In photos: J’Mae Shemroske and her daughter Estrella with their baby goat. Shemroske in the entrance of her Sweet Chickadee School daycare. Photos by Larry Goodwin.
GREENFIELD — Amidst the boulders and tall trees of Daniels Road sits the homestead in which J’Mae Shemroske delights in caring for kids.
Shemroske’s daughter and son—third and first graders, respectively, at the Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs—are probably her most important charges.
But Shemroske and her partner, Alan VanDyk, make the best use of their woodsy one-acre property by operating a licensed daycare business for infants and kids up to age 5, as well as summer camps for kids between the ages of 3 and 11.
Parents drop off their kids at the bottom of a steep slope, and follow a wood-chip path to the daycare room itself.
“There’s not many daycare models that have a male in the picture,” Shemroske said during a recent interview. “It’s really special for us.”
“You feel appreciated,” added VanDyk, a former commercial truck driver.
In addition to demonstrating the value of vegetarian, all-organic and homemade meals, Shemroske said her goal is to “ease” children into their kindergarten years.
By next autumn, Shemroske hopes to reach the state-required maximum of 12 kids enrolled in her Sweet Chickadee School daycare.
At present, Shemroske and VanDyk watch over five little ones, mostly in a room that he renovated on the lower level of the house. A large woodstove in the middle of the space is cordoned off for safety. A second room will be renovated sometime this summer.
Weather and season permitting, kids can ascend the rocky slopes outside to observe and pet a herd of goats the family keeps in a pen, or even Polar Express trains passing by roughly 50 yards away on tracks in the woods.
Shemroske plans to let loose flocks of chickens to scurry in the yard as well. “We always accept random animal donations,” she said.
In a statement posted online, Shemroske makes her daycare’s mission clear: “Sweet Chickadee School invites children into our home to be nurtured and loved by our family. We provide the best care possible while offering a broad range of developmentally appropriate activities that will delight and inspire children,” she explains.
“We live a rich life here,” Shemroske adds, “where beauty, nature, art, warmth, animals, joy and farming are always present and eagerly shared.” She also notes the irony of her business “growing in a shrinking countryside.”
According to records at the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, the daycare received two inspections in the last six months and “no violations” were found.
VanDyk’s family members have long owned property on the opposite side of Daniels Road, near the intersection of Route 9N. Yet he has owned the property at 337 Daniels Road for about 20 years.
Shemroske admits that her “very wholesome, earthy” daycare plans took root in the Greenfield Farmers’ Market, in which the couple had become involved for the first time about 10 years ago.
The market, located on Middle Grove Road, opens at the end of June and runs through September. Local vendors sell products there on Fridays between 4 and 7 p.m.