Carla Calabrese spent decades lovingly caring for children in her home. Having spent her whole childhood in that environment, her daughter, Mariangela Carannante, was inspired to take the same career path. As a result, the pair opened Little Big Steps, a daycare and preschool facility on North Mountain Boulevard.
As the mother and daughter celebrate the center’s five-year anniversary, they spoke of their inspiration to start the business and their goal of making it as comfortable and homey as the small daycare that once ran out of Carla’s Mountaintop home.
“It started 28 years ago,” Carla recalled. “I wanted to be home with my kids, but I needed extra income. My intention was to do it until my kids were school age and then get a real job, but I loved it so much I just kept going with it.”
Carla spent years not only caring for her own two children, but a handful of others. Her daughter was so inspired by the important work her mother was doing, that she went on to earn a degree in elementary and early childhood education.
“Growing up in that environment, I always knew that this is what I wanted to do,” Mariangela said. “Then we found this opportunity to open up on the mountain.”
Carla’s son, too, was inspired by his upbringing and went on to become a teacher for children with special needs. Mariangela’s dream was opening a daycare facility.
But Carla admitted that when the opportunity arose to move her longtime daycare business from her home to a larger facility with room for more employees and children, she was nervous. She didn’t want the place to lose the relaxed sense of comfort that was provided in her residence.
Her reservations were set aside when she and Mariangela first toured the facililty, once a home at 37 North Mountain Boulevard. “We came here and just fell in love with the place,” Carla remembered. “We envisioned what it would be.”
The family-like atmosphere was evident as five-year-old Guilianna, one of Mariangela’s children, comfy in pajamas to celebrate Dr. Seuss Day, came into the room a few times, just to give her mother a hug and a kiss.
At Little Big Steps, infants six weeks old to children who are school age are cared for daily, and elementary age children are also bused to the facility for before-and after-school care. Mariangela has two other children, Luigi, seven, who attends after school, and Gabriella, a five-month-old.
Carla cooks most of the meals served to the children who attend and many of those are her Italian specialties. She smiled as she described her chicken pastina as a favorite of the little ones.
The business is not just a daycare, but also a teaching facility as preschoolers are given instruction to prepare them for kindergarten. Carla noted that, even at the infancy level, she and the staff of Little Big Steps try to incorporate educational activities for the children.
“We emphasize a lot on learning,” Mariangela commented. “It’s more of a school than a daycare.”
“We start in the infant room. We sing songs, teach them shapes and colors…” Carla said. “We learn so much from the kids and we try to teach them too. Every day here is a new adventure, a new challenge.”
Little Big Steps also has a summer program, with weekly themes and field trips, and community-related activities go on all year long, as the children who attend are introduced to things like yoga and karate and learn from professionals on topics such as fire prevention and dental hygiene.
“We are so lucky to have such wonderful teachers here. Our pride is our teachers. We’re fortunate to have a wonderful staff,” Carla said.
Over 50 children are enrolled there, with no more than 33 there at one time. Both Carla and Mariangela reiterated that the small, family-friendly atmosphere is what attracts parents to Little Big Steps.
“The parents all become friends here, too,” Mariangela said. “People come here by word of mouth.” Carla added, “We call it the LBS family. We all work together for what’s best for the children.”