Gilden Woods Program Director Melissa Joyce Works for the Hugs

This 15-year early childhood expert supports teachers and staff daily to ensure the best possible education for their young students.

To celebrate “ugly sweater day” at Gilden Woods Early Care and Preschool in New Hudson, program director Melissa Joyce dressed in her jingle bell kneesocks, her most unattractive dress and, of course, her ugliest holiday sweater. She crept into a classroom, and soon had the attention of all the children.

“The children said to me, ‘Miss Melissa, you look so beautiful!’ They were mesmerized,” Joyce says. “And this is what I love about the work I do. Children don’t see flaws. They don’t mind if your singing voice is bad. They look past everything and offer unconditional love every single day.”

Since August 2019, Joyce has served as program director at the Gilden Woods Early Care and Preschool in New Hudson, supporting teachers and staff as they provide the most attentive care and best education to their young students. Previously, she served as program director at Gilden Woods in Howell, and has been an early childhood educator for 15 years. She fell in love with her career choice when she was in high school and worked an afterschool job in an early childhood center.

“I worked my way up from assistant teacher to lead teacher, then from assistant director to program director,” she says. Originally planning to become a kindergarten teacher, Joyce adjusted her goal when she recognized the special relationship preschoolers have with their earliest teachers. She earned an associate degree from Oakland Community College, and went on to study early childhood education at Eastern Michigan University.

And she did it, most of all, for the hugs.

“The hugs I get from the little ones always brighten my day. There’s really no better way to start the morning,” she says.

Gilden Woods maximizes individual potential

At Gilden Woods, Joyce supports her teachers to ensure every student and family receives the highest-quality early education possible. In the open-concept, forest-themed school, each classroom is named for a woodland friend modeled from their proprietary CORE Values Character Education Program which blend with educational programming throughout the year. For example, Pedal the rabbit is athletic and sporty and she eats nutritious foods for great health and strong teeth. In February, Pedal is celebrated for her great dental care, and the children learn healthful habits, too.

“We instill all the important life skills that parents also work on at home,” Joyce says, adding that Gilden Woods teachers are focused on the needs of the individual child from the earliest age.

“We focus on different traits based on their development. That might be eye contact at six weeks, or tummy time at four months,” she says. Children up to 10 years of age participate in quality programming designed to maximize individual development. Toddlers learn according to weekly themes that blend small and large group participation. Preschoolers focus on getting ready for elementary school through academic programming focused on phonemic awareness, writing and math skills. “As they enter the 4-year-old program, children begin to work in the STEM room,” Joyce explains. “Each month, they engage in a different STEM-based thematic unit, with weekly lessons that explore concepts of science, technology, engineering and math.”

Music and additional art-based enrichment allow children at Gilden Woods to explore their worlds through self-expression. Through mindful engagement with teachers and other students, students also build important social-emotional and communication skills that blend with their academic learning to nurture the whole child’s educational needs. At mealtime, children eat nutritious, balanced meals that are provided by Gilden Woods. Allergies and dietary needs are carefully considered and always meet the needs of individual families.

Quality early education matters

Because she’s positively impacting the lives of children, Joyce recognizes her role as program director as a job that matters. She knows that when an infant joins Gilden Woods, she and the teachers and staff she supports will watch that child develop, learn and grow, all while gaining important skills needed to be successful in future education and life.

“Parents are very impressed when they learn all of the educational components their children will learn throughout the day,” Joyce says. “They recognize our school as providers of the best care and education possible for those we serve, and see us as a safe, nurturing, child-centered environment for our families. I’m happy to be part of that.”

Learn more about Gilden Woods Early Care and Preschool at


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