and the kids can move around the school with their teachers to different centers all day. Everybody will get to play with everything."  It sounded good to me, mainly because I wasn't the one who had to figure it all out, and it works. So well in fact that when it came time to design the Tioga school, class rotations for ages 2 and up were built in from the first sketch. Rotating a half dozen classes of toddlers all day is like herding cats, but it definitely prevents the children from getting bored. (Our infants and ones have self contained classrooms and don't rotate. Our Pre K classes also have their own self-contained rooms to prepare them for the Kindergarten environment.)

Food For Thought

We  like the idea of shared meals and some common areas and open kitchens so the children develop a sense of community that extends beyond a classroom and classmates. Our schools always have a greatroom for meals, rather than having the children eat in an assigned classroom every day and having the meals wheeled into the rooms on a hospital cart. It's the same reason your kitchen is the social hub of your home

We use meal time to establish and reinforce good table manners and hygiene. In the older classes, children help with serving and clean up, and all of the children are taught to wash hands before meals, wait for their entire table to be served before eating, say "please" when requesting seconds, and clear their own plates when finished.

Starting in the summer of 2013, we decided to improve our food program. We:

  • Reduced our use of canned vegetables and fruits by 90%, and replaced them with fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, and supplemented with frozen vegetables..

  • Switched our breads and buns to whole grain or multigrain.

  • Greatly reduced our use of processed proteins in favor of whole muscle products.

  • Eliminated pre-sweetened cereals

  • Switched to an all-natural line of deli meats.

  • Replaced some meat based protien for plant based protien

We've also focused our menu planning to strike a daily balance of fast burning and slow burning foods to avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes and help improve the children's attention and mood.

What We've Learned Over The Past 22 Years About Teachers:

We're very fortunate to have several core teachers who have been with us for many years.

-top 10 senior staff by tenure -

Carol Deemer 16 Years, Silver Stars

Angie Cunningham, 12 Years, Closer

Carol Condon, 10 Years, Mini Meteors

Meredith Roche, 9 Years, Director

Tomoko Nguyen, 8 Years, Astronauts

Brandi Strode, 8 Years, Astronauts

Danielle Brehm, 8 Years, In-Charge

Tracy Bennett, 7 Years, Silver Stars

Frewoini “Winnie” Ghebreghergish 5 Years

Rachael O’Dell, 4 Years, Floater

Here's what we've discovered: Grumpy, underpaid and unappreciated people do not make long term employees nor great teachers. It doesn't matter how experienced they are, or how many credentials they hold. If they're stressed out and miserable, the children will be too. So as owners very early on we set out to determine what makes teachers happy and how to keep them that way. 

Don't ever cut their hours so the school can save money on payroll. A standard industry practice is to continuously combine classes throughout the day to maintain full ratio and reduce payroll expense by sending teachers home as early as possible. (Many centers also work actively to send children home "sick" to reduce their numbers and combine classes.) So one teacher gets loaded up with a full class, and one teacher loses hours and pay. Two grumpy people. Not good for the kids. Our teachers work their scheduled hours irrespective of daily enrollment. If class loads are especially light, we may combine to give teachers planning time, or to get some decorating or deep cleaning done, but never to save payroll.

Don't Incentivize Cost Cutting. Standard practice is to underpay Directors and then encourage them to make the difference up in bonus money by cutting costs. It creates an us-vs-them relationship with the staff, because reducing teacher payroll directly increases the Director's pay. Our Directors are never pressured about payroll cost, or food cost, or any costs for that matter. If you asked them what their school's operational expense ratios were they couldn't even venture a guess. The subject literally never comes up. Whatever it takes to run the kind of center our Directors would want to have their own children at , that's what it takes. 

Be willing to sacrifice revenue and discharge families who are verbally abusive to them, or children who are excessively aggressive and a danger to staff and to other children. We believe that if you want a school filled with nice families and good kids, you have to be willing to let tuition revenue go in the short term in some cases. In most corporate centers and in many private centers it's considered sacrilege to turn tuition money away under any circumstance. The teachers are simply expected to tough it out. Not ours. Here those families get their money back and they're politely shown the door. Then they go on Google and give us a One Star review for being money-hungry.  

Pay them for their lunch break. Standard practice is to require teachers to clock out and leave the building for their break.  By doing so, the center can get an extra hour at the end of the day out of each teacher without risking having to give overtime pay. Our teachers are paid through lunch. And speaking of overtime...

Pay them Overtime. Standard practice, especially at corporate centers, is to "audit" time sheets as necessary to reflect no more than 40 hours a week, regardless of actual hours worked. Not only is it a crappy thing to do in our opinion, it's also illegal.

Let them bring their own children and still have a decent paycheck. The industry standard is a 15% employee discount. At that rate most teachers will take home no net pay, or very little. We give our teachers a 75% starting discount that becomes a 95% discount with tenure. If you've yet to experience the horror that is our Rates page, a 95% discount at KidWorks is worth around $10,000 a year, and we're waitlisted to the point that it's not an abstract figure. But we've learned that teachers who have their own children in the program tend to be actively, fully vested in the quality of the school. Most of our best teachers are moms with kids at the school. Their commitment to the program more than makes up for the value of the discount. Our Directors receive free child care for up to two children.

Give annual pay increases. The industry standard is a 2.5% increase per year. Many centers stopped giving annual increases altogether. We've always given a 5% increase each year, and we did so during each year of the 2008 recession, including years when we did not increase tuition rates.

Benefits! Our teachers have Discounted or Free Group Health (depending on tenure), Free Dental, Free Vision, Free Life Insurance, Paid Holidays, up to 3 weeks Paid Time Off per year and a 401k with company match. 

Give them an opportunity to make some extra money once in awhile. We give our trusted employees the keys to our schools to run their own weekend sitting servce. "Parents Nights Out" are held for every Gator football home game, and for a shopping day over the holidays and a date night for Valentines Day.  Every cent earned goes directly to the staff working the event. 

Remember that they're doing a hard job, every day, and they have the single greatest impact on the children in their care.

What does it take to run a preschool with a “spare nothing” philosophy and zero reliance on subsidies? Well, it isn’t cheap, as our rates reflect, but our families wouldn’t have it any other way.


Our overriding goal is for your child to love coming to school, so much that they complain that they want to stay when you come to pick them up, and don't understand why they can't come to school on the weekends. We want to send them off to conquer the world knowing what it means to love learning, and understanding what self-confidence actually feels like. Guilt-free childcare is when your child runs into the school ahead of you and doesn't look back. It's when you arrive at pick up to find that same happy kid, just a little messier and tired, and it's when the ride home is a non-stop verbatim recap of their day. 

Here's a very nice letter we recently received from a parent who's child had just graduated from our Millhopper school. We were really touched by it. We want every family and every child to have this sort of preschool experience, whether they have it at KidWorks or another center.  

"Dear Cathy & Mike,

Before we came to KidWorks 5 years ago, I read every review and blog I could find about great daycares in Gainesville. I knew our daughter would grow up wherever she started and I wanted her to be as important to them, as she was to me. I went to one of the supposedly "best" ones in Gainesville and for 30 days I lost sleep and felt terrible about bringing her there. It was a nice place - clean and organized- but she cried every day when I dropped her off and was miserable when I picked her up. She knew the KidWorks difference from the beginning.

A friend recommended your school because she knew you personally. From day one we met Ann in the baby room and she laughed and grew up quickly under her kindness. Every year since then - even when staff changed - she always loved coming to KidWorks EVERY DAY. Even when we were home - she asked if she could go to school "for a little bit" to see her friends. How exceptional for a 2-3 year old to love school already.

Anytime we had concerns you had them addressed immediately and and I was always impressed to see you at the school and knowing the kids by name. I'm not sure what your methods are for picking staff but I know you have a talent for finding people who love children and love to watch children become small individuals who love learning, life and playfulness. This school is a blessing and a hidden gem I was lucky to find for my daughter. I know your teachers and staff do alot of work, but as a manager myself I know that teams of people come together under the eye of someone who sets expectations and respects their staff. They are always a reflection of you. And so we wanted to tell you that, although you're both behind the scenes, you are noticed and loved by the parents of one little girl. This place is her foundation in the world around her without her parents and it has been FANTASTIC. We can't thank you enough.

Love Always,

Jessica & Josh"


Make an appointment and tour the school most convenient to you. Call Julie Cabellero at 352 335-1335 (Northwest)  or Meredith Roche at 352 331-3833 (Tioga). We'd love to show you around and introduce you to the best preschool teaching teams in North Central Florida.