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You can’t be afraid of spills, screams or the thunderous sound of children running in circles to do what Chrissy Skorkowsky does every day.
In her bright blue home in Oak Creek, four children have the run of the place from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
A stack of plastic dinosaurs sits half-buried in a rich garden in the backyard. The kids recently pretended the creatures got stuck in a tar pit, the mother of two explained.
In the game room, a tarantula watches the children play from a glass case.
In the living room, children sometimes take out Twiley, the corn snake, to play.
Later, the kids will feed mealworms to a duo of hungry salamanders and check on a chicken.
Skorkowsky’s home certainly doesn’t feel like one of the typical child care centers in Routt County, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They’re joyful,” she said about the rambunctious children who fill her home, as her 6-year-old son, Gannon, played with a light saber in the kitchen. “I get a lot of joy out of this. You just really have to love them, and you have to have an affinity for kids and their craziness and their joyfulness. It’s a happy chaos.”
When her daughter, Sora, was born, Skorkowsky left her job working with sage grouse for the Colorado Division of Wildlife to stay home and take care of Sora.
Her husband, Robert, is a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service.
When Gannon turned 3 in 2010, Skorkowsky decided to start a home-based day care in the South Routt County town.
The move allowed her to raise her kids at home while also taking care of other children and earning income.
The young playmates quickly became family.
“I thought it would be a really good environment for my children to have other kids come in and share their lives,” Skorkowsky said. “We’re like a big family. They’re like little brothers and sisters. They fight like siblings. They play like siblings. It’s very chaotic.”
Skorkowsky prefers to call it “happy chaos.”
She runs one of 19 home-based centers in the county, and the only one in Oak Creek.
At $40 per day, including lunch, her rates are among the lowest in Routt County.
Preschools and licensed child care centers in Steamboat Springs and other towns generally charge at least $57 per day for care.
Tami Havener, director of Steamboat Springs’ Family Development Center, said home-based day cares like Skorkowsky’s represent the greatest opportunity for Routt County to make care here more affordable and convenient.
The problem is, the county has lost six of these centers in recent years as a faltering economy made it harder for parents to send their children to any center, and others finished raising their own kids at the center and moved on.
Some who investigate the possibility of opening a home care center choose not to start because they are limited in the first years to how many children they can accept, and how much income they can make.
For parents looking to start their own home center, there is help.
Skorkowsky recalled how First Impressions of Routt County covered much of the start-up costs for her center. Grants paid for the fingerprinting, course work and such things as child-sized tables and chairs.
Many of the tools the mother needs to run the day care have been funded with grants from First Impressions and other local nonprofits.
“There’s really no overhead except for getting it started,” she said.
There also are tax breaks and the chance to write off part of a mortgage because the day care is a home business.
“I would never call this a big moneymaker, and I don’t think anyone should call it that,” she said. “But it’s a great way for a family to be sustainable when the mother wants to stay home with the kids.”
Skorkowsky said operating a home-based child care center is an exciting and enjoyable endeavor for the right young family.
“I would highly recommend it to a young family with the right situation,” she said. “They have to have the right tolerance for chaos. You also can’t be too concerned about tidiness all the time.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com