"My girls are super excited about going to day care, and I think that says it all," said Wendie Christianson, whose twin 3-year-olds, Aubrey and Lola, are cared for by Lori Ryan of rural Goodhue.
"I don't think there's a more comforting feeling than to know when you're at work that your children are well taken care of and having a positive experience while they're away," Christianson added.
Such accolades earned Ryan the title of 2013 Goodhue County Child Care Provider of the Year.
"I've never received this award before, so that's quite an honor," Ryan said.
She will receive her award from the Goodhue County Licensed Child Care Association during a special banquet today in Rochester that honors child care providers from throughout Minnesota.
"Overall, I just think Lori creates a safe, calming, home environment that is educational," Christianson said, commending Ryan for her ability to provide age-appropriate activities for the wide range of age groups in her care.
Ryan says she cares for 13 children.
"That includes part-time, full-time and school agers," Ryan said. "I never have all 13 here in one day, typically. A typical day is six to eight children."
Ryan has a part-time helper, Carol Tipcke, who comes in on busier days.
"She's a very good close friend of mine," Ryan said of Tipcke. "Our girls were raised together and they're still really close friends. It's good to have a close friend to work with who understands you completely."
That close-knit feeling is integral for everyone, she said.
"All of them are families we get along with. The kids get along well and seem to really care about each other," Ryan said.
Ryan added that husband Todd and their four children -- three girls and one boy -- are her biggest supporters.
"It's my family that I have to give a lot of credit to for allowing me to run my business from my home," she said. "They're giving up a lot. They're sharing their space with 13 other children."
Ryan said the families she works with particularly enjoy the country setting of her family's hobby farm where the children can play outside in a fenced-in yard and see various farm animals.
"They love our rooster," Ryan said. "They love to watch my brother-in-law come in and feed the cows every day."
"It exposes them to a different kind of life than we're used to," said Christianson, who lives in Goodhue.
Ryan says that although there are some daily routines, she does not follow a strict lesson plan.
"We just kind of go with the flowm I guess, and we could have a plan but the plan could change in an instant depending on how everybody feels," Ryan said.
"Even though I say I don't have a curriculum, I think in reality there is some sort of curriculum," Ryan added. "It's just based on whatever the kids are interested in in the moment. We build on that."
Christianson, who also has a 4-year-old son, has used a few child care options, including a day care center for her son and a nanny for her daughters.
"I am impressed with how (Ryan) runs her day care," Christianson said. "I feel like she's organized and runs a very professional day care."
Christianson explained that Ryan has a bulletin board where she posts notifications of upcoming classes and local offerings for parents and families.
Ryan said another important facet of her day care is an emphasis on nutritious meals and snacks.
"I'm big on providing healthy meals for the children," Ryan said. "Prior to this job, for three years I was a food program monitor. I covered five counties and went to other day cares educating them about the food program and making sure everyone was serving nutritious meals."
Ryan said she also takes part in continuing education opportunities.
"I just feel like you get out of your business what you put into it, so I've always encouraged everyone to keep taking classes," Ryan said.
"I usually do most my training this year through Goodhue County Licensed Child Care Association," she added. "I also take a lot of online classes. There's so much out there.
Ryan became a licensed provider in 1996, but took a break when her youngest child entered kindergarten.
"I thought I was ready to move on to work outside of the home," Ryan explained. "I enjoyed my job but found that I missed being home."
Ryan says she plans to continue as a day care provider for the foreseeable future.
"I definitely know that this is where I want to be," Ryan said.