Noah's Ark Preschool's Charlene Robertson says children 'become a part of your heart'
For more than 20 years, Charlene Robertson has nurtured and poured her heart into hundreds of children’s lives in Destin.
Not because she had to, but because she loves being a mother.
“I love what I do,” said Robertson, director of Noah’s Ark Preschool at Immanuel Anglican Church on Indian Bayou Drive.
Robertson, 62, has been with Noah’s Ark since 1997 and has loved every minute of it. She and her husband of 43 years, Daniel, have three grown children, Hannah, 37, Daniel, 35, and Sarah Anne, 29.
Before taking the job with Noah’s Ark, she worked in the children’s ministry in the church.
“So, I’ve worked with children all my life,” she said. "And being a mom … it’s been the greatest thing in my life, other than my husband and I love my husband.
“One of the sad things today … we are honored and valued but somewhere along the line it has become secondary to so many other things. I think if you have children, I think it is your greatest gift and your greatest job in the world to raise a child from infancy to true adulthood,” she said.
“If we screw it up, we screw up a whole generation. So, it’s a huge responsibility," she added. “For me, I think it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
Time at the Ark
When Robertson started at Noah’s Ark, her two oldest were teenagers and Sarah Anne was in first grade.
"It worked well, because when I started with Noah’s Ark it was only open during the school year during school hours, which worked perfectly,” she said.
When the school went full time she had to make some adjustments, but the need for full-time care for a lot of families was needed, she said.
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She explained when she took over at Noah’s Ark, Destin was still kind of small and most families didn’t have two-income households. Their time was more flexible and preschool worked.
“But it doesn’t work anymore. They need some kind of supportive care in the afternoon,” she said.
Noah’s Ark is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to be accessible to parents.
And at Noah’s Ark, Robertson said the No. 1 thing they try to teach the children is “they are loved.”
“It sounds simple, but it’s not,” she said noting the busyness of life today.
“You secure a child with time and a good routine. And always have time to sit and listen,” she added. "These children know that we love them and that God loves them.”
Robertson said they all are going to learn to read and write, but the shift today is the "social and emotional development" of the children and it’s not as strong as it was 10 or 15 years ago.
“Our core is if you can raise a child that can pay attention, stand in line, that can take directions, that doesn’t have to be first, that doesn’t have a meltdown because they don't get their way … they have to be secure and solid in who they are. That’s our bigger job today,” she said.
Does the staff get attached to the children?
“I do,” she said. “It used to be hard to watch them go out the door, but I’ve come to realize that I have a certain time in their life and that’s when I have to pour everything I can into them.
“Realistically, by the time they are in second grade we’re not a part of their life anymore,” she added.
Robertson told of being at a restaurant recently and seeing one of her former students, and the student didn’t know who she was.
“We just have that certain time in their life,” she said.
Plus, as director and a mother, there is sorrow.
She explained that they have lost some students before their time.
Currently, one of the students from Noah’s Ark, Caiden Nicholson is suffering with cancer and is under care at Shand’s Hospital in Gainesville.
“We’ve had him since he was 18 months old. That’s difficult to watch because we do get attached.
“They become a part of your heart,” she said.
Staff at the Ark
Some of the staff members have been with Robertson for almost two decades and they all admire her.
Angela Hayles, who has been there almost 10 years, said “she’s awesome. She’s like a mother to us, too.
“We come in here and she’s a positive light,” Hayles said.
Lesley Lacey, who teaches the 4-year-olds, had nothing but high praise for Robertson.
“She’s the best. She has been a mentor to me,” Lacey said, noting this is her 15th year working at the Ark.
“She has taught me everything I have ever known. She is a mom to us. She is there for us with work, our personal lives, our families. She is our family,” Lacey said.
Lacey even shared that Robertson helped to pull her children’s baby teeth.
And Robertson tries to make things as flexible for the staff as well because “family comes first,” she said.
“You need to see your child get awards, you need to see their plays, you need to do those things. They are milestones in children’s lives,” Robertson said.
“So, we try to be as flexible as we can, because I wanted that for my family,” she said.
Lessons learned and passed on
“The best thing you can do as a mom is accept your child for who they are,” Robertson said. “Every child is an individual … they are not our mini-me.”
Also being a good mom is about “knowing” and “accepting” who they are.
“To give them the love and the boundaries they need to grow to be the person that God has created them to be, not who I want them to be,” she said.
One of the things Robertson learned from her mom and she tried to share with her children was to give them “healthy boundaries.”
“To be there when they want me to or need me to. And to let them know that no matter what they have done or who they are, that I will always love you. I may not always agree with you.
“We can talk about anything as long as you're respectful, you don’t yell or use obscenities … and we can sit and agree to disagree. But you are always welcome to come to me with whatever. I hope I have done that with my kids,” she added.
But in the end, Robertson said you can do everything in the world for your child, but they are going to make their own decisions and create their own pathway in life.
“I’m blessed that all my children have done well. We’ve had stumbling blocks, but they have come out stronger because they have learned from their mistakes.
“There’s nothing I would have rather done,” Robertson said.