Two Dominican women to open bilingual day care in Columbia

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:12 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Tania Johnson and her sister Carolina Grullo are opening a bilingual day care later this month. They will have an open house Wednesday. They have two children registered and can have a maximum of 10.

COLUMBIA — For over a year, Carolina Grullon and younger sister, Tania Johnson, searched for a home with a large enough basement to accommodate their ideal business.

On Oct. 1, Grullon finally received the keys to the three-story home in northeast Columbia that she is renting for the bilingual, in-home day care the sisters will open this month.


Where: 3609 Topanga Drive in northeast Columbia

When: Opening later in October

Hours: Tentatively 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Contact: Tania Johnson,

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Ms. Tania's Early Learning Daycare at 3609 Topanga Drive will welcome children up to 5 years old from any background and introduce them to the Spanish language.

The sisters moved to Columbia — Johnson in 2003 and Grullon in 2004 — after living in various New York City boroughs since 1999 after moving from the Dominican Republic.

Johnson, 40, began working with day care centers when she moved to Columbia. Grullon, 44, has been a custodian at MU.

"I worked for two day cares already, and I thought, 'well, it's time I do my own, now,'" Johnson said.

The schedule will be like that of other day cares, with playtime, nap time and meals. But at least one hour will be set aside every day for learning and speaking Spanish, Johnson said.

Instead of formal instruction, Johnson will fold Spanish into daily activities. If she hands a child water, for example, she would also teach the Spanish word, "agua."

She won't use the same approach every day, though.

"One day it'll be music; one day it'll be reading a book," she said.

Johnson expects the children to not fully understand that another language is being spoken.

"I think they'll think it's something funny and different that we're doing," she said.

Children will also have access to materials in Spanish such as books, videos and music and will use popular materials such as "Dora the Explorer" and "Go, Diego, Go!"

Johnson said traditional Dominican-style foods will be served, and other Hispanic cultures and holidays, like Cinco de Mayo, will be observed.

"I'll try a little of everything," she said.

The sisters want to create a foundation of Spanish. "It opens more opportunity if they decide to learn later on," Johnson said. "Kids are a sponge. They learn everything."

Johnson and Grullon are both mothers and say they enjoy working with children. Johnson has two children; Grullon has four.

"We love doing it," Johnson said. "I cry like a baby saying goodbye to the kids."

She also said it's easy to become attached to parents, as well.

"You're kind of raising the kids together," she said.

Earlier this month, Johnson filed materials for a license to operate the day care. Requirements include having a hired assistant, a fenced backyard and an approved inspection.

In a few years, Grullon plans to take on a full-time role at the facility.

The sisters had connections that helped kick-start their business. The house they are renting for the center previously belonged to a friend. Another friend sold them a playhouse, cribs and toys.

The center has a room that holds the cribs for young children, a nap room for older children, a bathroom and play areas inside and out.

As of now, Johnson's biggest worry is filling enrollment. So far, the center's opening has been promoted through its Facebook page and word-of-mouth.

The sisters plan to take between eight and 10 children; so far, they have two.

Johnson's neighbor, Monica Korba, has already taken a spot for her 9-month-old son.

"He already knows Tania really well," she said. "I know she'll take really good care of him.

"I like the in-home day care concept, and I like the fact that they're incorporating a different language."

For Johnson, picking up English was not as important in New York as it is in Columbia.

"In New York, you don't have to know English," she said. "Everyone knows Spanish."

She began learning English in high school and took a course through Douglass High School in early 2004.  She and her husband, a native English speaker, have shared each other's languages.

"It wasn't easy, but it wasn't hard," she said. "I still have a lot to learn."

Grullon also began English at Douglass High School and said knowing another language is valuable.

"It's important to have a second language, not necessarily Spanish," she said.

Grullon agreed that it is a challenging language to learn.

"Maybe for you, it's difficult to learn Spanish, and for me, it's difficult to learn English," she said.

The sisters said they know several other Columbia residents from the Dominican Republic. The Hispanic population in Columbia is 3.4 percent, and Johnson said she has met Spanish speakers from many cultures.

Johnson said she is excited to know that the day care will open soon.

"When you live in a different country and come to America, you say, 'having the dream,'" she said. "We have a lot accomplished already."

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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