“Drew, you are the best at that!” Nicole McLaughlin says in a muffled voice. As 1-year-old Drew releases his bear-hug hold on Nicole’s face, she kisses the top of his head. “The face hug!”

Now her voice is audible—pretty and bright as a bell. If voices could be colors, Nicole’s would be rainbow—which is perfect for being an infant/toddler teacher at the F.M. Kirby Children’s Center of the Madison Area YMCA where she works with children who are 6 weeks through 20 months old. Her extraordinary effort in the classroom, with parents and with her fellow staff members has earned her a Terri Lynne Lokoff/Children’s TYLENOL® National Child Care teacher award. Nicole will travel to Philadelphia in May to attend an award ceremony and reception. Part of her winnings will include money to implement her classroom project submission, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall.”

“The wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round…” sings Nicole, who is on the ground singing and dancing with the children, who clamor around her. It’s easy to see why they are drawn to her. She snuggles them and makes each of them feel special. Nicole explains that “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” was borne from playing with the children in front of a small rectangular mirror in her classroom.

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“Babies and toddlers love mirrors—and, they learn through mirror play. They see their reflections and are interested,” Nicole says as Marielle, a toddler in a polka dot romper, backs up and sits down in her lap. “They make faces in the mirror and laugh and dance. Mirrors bring a different perspective to learning,” she continues, noting that children gain self-awareness and self-recognition between the ages of 6 months and 18 months old.


“I’m so happy and proud to have won,” she says smiling. “I’m buying two 2 feet by 4 feet mirrors with the award money that will hang right next to each other so that three or four children can do a task together.” Weekly planned activities in front of the mirrors will include music play, dress up, instruments and art.

F.M. Kirby Children’s Center Executive Director Harriet McCarter says, “Nicole is an extraordinary teacher whose leadership, personal dedication and passion to teach have inspired her colleagues and shown new parents how to be better parents. She represents the best future of early childhood education.”

Nicole says that she has grown immensely as an early childhood education teacher at the Kirby Center. After completing her master’s degree seven years ago, Nicole joined the Kirby Center’s family. Mother to 3-year-old Timothy and almost 5-year-old Brianna, who both attend Kirby, Nicole says, “My husband and I always knew our kids would come to Kirby. All children deserve the best—and that’s what they get here.”

Marielle has popped up from Nicole’s lap and is on her way again. No worries for Nicole. Curly-haired Faith has taken her place…and, Alex is angling to get a turn too.