WILLOWBROOK — They gripped their magic carpets, ocean breeze in their hair and the aroma of salt water encompassing them.
It’s a typical day for the kids at Jana Conev’s in-home day care in Willowbrook as infants to 3-year-olds flex their creative muscles. The magic carpet ride was part of Conev’s transportation unit, where she had the children close their eyes, misted them with water and had imaginations take flight as they sailed across oceans.
“They were so giggly with anticipation of what was going to be the next surprise on their magic carpet ride,” Conev said. “Nobody thinks of magic carpets as being a mode of transportation, but why not?”
And those rides have been booked for a long time – Conev’s Cradle Infantcare, Inc., an equal-opportunity state-licensed child care home, celebrates its 30th year this month.
“I guess I just don’t think about doing anything else,” she said.
Visiting Conev’s home is more like going to grandma’s house than a day care. It’s a warm, inviting place where there’s always something baking in the oven.
“I have always been very focused on what my kids eat,” said Conev, a grandmother of two. “The idea for me running a day care home is that the kids learn to appreciate the smell of baking bread, soups and stews … all of those comfort smells.”
Conev tries to incorporate at least three colors and textures in each healthy meal for recognition and for the kids to expand their vocabulary by using more adjectives and adverbs.
There also is room for outside-the-box activities, such as going to “The Grand Canyon,” living life in a beehive, flying on airplanes, traveling on safaris and becoming astronauts.
It’s hard to believe Conev, now 53, started off wanting to work in real estate law. It wasn’t until a visit to her uncle in New Mexico one summer changed her life.
Her uncle had three young children. After seeing Conev interact with them, he encouraged her to switch her major and start on a path to open a day care.
“I’ve never looked back,” she said. “It’s just been wonderful.”
In her 30 years, Conev has looked after countless kids. What may be even more impressive is that she’s potty-trained about 150 of them, she said.
“You have to be diligent,” she said. “You have to put them on the potty often and really praise them when they do it the right way. Then you move on to something else.”
To celebrate her business anniversary, Conev will take a trip to the Czech Republic to attend observation studies of preschools in Prague, Nyrany, Hradec Kralove and Hronov.
Every school runs a little differently, but it’s the intangibles that separate Conev’s day care from others.
“There’s always time for a hug,” she said. “It’s just like being at grandma’s. I think it’s important that they know they are really loved.”