Tea Tots celebrates 15 years in business



Last month Tea Tots Childcare Center celebrated their 15th year of business in the Tea community.

The local childcare center owned by Tonya and Chris Pfeifer has seen plenty of changes within the past decade and a half of business — one of the biggest has been watching their own children grow up.

“Giving a safe, fun and educational place to watch our two kids grow up here — from being students here, to turning into Teacher Helpers in the tween years, to turning into awesome employees who know all the kids and families here,” has been a highlight said Tonya.

“We’re glad we did this for them and took the risk. It really is a family business,” Tonya said.

It was in 2006 that Tonya and her husband, Chris started the business.

“We didn’t do child care before, but we were parents,” Tonya said.

Chris is an RN at Sanford, who has been there 29 years now, and Tonya has a Bachelor degree in Business Administration and Accounting from Augustana.

The couple’s son’s first daycare center was in Sioux Falls. Tonya said he had a basement classroom, not well-lit and they thought it was “really depressing for kids.”

“I also saw so many different staff when dropping him off, I couldn’t tell you who his teachers were from day to day and there was no uniform marking that they worked there,” Tonya said. “That really bothered me as a new mom. We had moved to the community and preferred that our kids stay closer to home for child care.”

The family had moved to Tea in 2003 from Sioux Falls. When they moved to Tea there was only one daycare center in town.

“There were a few things we saw as parents, that we wanted different for our infant and toddler at the time,” said Tonya, “a secure building, plenty of play spaces inside and outside, separate eating areas, a safe storm shelter. But just as we, as a young couple with little kids moved to Tea, we knew it would be a growing community and could very well use another place for kids to go.”

So Chris had the idea to open a daycare center of their own.

“He brought up the idea to me in December of 2005,” said Tonya, “I thought he was crazy…..but here I sit 15 years later! After thinking long and hard about it, it was the only way to mix my accounting career with seeing our children grow up and be with them on a daily basis. I’m not the stay-at-home type, but really missed the kids when I went to work. Chris did most of the lay out that we have today — he designed it, and I put some additional touches to it.”

Owning the center has educated Tonya on all that teachers do for the kids on a daily basis.

“I always thought I wanted my kids at a house with a grandmotherly type to watch over them,” she said. “But since owning this, I see that centers have more to offer kids – and families. We are proud that we have never closed down for even a day in the last nine years for weather or the pandemic; we want to be here for parents to count on. We can teach age-appropriate skills and lessons to each age group, we can really work on social skills with the kids since they are constantly around others their age. This prepares them well for school.”

The recent pandemic has brought a whole set of challenges for daycare centers across the state.

“It was an interesting time getting through the initial months of the pandemic,” Tonya said. “It was definitely unprecedented and we had to wing it for awhile, but it also just verified how needed our industry is – there are parents that can’t just work from home and are very needed to keep the state and nation running along.”

Tonya said the center lost one-third of their enrollment within a week due to parents staying home right away in March 2020. But they decided to keep all their long-time staff employed full-time through those uncertain months no matter what it took. And it paid off said Tonya, because everyone is very needed now and still employed here.

Right now Tea Tots Childcare Center employees 28 staff, but Tonya said they have had a many as 37 when they were full to capacity with 142 kids.

“I didn’t like not being able to move a kid up to the next classroom when they were ready, due to no space,” said Tonya. “I’d rather have wiggle room. Chris and I have decided to not take on so much in the past five years. We can certainly have more here, but have decided to pare it down a bit.”

Another big change over the past 15 years that Tonya noted has been the increase in regulations from the state.

She added, “Between all the state policies and procedures, to treating each kid as an individual, it really takes special people to do what we do here. It’s definitely not for the money, because no one is getting rich here. I’ve always cringed at people using the term ‘babysitters’ – we are child care workers. So many of my staff have such big hearts for the kids here and you can tell when they are vested or when it’s just a paycheck to someone.”

She said she has seen teachers bring extra clothes to help a child who may need it, buy the kids pizza for lunch as a special treat or a little present at Christmas.

“We truly get attached to the kids we care for,” said Tonya. It’s hard to see them grow up and age out of the center sometimes. It brings a new appreciation for teachers in all aspects of education.”

Most importantly, Tonya shared her appreciation for the community.

“We would like to thank the past and present Tea Tots families for their trust with their most precious family members,” said Tonya. “It’s been a blessing, watching the past ones grow up and we love to see the current ones every day. I also want to thank my ‘core staff’ members who have been with us for years and years now. We wouldn’t be able to run this place without them. I know so many families are happy to have those caring individuals with their kids every day.”

To learn more about Tea Tots visit teatots.com or call (605) 498-1234.