Oregon Daycare, Inc. operates on the same premise as it did three decades ago when it opened its doors – “letting kids be kids.”

Linda Slater, executive director of the daycare, located on 172 N. Main St., led the Observer on a tour through the nonprofit space. What used to take up only the downstairs has since expanded into the former First Presbyterian Church’s upstairs, including the sanctuary that used to house a congregation; it’s now a learning space for 4K students.

Everywhere you looked, children were laughing and playing. Some were putting their arms through their jacket sleeves on to go outside. More were in a group digging around to find items in a sandbox. Even more were designing colorful crafts – of the many that already adorn the walls along with photos of memories from past classes.

Slater said the daycare is now at full capacity with 70 children. The 4K program is run by the Oregon School District, she added. Back when the nonprofit opened Oct. 5, 1989, it housed 25 children.

Slater said that when she opened her doors three decades ago, there was “just a demand for a center that would be open all day” to take in that amount of youngsters.

That was around the time she said she was finishing up a human services degree while her daughter was on the brink of toddlerhood. Slater reminisced about seeing an advertisement in the Observer asking if there was anyone who would like to help start a daycare business. It was put out by the then-director, Winnie Baker, she said.

Slater said she knew she was going into daycare anyway, so making the move seemed like a good fit. That’s when she got up from her desk to point out a photo on her office wall depicting her first class.

“After we got started, Winnie taught me more about childcare than any textbook,” Slater said.

But after 10 years of Slater teaching, Baker and then-board of directors were planning on building a bigger center, now La Petite Academy of Oregon.

“We thought this smaller center would blend in with that bigger center,” she said. “But the parents didn’t want to leave.

“I’ve been running it on my own ever since,” Slater added.

Then in 2009 came the prospect of First Presbyterian Church gaining its current 408 N. Bergamont Blvd. building. The church moved out of the location in 2011.

“They built the church and so I had no place to go,” Slater said. “I love being in this area next to the schools, the pools … there wasn’t anything available.”

That’s when her husband recommended she just buy the church space.

And so as the daycare increased its capacity, so did the demand for quality childcare in the community. Slater said it’s hard to find a facility that’s easy for parents to trust, especially in the modern age – one that allows kids to “feel safe and loved.”

“Children need to feel that unconditional love,” Slater said.

And so she would like to think she’s accomplished that feeling for the kids, with the various activities she does with them.

Every spring, Slater said she makes May Day baskets with the kids, who fill it with treats and flowers made out of pipe cleaners. On May 1, they take them to local houses, ring the doorbell and run away.

Slater said daycare staff takes the kids to Madison Mallards games, where they have little tailgate parties with hot dogs and apple juice. Staff also takes them to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Chuck E. Cheese and to the pumpkin patch in the fall.

And Slater always accompanies them.

“You enjoy those times because they are gone so quickly,” she said.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.