Castles Daycare Academy owner adapts curriculum to students’ needs

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2014

A couple of months ago a message was left on my answering machine from Cynthia Knight. Cynthia said she had written a children’s book and wanted advice about publishing. Returning her call the next day, I discovered we had more in common than just writing books.
Earlier in her career, Cynthia had been an elementary school teacher, but discouraged with the curriculum, changed careers, entering the world of retail. Hoping to find fulfillment in the new position, but knowing in her heart, her passion was teaching, six years later, in 1987, she opened a daycare in Charlotte.
“Believing a good foundation is what builds the house,” Cynthia became part of the solution, providing a place to build that foundation through Castles Daycare Academy. Owning her own daycare gave her the opportunity to not only challenge students, but also adapt the curriculum to their needs. She said, “Even though I took a six-year detour, all along I knew education was where God wanted me to be.”
Inviting me to share my books with her students, the date was set for May 6 at 9:30. The day before my scheduled visit, however, my mother woke up not feeling well. The diagnosis at the emergency room was a migraine headache. Caring for her during the night, I didn’t get much sleep, so the next morning, low on energy, I thought Cynthia would understand if I canceled. I didn’t, though, because a little voice in my head kept telling me I shouldn’t disappoint the children.
Having no issues with traffic on I-85 south, that morning, it was smooth sailing all the way to Castles Daycare Academy. Well, except for one hiccup where I turned right instead of left. That didn’t pose a problem, however, since I was only a block away.
Finding the daycare on a corner block in front of Devonshire Elementary School, just as Cynthia had said, as I turned the corner, I noticed a lady near the playground equipment in the back. After parking, I walked over and introduced myself. Shaking my hand, she said she was Cynthia Knight. Much to my surprise, with excitement in her voice, she also said, “Before your presentation this morning, the children want to perform for you.” Not knowing what to expect, I was intrigued. Once inside, Cynthia took me to an open room, where 29 students from ages 2-5 were sitting in rows on chairs just the right size for them. Looking out over their smiling faces, it reminded me of church.
With not a single child wiggling or talking out of turn, I was impressed with their behavior. Teasingly, I said, “Are you sure you’re in preschool?” They laughed, nodding their heads, saying, “Yes,” indeed they were in preschool.
After introductions, the children performed part of their morning routine, including the Pledge of Allegiance, Bible verses and songs. Amazed at their memorization skills, I was also amazed at their beautiful voices. The children sang, clapped, danced and rapped songs about the planets, days of the week, letters, sounds and numbers. I was so moved with the moment, I even joined in singing and clapping, “This Little Light of Mine.” The presentation lasted for about 30 minutes, at which time I shared how much they had touched my heart, again asking if they were sure they were in preschool. Again, they nodded their heads and laughed. Even though I may have been tired when I arrived, the children lifted my spirit. With a burst of energy, I did my presentation, happy to see them enjoying my books, laughing in the appropriate places.
After a group picture, it was time for reading, where I had the privilege of listening to one story the children helped write. It was about a little girl dressing up like a princess. Cynthia said because the preschool curriculum includes music in every aspect of learning, the foundation for language has already been laid, making reading and writing so much easier.
With outdoor play scheduled after reading, Cynthia and I had a few minutes to talk. Sitting down together on the little chairs, one of the first things I said was how much I enjoyed the children’s performance. That’s when Cynthia explained they often help write the raps and songs they sing. Giving an example, she said, “One day when we were outside a spider was climbing up a pipe to the roof. When asking the children why the spider was climbing the pipe, one child excited believed the spider was going to see his friends. That became part of a song.” As a retired elementary music teacher, it was pure joy to see music being such an integral part of the daycare program. Wondering where Cynthia’s musical talent came from, I soon learned she came from a musical family, with her father, James Harshaw, able to play any instrument, even having his own band. Cynthia’s literary talent came from her mother, Vivian Harshaw Patterson, at one time a high school English teacher. Although Cynthia loves music and loves to sing, she majored in art, receiving her degree from St. Augustine College in Raleigh, later taking art classes at UNC-Charlotte.
Curious as to the secret for the children’s good behavior, Cynthia proudly shared, “We keep them busy and don’t have a lot of down time. If a child isn’t comfortable with one thing, then we give them a choice. We believe in teaching respect and manners, working hand-in-hand with the parents in the process.”
Through the years, Cynthia has nurtured and taught over 500 children in the same location on Barrington Drive with the philosophy, “if you give a child a good beginning, then they will go through life with that good beginning.” It’s understandable why Cynthia doesn’t have to advertise because it’s obvious her students are growing and learning, knowing they are loved, not only by Cynthia, but by everyone on her staff.
Heading to my car that day, as I left, I heard little voices saying, “Bye, Mrs. McCullough.” Waving back, I said, “Good-bye.” Smiling to myself, I drove away thinking about the children, with a warm feeling that lasted all the way back to Salisbury, even to this day.
If interested in learning more about Castles Daycare Academy and the programs they offer, check out
Dicy McCullough’s can be reached at 704-278-4377.