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The Mary Jo Small Child Care Center

At Brookland Woods

(Formerly Brookland Woods Child Care Center)

309 Melrose Avenue

Iowa City, Iowa, 52246




Sharon McDonald   Jill Strunk

Directors since 1989                                        

MJSCCC at Brookland Woods, aka Brookland Woods, is a unique childcare environment located on the west side campus of the University of Iowa. In 1999, upon her retirement, the center renamed itself to honor Mary Jo Small's career long support of quality childcare on campus.   

We enroll children, ages two through six, from families of University students, staff, faculty and from the community at large.  Full and part time enrollment options are available.  Please email the center for availability and rates. 

It is our belief that all childhood development (physical, cognitive and emotional) occurs along a continuum.  Each child's pace is unique but they all end up in mostly the same place.  Cutting teeth, growing hair and learning to walk are simple but good examples.  

Each of those developments emerge at slightly different ages.  No amount of external manipulation can cause them to happen 'early' or 'late'.  The development occurs when it occurs - in mostly every child and in mostly every continent, country, state and city on the planet.

We believe that crawling is to walking what playing is to learning.  Children at play are constantly exploring their environment and absorbing information as they run, climb, dress up, dig, play with sand and dolls, read books, put together puzzles, make block houses, use puppets, pet rabbits, and on and on. They are learning through their play experience. The specific learning varies by child and the possibilities are virtually endless.  

Our trust in this natural and evolving developmental process has shaped every aspect of our program.  We provide many open-ended, child-centered play opportunities and many caring adults. In a myriad of ways each and every day, the children actively create their own play scenarios, friendships, explorations and observations.   

Every day brings new and interesting play experiences to our six, well appointed thematic play rooms.  Unlike most centers, our staff stay in the room of their choice while the children follow their individual interests, coming and going to each room and activity as they wish.  

Because they are engaging the rooms and activities when they want, with whom they want, and for as long as they want - our children are always doing something they enjoy!  The result is a lovely atmosphere of happy children engaged in productive play.  And that sums up our program objective: we're here to validate each child’s individuality, to facilitate their emerging friendships and to encourage their evolving interests. 

We have an amazing outdoor play space shaded by tents and the old, tall trees of a historically preserved ravine.  We play outside whenever weather permits.  The outdoor equipment and toys are basic and open-ended. They encourage physical, social, cognitive, and imaginative play and development.  

We have swings, climbing structures, fire trucks, a castle, a tree house, several slides, buckets, shovels, dolls, phones, water tables, rakes, blocks, chalk, cook ware, play houses, climbing areas, tools, chairs and 14 tons of sand.  As they do indoors, the children play in the areas they choose, with whom they choose.  Our staff position themselves throughout the yard in order to provide companionship, assistance, and supervision. 

Because they are not tasked with directing activities, our staff are able to be interactive, responsive and involved.  Whether indoors or out, our adults facilitate, mediate, guide, assist and encourage children as they play.   

We are intentional about modeling good manners, empathy, creative problem solving, and win-win conflict resolutions.  Our child: staff ratio is 6:1 for all ages.  This greatly exceeds state requirements and national staffing guidelines for children ages two and older. 

Our child care staff are part-time, work-study University students, many of whom stay with us their entire college career. They develop close bonds with the children, who always enjoy seeing the daily variety of fresh faces.  The children quickly get to know and appreciate each of our staff member's unique qualities. Our energetic and diverse staff is the core of our unique, child-centered approach.  Parents consistently cite our staff as one of their favorite components of the program. 

Our directors, Sharon and Jill, developed the program in 1989. They focus on staff training and are the key to maintaining the comfortable routines. They also orchestrate creative, innovative and informed responses to the daily, on-going and changing needs of staff, children and families.  

Sharon and Jill also handle on-going center administration.  They are not included in child:staff ratios, which allows them valuable time to spend with children, staff, and parents.

Knowing that children will be ready for kindergarten is always important to parents. We have seen that open, creative play is the best preparation for children both physically and cognitively.  It gives children invaluable experience assessing and learning how to respond appropriately to new situations and experiences.  

Our kids develop vast pools of experiential knowledge over their years of happy, self-directed, constructive play.  They also develop well rounded social skills that give them confidence in new social situations. Tailoring their play to their own needs gives our children a deep and personal knowledge base from which to draw when they reach elementary school.

Every year, kindergarten teachers tell us that our kids are great students. To brag just a little – many of our graduates have attended prestigious Universities, here and abroad, and have been National Merit and even Rhodes Scholars.

Answers to FAQ – We are licensed for 28 children with the State of Iowa as a private, non-profit 501 C 3.  We practice naturalistic potty training so we happily accept children in diapers.  We are open M-F 7:00am to 6:00pm, all year long.  We are located just west of the river and close to bus stops of the UI Cambus and the IC bus service.  Interested parents may drop in, scheduled or not, during our visiting hours M-F from 9 - 11:00am and/or from 3 – 5:00pm. Other times may be available by appointment.  Please allow at least ½ an hour for a tour.  Because of lunches and naps, we do not allow visitors to the program (other than parents) between 11:30am and 2:00pm. 

Some years we have immediate openings and some years families have to wait a bit to be enrolled.  We have developed a transition program for new families that is designed to ease children and parents into our routine. It is easily modified to fit any new start/enrollment scenario. 

UI student parents may be eligible for tuition assistance scholarships. To find out more, contact the Work/Life division of UI's Human Resources Department. 

We appreciate your interest in our center and hope to meet you soon. 

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