Chloe, age 6, paints a palm tree at the clubhouse. CHARLOTTE TWINE/Keys Weekly

A pack of children surrounded Venus Haugen in the backyard tiki hut of her Tavernier home. As they watched closely, Haugen poured globs of thick, brightly colored paint into small plastic palettes. 

Soft reggae music played, while palm trees surrounding the hut shimmied in the breeze. Nearby, a crystal-clear blue swimming pool stood next to a giant jungle gym. 

“I want you to close your eyes and think what pretty pictures you’re going to make,” she said softly to the kids. They stood transfixed. “What colors are you going to use?”

“I’m totally going to use blue!” shouted Chloe, age 6.

“I’m going to use orange!” her sister, Celeste, age 4, shouted back.

As a unit, the five kids turned and walked to their pre-set-up canvases and, like a line of barefoot mini-Picassos, started stabbing their paint brushes, giggling and chatting. Haugen turned the music up.

You could just feel it in the air: The kids were having oodles of fun. 

Upper Keys Kids Clubhouse owner Venus Haugen is a longtime Tavernier resident who grew up in Venezuela and has a bachelor’s degree in childhood education and CPR certification. CONTRIBUTED

Welcome to the Upper Keys Kids Clubhouse. Owner Haugen started her babysitting business only a couple of months ago, but it has already attracted the attention of local parents.

“My kids are always excited when they spend time with Venus and her sweet children,” wrote Karina Estep in a Facebook review. “They feel safe and secure, and I love knowing they are well taken care of, just as if they were with me.”

“(My son) was always busy and happy, which I can confirm by his barely saying goodbye when dropped off and never wanting to leave,” wrote Judith Rhodes Langford in another review.

Chloe and Celeste are Key Largo mom Jen Pullar’s kiddos. She regularly brings them to the clubhouse to play with Haugen’s own children: Penelope, age 2, Martin, age 5, and Miranda, age 6.

“I think Venus has a really good sense for what kids need,” Pullar told Keys Weekly. “She’s kind and gentle, and she respects them. She’s always setting up different activities. She has painting, music, a million books and she’s just a short walk to the beach. And it’s important for parents to know that she’s bilingual in Spanish. It’s good for a child’s brain development.”

“My passion is to provide a magical time and freedom,” said Haugen, who grew up in Venezuela and has a bachelor’s degree in childhood education from Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas. 

She was able to transfer her college credits completely to the U.S. and used that experience to work in Broward County as a preschool teacher for five years. Along the way, she met Adam Haugen, who was born and raised in the Keys and is now an IT administrator for the Monroe County school system. They live in Tavernier with their three kids — and a large backyard with that tiki hut, fort, swimming pool and, oh yeah, a giant blow-up unicorn that sprays water. It’s truly a kids paradise.

Haugen started the Upper Keys Kids Clubhouse because she missed teaching children and wanted to provide another much-needed local activity for Keys parents and families on vacation. She had found that she would often drive her children to Miami in order to get a bigger selection of interesting ways for them to pass the time.

She pointed out that she only takes care of one family of kids at a time. Officially, she provides a babysitting service that parents can use for special occasions when they have an errand to run or a leisurely adult activity to enjoy.

“So Mom can get a mani-pedi, or a parent can go to a doctor’s appointment and drop off their kids,” she said, noting that she is CPR certified. “The children are screen-free and do not use laptops or a television. They are creative and in nature.”

Back at the tiki hut, Haugen wiped paint from Penelope’s hands while the other kids ran off to climb a tree. Haugen smiled. “Parents should fully expect the kids are going to get messy.”
The Upper Keys Kids Clubhouse is available for babysitting children ages newborn on up, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with at least 24 hours’ notice. The rates are $20 an hour for one child, $25 an hour for two, and $30 an hour for three. To contact owner Venus Haugen, call or text 954-627-2822, email [email protected] or send a message on her Instagram or Facebook accounts @upperkeyskidsclubhouse. Visit upperkeyskidsclubhouse.com to learn more.

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.