Ajabuland: Childcare On An Adventure

At Ajabuland, every day’s filled with unexpected adventure.

A faith-based childcare center located in St. Matthews, Ajabuland – originally Little Lambs Academy – prides itself on developing the whole child, especially his or her imagination, with the rule of thumb: “If you’re not having fun, we’re doing something wrong.”

Ages infant to 12 are welcomed to the facility year-round, where little ones engage in constant learning, though, in their minds it’s all fun and games. “When kids learn while they’re having fun, the brain and the synapses just fire differently,” explained Don Blevins, president of Fruitful Ministries, a non-profit religious organization overseeing the childcare center. “We’ve been going for about 25 years in childcare, but we changed the name about a year ago … because it more embodied our philosophy, our academics and our total child development. ‘Ajabu’ is Swahili for ‘wonder,’ ‘imagination.’ … It embodies our philosophy that a child’s natural curiosity should drive the development and academics.”

Don and Emily Blevins.

At Ajabuland, children enjoy mind-stimulating activities, including acting, singing, dancing and taking “educational ventures” around the two-and-a-half acre campus with imaginary figure “Captain Ed Venture” at the helm. By nurturing the right brain, geared toward more creative thinking, Blevins and his staff argue that kids advance more rapidly, developing qualities typically cultivated at a later age.

“At two, (my daughter) was saying full sentences, and our friends who had two-year-olds could not do that,” said Melissa Payton, whose three-year-old daughter Aubree, two-year-old son and newborn attend Ajabuland. “(My kids have) been very verbal and expressive children (as a result of coming here).”

While fostering the imagination and creative thinking, employees of Ajabuland also ensure they attend to each child’s specific needs and personal routine. With an enrollment of around 28 children and a staff of about six, including Blevins’ daughter and sister-in-law, Ajabuland has a lower student-to-teacher ratio than the state requires, allowing more one-on-one time and a close-knit relationship with each youngster. Staff actively talk and listen to children in order to improve verbal development, and even teach infants how to use sign language in order to communicate.

“What we’ve done is we’ve tried to be a little different,” Blevins said. “My wife and I studied child development when we were in college. My wife’s always been in education. She’s at Christian Academy (as) a librarian. When she was involved in childcare there were some things that weren’t right, so I said, ‘Why don’t we just start a center and do it right.’ … Our philosophy is children hear the word ‘no’ too much, so our attitude is let them experiment, let their curiosity drive them. … Because a lot of people don’t realize 80 percent of the personality is developed by the age of six.”

Ajabuland is also unique in that it houses an on-site organic garden, where children learn about eating – and growing – healthy food, such as tomatoes, watermelon, basil, herbs and kale. The center also raises an organic pumpkin patch, just ripe for Halloween.

“The master gardener at Whole Foods, she comes out and teaches the children organic gardening,” Blevins explained. “So the kids get to play in the dirt. And it’s a little bit of a deception to the children because they’re actually seeing gardening as fun, not a lot of work.”

The children aren’t allowed to actually eat the food they grow, as required by the state, but they’re entertained, nonetheless, playing outside as they practice teamwork, problem-solving and acquire a deeper understanding of diversity.

With fall just around the corner, Ajabuland will begin another school year, instructing children in preschool and caring for ages 12 and under during its before- and after-school program. As part of the curriculum, Ajabuland incorporates Christian values to emphasize character development. Though Bible stories may be emphasized as a teaching point, children with such religious affiliations as Rastafarian, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu have attended Ajabuland. “Our attitude is, if we’re really just sharing good character values, that’s pretty much a universal language when it comes to convictions and spirituality,” Blevins said.

“When they’re going through a problem we just use morals and values that we have, to teach them how to be kind, that kind of thing,” added Emily Blevins, assistant director of Ajabuland.

From the mind to the spirit, children are given a unique, well-rounded education at Ajabuland. Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, the center presents a play demonstrating the children’s many talents. The kids also take field trips throughout the year to such places as the Frazier History Museum to further explore the world around them. And, with the center’s very own Parent Teacher Association, Mom and Dad can play an active role in the entire childcare experience, accompanying their son or daughter on his or her exciting adventures every step of the way.

“(The most gratifying part of the job is) probably watching the reactions of the parents, because we see the children every day, so we watch them grow. But seeing the parents appreciate, I mean really appreciate, the difference of who we are as a family atmosphere (is special). When you put your child here you become part of our family.”

Ajabuland is located at 1403 Browns Lane and is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information on Ajabuland, visit ajabuland.com or call 502.895.1675.

Contact writer Ashley Anderson at aanderson@voice-tribune.com.