CEI Stories

Serving & supporting small business owners just like you.


January 24, 2022

Little Learners Homestead

Passionate about farms, food and children, Anna Wardwell, owner of Little Learners Homestead, LLC, in Hampden, Maine, had always dreamed of running a “daycare without walls.”

“I feel like a kid myself when I am out with the animals or picking vegetables in the garden,” Anna says of running her six-acre homestead, which is also home to two Nigerian dwarf goats, three pigs, chickens, guinea hens and a duck. “Kids learn from doing and being a part of the experience. A farm is one of the most meaningful connections to the food we eat and I want to share how it shaped my life in such a special way.”

Little Learners’ indoor space is a converted walk-out basement apartment filled with light from full-sized windows, colorful murals and plenty of cozy spots. Alongside books and toys is a large table for shared meals and food prep; underneath the coat hooks and cubbies are plenty of boots for messy farm adventures. The space is friendly and charming, but unless the weather is extreme, Anna plans to spend as much time outdoors with the children as possible.

Little Learners is licensed for twelve children between the ages of three and six. Children enrolled in the program spend much of their days outside, feeding chickens, milking goats and gardening in addition to other outdoor activities like guided fort building and free play time. Children also help prepare all meals and receive music and art instruction.

With a background in environmental science and experience as a special education teacher and active homesteader, Anna had a clear vision and the skills to develop the child care curriculum of her dream daycare. She also saw the need, which is particularly acute in Maine’s rural areas. In 2021, 136 licensed Maine child care programs closed. “In our area, there’s definitely more preschool-aged kids than spots available for child care,” she notes.

In order to bring her vision to life, Anna needed guidance on how to manage a child care business and navigate the regulatory aspects of securing a child care facility license.  

Started in 2020 by Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), the Child Care Business Lab helps people like Anna, who want to learn how to start a small child care business. The six-month program integrates a customized curriculum and one-on-one and cohort-based coaching to walk them step-by-step through how to create a business plan, access financing and navigate Maine’s licensing and child care facility regulations. Thanks to grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Bill & Joan Alfond Foundation, the program is offered free to participants.

“Making sure everything aligns for licensure is a little nerve-racking,” Anna admits. “But the Child Care Business Lab gave me the support and guidance I needed to make it happen. Now I’m all set to focus on why we are all here.”

Learn more about Little Learners Homestead

The CEI Child Care Business Lab

A free program, the Child Care Business Lab provides the tools to start a home- or center-based child care, including small business start-up education, guidance on how to deliver high-quality programming, advice on hiring and coaching through the licensing process. Learn more at www.ceimaine.org/childcare/

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