“When I was younger and working at places like YMCA, Gymboree, the City [of Calgary], and working with kids … I never thought that I would [run] a business!”
May’s childhood dream was to work with children as an English teacher but it wasn’t until she began working at the Calgary Public Library that she fell in love with early literacy.
“I was nervous to work with infants and preschoolers. It had been years since I’d done it. I started and I was like, this – there is something to this. It was really powerful.”
It was volunteering and working in places like the library where she first discovered problems with early learning programs.
“There was like a 200 per cent waitlist capacity for what we were able to take on with programming at the library. It was such a popular program, there was such a demand. We couldn’t fill it.”
May then realized, “I’ve got all the training and the passion. I could do this external to the library.”
This led to the formation of Rhyme and Reason Early Learning.
“The idea is that we’re using oral language —storytelling, singing, rhyming — and the reasons why that’s developmentally beneficial to children.”
May focuses on the “early years” of education, describing the importance of the first five years of life as an “unparalleled” time in development.
“We’re setting the pathways and the foundations for every single piece of learning that we do after that point.”
Becky May, her sister and co-director at Rhyme and Reason, testifies to the partnership it takes to run the business.
“It’s nice having that family relationship so you are able to hash it out in a different way than business partners solely could do. I think it’s great and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
With a collaborative approach, it takes many different roles for the business to function.
“Miss Nuri is definitely the arts and crafts person so she’s going to decide that. Miss Alex does admin stuff, just planning out how the months are going to go, figuring that out. I do day-to-day activities,” Becky explains. “So, we all have our different roles.”
The team focuses on fostering skills based on children’s health, emotions, social skills, language and communication abilities.
Balancing creativity and scientific knowledge, May uses a well-rounded structure to expand each child’s development.
“Music and movement is key to everything that we do here. Music is one of the few things that we do as humans that activates our entire brain.”
May first began her business by running in-home parenting programs. Taking place in community centres and church basements, they met wherever she could gather people together.
May realized the growing demand for a permanent location and expanded into Northland Mall.
“We set up shop in the mall, which is a non-traditional space for any sort of education business, particularly for an early childhood space, but it’s been really amazing.”
Although it is an unconventional space, May was not intimidated and took the opportunity to expand. May hopes to eventually expand Rhyme and Reason Early Learning into another location.
Long-time friend and library co-worker Tera Johnson isn’t surprised at the early success of Rhyme and Reason.
“Alex is able to create her own structure to be the best that she can be. I wasn’t surprised at all to see her go out and do that because she’s such an entrepreneur,” Johnson says.
“She’s so creative and she has so much energy, I don’t think it can be contained by something set about by somebody else.”
In fact, May is taking her work province-wide.
She hopes to establish a government-mandated curriculum for preschool organizations across Alberta, ensuring children are prepared for elementary school.
Presently, Rhyme and Reason doesn’t have the resources to run full-day preschool classes but May plans to build an outdoor play space so they can provide full-day programs soon.
The success of Rhyme and Reason allows May to broaden her focus to teaching others about early literacy, giving her the opportunity to share her knowledge with the community around her.
After years in the business, Rhyme and Reason continues to prosper. With high ambitions and new plans in the works, May is optimistic about the future.
Editor: Sam Nar | firstname.lastname@example.org