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How a tiny N.W.T. daycare got noticed by the Canadian Space Agency

A daycare operator in Hay River, N.W.T., is getting noticed by the Canadian Space Agency for her elaborate space-themed operation — complete with tiny astronaut suits and space food dangling from the ceiling.

Mother 'moved to tears' by daycare operator's extra efforts

Kathleen Yatkowsky, top left, is the owner and operator of Tykes N Tots Dayhome in Hay River, N.W.T. She recently used her creativity to make her daycare space-themed, which got the attention of the Canadian Space Agency. (Submitted by Kathleen Yatkowsky)

It was a recent Pinterest project gone wrong that got Kathleen's Yatkowsky's imagination to shoot beyond the stars.

The home daycare operator from Hay River, N.W.T., was making a do-it-yourself magnetic wall this past month when she and the local hardware store ran out of primer.

Yatkowsky was stuck with a big, black wall in the basement of her home.

"What the heck am I going to do with a black wall down here?" said Yatkowsky, who cares for four children at Tykes N Tots Dayhome.

She's babbling about satellites. I mean what two-year-old talks about satellites?- Tanya Morais , parent

That's when Yatkowsky got an idea.

Yatkowsky bought tiny astronaut outfits for her daycare kids, for a wholesome space experience. (Kathleen Yatkowsky/Facebook)

She bought some tiny astronaut suits at the store, made space gear out of tinfoil and rubber boots, and even ordered a cardboard rocket cutout online.

"I raided my husband's garage and found all these bits and pieces of wires and just odds and ends that the kids could actually throw together and build rockets and whatever," said Yatkowsky.

Then, Yatkowsky contacted the Canadian Space Agency asking for any promotional material they could provide for the kids.

She said the agency sent her posters, stickers and tattoos.

One photo was of David Saint-Jacques, the Canadian astronaut set to head off to space on Dec. 20 this year for his first space mission.

Yatkowsky's (fake) moon rock inspection activity. Space-themed activities and lessons are planned for August. (Kathleen Yatkowsky/Facebook)

"We decided he should have a trial run and head to space with the kids," said Yatkowsky, who stuck a photo of Saint-Jacques on the kids' makeshift rocket.

The Canadian Space Agency found humour in that and posted about the daycare on its Facebook page. It was later picked up by the Canadian Space Society.

Julie Simard, a communications manager with the Canadian Space Agency, said the agency gets several requests for materials and regularly receives photos of kids.

This is what the Canadian Space Agency had to say about Yatkowsky's space project. (Facebook)

"But this one was particularly elaborate," said Simard, referring to the Hay River daycare's space theme. "We were really impressed."

Simard said the agency was "super impressed" with Yatkowsky's attention to detail — (fake) moon rocks and even astronaut checklists in the rocket. 

"So her theme is really close to reality," she said.

Simard said Canadian astronaut Saint-Jacques has been on the backup crew list for space missions this summer and again in October. Simard, too, found Saint-Jacques' photo on the daycare's makeshift rocket comical.

"In a sense, Kathleen, what she is doing is adding another backup to his list," Simard said.

Internationally followed, locally acclaimed

This wasn't the first time Yatkowsky has exercised her creativity. She's explored themes like gardening, Hawaii, the post office, hospitals and mud.

One of Yatkowsky's lessons involved dressing up in princess outfits and playing with mud. (Kathleen Yatkowsky/Facebook)

Yatkowsky's Facebook page, which documents her monthly themes, has followers from countries around the world, such as Egypt, Australia, Singapore, Myanmar and Zambia — some of whom message her with inquiries.

That caught the attention of Tanya Morais, a newcomer to Hay River who found Tykes N Tots on social media and has been sending her two kids there since last year.

It was Yatkowsky's airport-themed daycare — complete with airport security checkpoints and a cardboard plane — that instilled the dream of becoming a pilot in Morais's seven-year-old daughter.

"I was literally moved to tears when we came in and she ordered a pilot uniform that fit my daughter," said Morais.

I was over the moon excited.- Tanya Morais, parent

And because of social media attention, the children got invited to a local airline to meet the pilots and sit in the cockpit.

"I was over the moon excited," said Morais. "[My daughter] just flourished. She was thriving."

Tanya Morais' seven-year-old daughter wants to be a pilot when she grows up, thanks to Yatkowsky's airport-themed activities and lessons. (Kathleen Yatkowsky/Facebook)

Morais's two-year-old daughter has learned to communicate in sign language, thanks to Yatkowsky's lessons. The recent space theme has also left an impression on the toddler.

"She's babbling about satellites. I mean what two-year-old talks about satellites? It's fantastic," said Morais.

Morais was so impressed she wrote a heartfelt letter about Yatkowsky to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. She has yet to hear back.

Yatkowsky said by the end of the day, she's exhausted. How does she re-energize herself and come up with fresh ideas every day?

"I have absolutely no idea," Yatkowsky said, laughing. "The parents must know me really well. They'll show up every so often with bottles of wine."

Know anyone who's going above and beyond in your community? Contact priscilla.hwang@cbc.ca

With files from Lawrence Nayally

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