Another graduate of Childcare SPARK opens a daycare center

Pictured above, from left to right: Hanna Westra, LSCP Outreach and Development specialist; Steven VandenAvond, Marquette County ambassador; Theresa Champion; Theresa Higdon, Paradise in Nature Wonderschool, owner; Rebecca Dales, Childcare SPARK coordinator; Lynn Hill, Community Foundation of Marquette County; Brooke Quinn, LSCP Senior Business Development representative

Another graduate of Childcare SPARK has opened a daycare center --- this one in Negaunee.

Paradise in Nature Wonderschool is owned and operated by Theresa Higdon, who is the third graduate of the program to open a daycare center -- the ultimate goal of the business accelerator. Childcare SPARK provides participants with expertise in business development, childcare operations and childhood development to help them understand, launch, operate and grow home-based childcare businesses.

Childcare SPARK is an example of how U.P. collaboration and ingenuity are helping address the issue regionally and is one of several initiatives in the region to address the childcare shortage. Like other parts of the Upper, Michigan and the country, the region is grappling with a shortage of childcare facilities.

"I'm excited to provide a nurturing environment where children can immerse themselves in nature and discover the wonders of the world around them," Higdon said. "Our goal is to inspire a love for the outdoors and foster each child's unique interests and curiosities."

What's happening: A graduate of Childcare SPARK has opened an in-home daycare center, Paradise in Nature Wonderschool, in Negaunee. The owner is Theresa Higdon, a graduate of the Childcare SPARK program and a seasoned educator with over 25 years of experience. She holds a degree in natural resources and has several certifications in environmental education, including Project Learning Tree, Leave No Trace, Forest School Teachers Institute, and Wildlife.

Higdon is the third graduate of the program to open a daycare. The others are Ashley Jarvi, Tiny Turtle's Daycare LLC, in Ishpeming; and Lysa Stockwell, who opened Little Cubs Learning Center, LLC, in Marquette last fall. 

The setting: Higdon is specializing in providing a unique, nature-focused learning
experience for children aged three and up. Strategically situated near Negaunee's Heritage Trail, the downtown area, and Jackson Mine Park, Paradise in Nature Wonderschool offers a convenient and accessible setting for children to explore and
connect with nature. "One of the unique aspects of this program is the focus on the great outdoors. Children get to spend most of their time outside, exploring the natural world around them. This allows them to connect with nature, develop a sense of wonder and respect for the environment, and experience the benefits of fresh air and sunlight," according to Higdon's website.

The schedule includes engaging activities such as outdoor adventures, story time, creative projects, and visits to local parks and libraries. The center is open five days a week, from 7:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

What is SPARK: Launched in March 2023, Childcare SPARK is a collaborative effort of several organizations under the umbrella of the Lake Superior Community Partnership. The program combines expertise in business development, childcare operations and childhood development under a business accelerator model to help interested entrepreneurs understand, launch, operate and grow home-based childcare businesses. The goal is to help establish new childcare businesses throughout Marquette County to help families the care they need so they can remain or re-enter the workforce.

Funding: Childcare SPARK is funded by the State of Michigan Equity Fund and an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation from the Marquette County Commission. 

Paradise in Nature Wonderschool is accepting enrollments for children ages three to fourteen. To learn more about the program and enrollment opportunities, go to: Paradise in Nature Wonderschool.
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