Spring is a busy time of year at Brownwood’s Little Dude Ranch. There’s a spring break to plan, full of field trips and movie days and activities. There’s the spring musical, and pre-k graduation in May.    

Little Dude director Sharla McCarty knows what it takes to run a successful child development center: a passion for kids, and lots of support. She’s been working at Little Dude for 35 years, so the passion is certainly there. And with a highly-qualified staff and two family members always nearby — McCarty’s daughter Kristen serves as assistant director, while her mother Ann founded the Ranch back in 1976 — there’s also plenty of support.   

“There’s three generations of us that take care of this place,” McCarty said.    

These days there’s a lot to take care of. The Little Dude Ranch began in downtown Brownwood before outgrowing its space and moving to its current location, a sprawling 12-acre facility at 1601 Stewart with five dedicated buildings, 14 classrooms and ample green space for different age groups.   

“We got big, so we moved out here,” McCarty said. “We opened two buildings at that time, and then after opening the two small buildings, we started growing.”   

The Ranch grew all the way to its current enrollment of about 250 children, from infants up to 12-year-olds. More than merely supervising, the center seeks to help each child learn and grow during his or her hours at the Ranch. Its curriculum includes tenets like working with art materials, enjoying literature, learning about music and improving reading comprehension. Of course, recreation time is a must as well.   

The Ranch’s literature says it is committed to helping each child grow physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially.    

McCarty said many Ranch teachers have college degrees in relevant fields. “They have to come highly qualified and love kids,” she said. The teachers work with the kids on academic subjects but also on holistic development based on their age. “We do progress reports, like report cards kind of like the school district,” McCarty said. “But some of these things are milestones that we try to teach kids in that area.”  

For three-year-olds, the milestones include things like a positive attitude, feelings of self-worth and the idea of responsibility. For school-age kids, on the other hand, the report card might involve positive self-expression, studying and problem-solving.   

It’s a big responsibility to help guide the growth and development of 250 children. But McCarty has lots of help — after all, she said, Little Dude Ranch is a family affair.   

Little Dude Ranch can be reached at 325-646-8877 or littleduderanch1@gmail.com.