There's plenty to know about Sprouts - we're here for it.


“Sprouts aims to help grow the next generation of environmentalists.”

-Caity & Ellen

Our goal at Sprouts is to help children connect with art, nature, and each other on a base level through exploration, creation, and imaginative play. Sprouts provides art & nature classes, summer camps, childcare, preschool, and events.

exploration: nature

Free play in nature is less frequent but more important than ever, and at Sprouts, our outdoor classroom is used for all kinds of purposes.

This outdoor classroom is where children can discover some of the amazing things that central Illinois nature has to offer. We actively encourage children to observe, respect, and engage with nature and natural materials.

creation: art

Free play in art is another area that is more important than ever. At Sprouts, we aim to offer a wide variety of materials, methods, and process art projects for children of all ages.

Structured art activities are focused on the process of creating to encourage imagination and personal representation, rather than the product created.

imagination: play

Free play is the foundation of Sprouts. Free play allows children to grow their creative, social, leadership, and physical skills in a natural and authentic way.

Sprouts offers free play during summer camps, classes, and childcare. Or rent the space for free play on your own terms!


Sprouts is Caity & Ellen. There is no other place like it.

With occasional substitute help from their mother, Claire (“Grammy”), sisters Caity & Ellen perform each and every  job involved in running a small childcare business – from designing curriculum to teaching it, from ordering groceries & supplies to making lunches, from texting families to making this website.

Sisters Caity & Ellen both grew up in central Champaign, attending Unit 4 schools and the University of Illinois where they each earned Early Childhood teaching degrees and licenses.

Caity lives with her husband, three children, and chickens in central Champaign. In addition to her family, she loves crafts, Lake Michigan, and reading.

Ellen lives with her husband and two sons in central Champaign. She loves her family, organizing, plants, and many forms of making art.

Ellen Saathoff

Head Teacher & Art Enrichment


50% Owner Sprouts School

“Ellen is the zest of Sprouts; her energy, creativity, and enthusiasm create a space for imagination to flourish. Her arts and environmental passions are the backbone of our curriculum, and her kindness and joy are the backbone of our program.”    -Caity

Favorite Art Project at Sprouts:

“I won’t lie, this is such a hard question!”

Caity Peterson

Head Teacher & Nature Enrichment


50% Owner Sprouts School

“As the Sprouts mastermind, Caity’s passion for learning makes her the knower of all possibilities and solutions.  With patience and warmth, she creates a safe, loving environment where she encourages wonder and engages hearts and minds in every moment.” -Ellen

Favorite Nature Project at Sprouts:

“The spontaneous ones! Within our curriculum we plan a ton of nature projects, but the ones that the kids engineer themselves are the really memorable ones.”


Sprouts (originally Sprouts Family Daycare) was dreamed up in 2013.  In August 2014 it opened as a group home daycare on the lowest level of Caity’s central Champaign home. In addition to Ellen’s new baby and Caity’s children, they were licensed by DCFS to care for 9 other children from ages 6 weeks to 6 years.

Through the years, and one more of Ellen’s babies, Caity & Ellen developed policies, practices, curriculum, and a structure that they loved. By January 2019, they were ready to expand – and started hunting for a new space. 

In February 2019 they found the perfect place. It had just enough indoor space for two small classrooms on a large in-town lot. It even had a privacy fence, space for parking, and a location close to home. They purchased the property in April 2019 and got to work! Adding a butterfly garden, a mud kitchen, and a natural area (unmowed) were high on the list of things to do.

With lots of help, Caity & Ellen opened their new center, Sprouts School, in January 2020, now licensed for 20 children by DCFS as a daycare center.

Caity & Ellen take great pride in this space – natural light highlights the prominent natural and re-purposed materials. Lining each classroom are hand-made cubbies, tables, and shelving, with accents of art made by friends, relatives, and the teachers and children themselves.

You can take a tour of the Sprouts School space here

green practices

At Sprouts Art & Nature School, we aim to practice what we teach.

In helping grow the next generation of environmentalists at Sprouts, we take our responsibilities to our planet seriously.

To the best of our abilities, we:

reduce & refuse

  • Reduce use of resources:
    • We turn down the heat & use fans to keep cool.
    • We collect rainwater for the garden & plant native plants.
  • Refuse excess:
    • We purchase and use only what we need.
    • We pass on extras to someone or somewhere they can be used.

re-use & re-imagine

  • Re-use items:
    • The sink from a remodeled bathroom became our mud kitchen sink.
    • Our broken deck lumber became the mud sink counter and boardwalk.
  • Re-imagine items:
    • A dead tree in the yard became our play structure & mulch border.
    • Old 2×4’s became our new children’s tables.
repair & replace
  • Repair items:
    • Sewing, gluing and taping are a part of our daily routine.
    • We have & know how to use tools of all kinds!
  • Replace items:
    • Un-repairable items are replaced with items that are sustainable, easily repaired, or less wasteful whenever possible.

recycle & responsible

  • Recycle & Recycled
    • We choose recycled or recycle-able materials and/or packaging.
    • We use many items as loose parts for play!
  • Responsible Practices:
    • We also choose responsible companies, responsibly sourced materials, and shop local! For example, our giant bird’s nest play structure was made by students at Champaign Central High School!

Have some items we might be able to re-imagine or use as loose parts? Ready to help grow the next generation of environmentalists? Help us out.


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You may be wondering what precautions we are taking as childcare providers to keep the children safe while in care. Luckily for us, many of the recommendations to childcare from the CDC, Illinois Dept of Public Health, Champaign-Urbana Public Health, DCFS, and the Governor’s Office are a normal part of life at Sprouts.

We are also very lucky to be working with SEDAC, a University of Illinois program helping entities all over Illinois lower their carbon footprints.  SEDAC has a special task of assisting local child-centered businesses with reducing COVID-19 transmissions, and we proudly follow their recommendations.  You can read more about their work here.  One main recommendation? Fresh air – and Sprouts has plenty of that!

Limited Class Sizes

Sprouts has a maximum group size of 10 and a maximum enrollment size of 20. Sprouts has two teachers, one substitute, and a limited number of families. This significantly increases the amount of social distancing possible at Sprouts.  Because this is our standard operating size, we were not required to reduce capacity for COVID-19 restrictions. 

Physical Distancing

While the Sprouts interior is the standard sized per child as according to DCFS, the Sprouts exterior space has more square footage PER child than DCFS requires for the entire school. At over 1700 sq ft, our Nature Playground is where we not only spend most of our time, but also where we ensure each child gets plenty of fresh air and sunshine.

Disinfecting & Sanitizing

As the only two staff members, Caity & Ellen can assure you that we, personally, have sanitized, washed hands, cleaned, disinfected, and ensured the safety of each student. We take germs seriously, and have a low-risk program where children rarely get ill. 



As the directors and owners at Sprouts, we are able to make physical, procedural, and behavioral updates quickly and easily to adapt to the needs of the families, children, and community. This year we extended our usual summer camps to extend the amount of childcare we are able to provide, we have updated all of our policies to create physical and behavioral barriers against illness. We installed an outdoor sink for frequent easily-accessed handwashing, an outdoor heater to allow us to stay outdoors well in to winter, and even serve lunch outside , to name a few.

Overall, because of our typical standards, we feel that Sprouts is one of the most well prepared childcares for COVID-19.