At the new Durham preschool, Cedar and Willow house students mix it up in the playground. Photo by Abigail Blosser.
BUILDING A BETTER PRESCHOOL
In 2007, Jay and Danielle were sending their sons Ben and Leif to a small home-based preschool in Carrboro. Their teacher Sadie was unable to continue, so Jay and Danielle began looking for another school.
They were underwhelmed by what they found.
“It was a little bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” remembers Danielle. “The ratios were too high, the waitlists too long, the schedules were inflexible, and the classrooms felt too cold.”
Working with Sadie, they decided to start their own.
GROWTH FROM THE GRASSROOTS
Our PlayHouse opened its doors in the historic White Cross School outside of Chapel Hill/Carrboro in 2008 with approximately 35 families. The focus was on a play-based school with an emergent curriculum. We immediately began a tradition of potlucks, parent volunteers, a Fall Parade, and an annual art show. The next year (2009) we added a small kindergarten class and second playground. In 2010, we added the young 2s classroom and changed our classrooms from mixed age groupings to classrooms based roughly on a child’s single year of age.
We also added a Fall Festival and Valentine’s Day breakfasts to our calendar, and established Kindness Principles for our school.
It’s not all been plain sailing, as Jay admits – but (ironically enough!) education is a learning process:
“We had some growing pains as we established our project-based approach to the Reggio philosophy, and found teachers and families that supported our vision. Over the past few years, it has all come into focus.”
The key to success, says Jay, lies in learning from challenges, and in maintaining open, frank and productive communication between children, their families, the community and the school itself.
A THRIVING EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENT
Our PlayHouse Chapel Hill now has four classrooms; a twos room (the Star House), a threes room (the Comet House), a fours room (the Moon House), and a Kindergarten room (the Sun House). (We also have plans to add a one-year-olds group in the Spring of 2013.) Our two younger classrooms share one playground, and the older classrooms share another. Beth Whitaker is our current director. She joined us as a teacher in our first year, and progressed to director in 2010.
A NEW PRESCHOOL FOR DURHAM
Building on the success of our school in Chapel Hill, we opened a second location in the Forest Hills Neighborhood of Durham in the Fall of 2012. The building – which formerly housed a Montessori School – is awash with abundant natural light, extensive playgrounds and even our very own nature trail.
Our PlayHouse Durham currently serves three age groups – Sprout House for mobile one-year-olds – Willow House for twos – and ages three to four in Cedar House.
As Our PlayHouse continues to attract more families – we will gradually be expanding the services we offer and the age groups we cater to. And we’ll be forging closer links both between our two schools and the communities in which they operate.
This growth will remain guided by our number one priority – providing innovative, project-based early education in small classes following the Reggio approach.