Lucky Ducks
For nearly 30 years, families throughout southeastern Pennsylvania have turned to Ducklings Early Learning Center to provide a nurturing environment in which children can thrive.
by Leigh Stuart

Like beautiful flowers, children need the right environment in which to blossom and grow. No one knows this better than the professionals at Ducklings Early Learning Center. 
With four locations in southeastern Pennsylvania (Longwood, Oxford, Landenberg, and Pocopson) and more to come, Ducklings has made a name for itself among parents looking for a place for their children to grow and learn, delivered in an environment of love and laughter. In fact, Ducklings locations have received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and are certified as high-quality early learning environments for developing minds.
“Ducklings provides opportunities for children to be creative, gain confidence, and build strong relationships,” says Jody Thompson, owner and founder. “Children flourish in different ways and at individual paces. We focus on supporting each child as an individual and as a member of a community. We nurture the whole child.”
Heart and Soul
Ducklings began as one center licensed for 40 children, but growth is on the horizon. In addition to its four current locations, the company has two franchisees under construction and one corporate location under construction. As Ducklings expands its footprint, Thompson assures that it will continue to maintain “quality care and meaningful relationships” with the more than 500 children in its locations every day. 
When Thompson created Ducklings, she had family in mind. It should come as no surprise to learn that Thompson’s daughters, Kim Collier and Sarah Vannello, play integral roles in the family business. 
“With my children taking up my life’s work, it’s nice to know Ducklings isn’t going to go away,” Thompson says. “The business is staying within my family, so even when I retire I will never be totally separated from it. Not to mention, we have teachers who have been with us for over 20 years, and that has helped to create an extended Ducklings family.”
Collier, who started with Ducklings in 1998, is playing a vital part in Ducklings’ expansion.   
“Ducklings is my mother’s heart and soul; it is her legacy,” Collier says. “Our whole culture stems from my mother, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Working with my family has been incredibly fun. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m so incredibly proud of what my mother has done. It’s been such an honor for her to allow me to take it to the next level. ”
As the business has evolved, Ducklings has adopted special family-focused activities around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as well as those centered on the winter holidays. For example, Ducklings hosts a Christmas extravaganza that gives “little ducks” the opportunity to sing and otherwise share their talents as their loved ones look on.
Parent Amanda Haskell, herself a teacher, says such events are just part of the reason she’s entrusted the care of two of her children to Ducklings.
“The minute I walked into Ducklings, I had the feeling that I could trust these individuals with my child,” she says. “Seeing what kind of programming they offered, and all the happy kids, I knew my daughter would be well taken care of.”
In addition to the warm and welcoming atmosphere, Haskell says she particularly enjoys the special features Ducklings offers parents, such as photo updates, which are sent several times a day. Being able to see photos of “smiling children, learning together” throughout the workday is of great comfort to hardworking parents, she suggests. It also helps to foster a greater sense of community.
“We see parents who struggle with the idea of going back to work,” Collier says. “They want the best for their child, and we want to give them peace of mind. Being a parent is exhausting and time consuming and can feel isolating. We try to give opportunities throughout the year for parents to connect. There’s a good chance that you’ll have a lot in common with your child’s friend’s mom. We’ve found a lot of lifelong friendships between parents have started at Ducklings.”
Celebrating Individuality 
Experiential learning is a central focus at Ducklings, which is invaluable to a young child’s development. Hands-on activities build fine motor skills, stimulate the brain, and help children focus, as well as “make learning more fun,” according to Vannello. In addition, Ducklings features a special theme each week, designed to engage young minds—animals that hibernate in winter, Earth and the environment, and dinosaurs, to name a few. 
At Ducklings, play and learning go hand in hand. Children at each Ducklings location can access spacious indoor gyms, libraries, and outdoor play areas divided into areas for big kids and little ones. Uniquely, rather than sorting children into often too-wide age brackets, Ducklings groups children in six-month increments. Furthermore, Ducklings appreciates the fact that every child is unique. 
“We want children to be the awesome selves they can be,” says Vannello, who’s also a teacher. “In my classroom, we cheer on individual accomplishments. Every child has his or her own goals and can accomplish things that aren’t all on the same level, so we celebrate individual accomplishments.”
More than anything, Ducklings wants to be a place where children can do what they do best—be kids.
“We’re realistic,” says Collier. “We know that kids are kids. We don’t try to push too much technology, because we think that gets in the way of creativity. Our approach is to let kids’ brains develop the way they’re supposed to develop. We like the idea of growing people, not just little brains. We give kids the ability to make choices, make friends, and make mistakes. If a child makes a mess, we show them how to clean it up. We give them opportunities to be successful.”
For more on Ducklings locations throughout the area, visit 
Photograph by Jody Robinson
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, October 2019.