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Pine Hill opens new Children’s Village for pre-school and kindergarten

  • Mirana Guitman of Hancock climbs on a stump that makes up part of Pine Hill's new kindergarten room at their newly-constructed facility in the school's new Children's Village, which will house their nursery and kindergarten programs, as well as community classes.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Mirana Guitman of Hancock climbs on a stump that makes up part of Pine Hill's new kindergarten room at their newly-constructed facility in the school's new Children's Village, which will house their nursery and kindergarten programs, as well as community classes.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Erica Peery of Peterborough, left, and Gabrielle Zielie of Wilton share drawings with their teacher Lisa Freeman during a Pine Hill kindergarten class last week.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Erica Peery of Peterborough, left, and Gabrielle Zielie of Wilton share drawings with their teacher Lisa Freeman during a Pine Hill kindergarten class last week.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house nursery and kindergarten classes, on March 23. One of the Village's two new buildings, above, already is home to the school's kindergarten classes.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house nursery and kindergarten classes, on March 23. One of the Village's two new buildings, above, already is home to the school's kindergarten classes.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Mirana Guitman of Hancock climbs on a stump that makes up part of Pine Hill's new kindergarten room at their newly-constructed facility in the school's new Children's Village, which will house their nursery and kindergarten programs, as well as community classes.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Erica Peery of Peterborough, left, and Gabrielle Zielie of Wilton share drawings with their teacher Lisa Freeman during a Pine Hill kindergarten class last week.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house pre-school and kindergarten classes, on March 23.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Pine Hill will be holding a grand opening of its newly-constructed Children's Village, which will house nursery and kindergarten classes, on March 23. One of the Village's two new buildings, above, already is home to the school's kindergarten classes.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

WILTON — Kindergarten students at Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton are running in the snow, sliding down giant snowdrifts and jumping in puddles left by the mild weather.

“That’s the one drawback of sending your child to a Waldorf School,” laughs Sarah Lind, the director of enrollment and marketing at Pine Hill. “The kids get dirty.”

The children are playing in what will be the front yard of Pine Hill’s new buildings, a $1 million investment created specifically with their nursery and kindergarten students in mind. From the ground up, the two new buildings are designed with the Waldorf ideals for early-childhood education in mind. The buildings are the new home not only of Pine Hill’s early childhood education, but also a whole host of new community programs. Residents who would like to take a tour will get their chance to see the new buildings in a open house and grand opening on March 23.

The floor plan of the buildings are open, with a post-and-beam style, and everywhere you look there are windows letting in the light. It looks more like a home environment than a classroom, which is one of the tenants of Waldorf education at the pre-school and kindergarten level.

One of the buildings has been finished, and now houses the school’s kindergarten program. A second building is nearing completion, and when it is finished, the two buildings will become the school’s “Children’s Village,” — a more than $1 million investment on the part of the school to build up a younger base of students.

A good portion of the funds were raised privately by the school itself, but it was aided by loans — $100,000 from the state Health and Education Facilities Authority, and $380,000 loaned from Rudolf Steiner Foundation Social Finance. The cost covers the site work and construction of two new buildings that share a campus but are separated from the grade-school building. While it’s a significant investment for the school, its also a way to fill a hole that’s been developing in the community when it comes to Waldorf education in the younger generation.

The school used to have a wide network of local home-based caregivers promoting Waldorf ideals. The loose network would help guide parents to Pine Hill when their children reached schooling age. But as the caregivers and teachers in that network have begun to retire, it’s left a void from Pine Hill’s perspective. So the school decided to expand their own campus and pre-existing program to fill those gaps.

Along with the kindergarten program, Pine Hill also has a nursery program for children ages three and four, according to nursery teacher Sherry Jennings. But more and more parents were seeking out the program with children even younger than that. As the demand increased, the school began to look into options for expanding their facilities.

The larger space allows for additional children to join the classes. There are also kitchens built into both buildings since participating in the lunch preparation is a large part of the curriculum for the kindergarten and nursery groups. And the children have immediate access to their play area, which wasn’t the case when they were housed with the grade-school children.

Pine Hill does not have an academic-based kindergarten program, using creative, play-based teaching methods focused more on fostering cognitive, emotional and social development. This is directly opposite to many main-stream instructional institutions, which are putting more emphasis earlier and earlier on academics, said Lind.

“As mainstream integrates academics earlier and earlier, it can be harder and harder to explain play-based kindergarten to parents. People are less able to picture a different option for their children, now,” she said.

But Pine Hill kindergarten teacher Lisa Freeman said that the children in her class aren’t at a disadvantage.

“They will learn and grown and be as able as any other child, without starting to learn numbers and reading at four years old,” said Freeman in an interview in her new kindergarten classroom in the Children’s Village. “We really do believe in what we do and the benefits it has for children. And we’d like it to be more accessible. That was the prime motivation in the new buildings, that it would help bridge our school with the community, so it would be available for people to take advantage of this campus.”

Jennings added that instead of learning letters in reading in kindergarten, the children are given a firm vocabulary through oral tradition, with lots of stories and songs, as well as learning physical coordination and social skills. It provides a foundation for other academic skills when they enter grade school.

Andre Deschenes of Peterborough, whose son, Mason, attends Freeman’s kindergarten class, said that he and his wife first enrolled their oldest child in Pine Hill when the boy was starting the third grade. Now, he’s seeing the Waldorf education system from the ground up with his second son, and he likes what he sees.

“We like the curriculum. We like that it’s play-based, and our kids have never been happier,” he said. He said he liked that the new facilities for the younger students were separate from the upper grade levels. “I think that’s great,” he said. “Early childhood is a separate thing from the grade-level students. It’s proven that early childhood, if you get them soon enough, can shape a child’s whole education. Keeping things separate and having their own spot is nice. Down here you can really sense the quiet and peacefulness of the situation.”

Parent Sandy Veilie of Wilton agreed. Her oldest child started in Pine Hill’s early education program at three years old, and still attends the school. Her youngest daughter is now in the kindergarten program. Veilie said the home-like environment was important to her, as well as the emphasis on free-play and social education.

“I really hope that more and more young families discover that here is the opportunity to be supported and raise your child in these incredibly healthy ways. So having this expanded space and the ability for more children to be here and get this gentle start is a rare treat in today’s world,” she said Tuesday.

Pine Hill is a private and tuition-based school, so that environment does come with a significant price tag. At the grade school level, the price for a year of tuition is $13,400. For five full days of kindergarten or nursery care, the price is about $12,800 per year.

The education is worth the cost, said Deschenes. When his family wasn’t able to travel during winter vacation, he said his son asked why they couldn’t go somewhere warm for vacation.

“I told him, ‘Well, we go to a really nice school. So, if you had a choice, would you like to go to Florida on our vacations, or would you like to go to Pine Hill?’ And without missing a beat, he said ‘Pine Hill.’”

Kim Adair of Nashua, whose daughter is enrolled in the kindergarten program, agreed. “It’s a magical, wonderful place, and she’s enjoying all of the kids and enjoying the imaginary play. It’s a great experience for her,” she said. “And we’ll continue all the way through. It’s worth the sacrifices we made to have her here.”

Lind said that at the younger levels, there are multiple options for parents for care, including half-day care, which are less expensive. And Pine Hill does offer tuition assistance for qualifying families for up to 50 percent of the cost.

The Children’s Village isn’t just a space for the school’s young population, however, said Lind. It was also an opportunity for the school to create a space to do more community outreach, which had been a goal of the school for some time.

“Like many Waldorf schools, we’re kind of off the beaten track,” she said. “There are many people, even in Wilton, who don’t know who we are or what we do.”

The school has already begun to use the completed building as a space for a range of community classes, including Parent and Child, cooking classes, handwork classes, yoga and meditation. Lind said one of the aims of the programming was to bring more people from the community to the school, and let them learn about the ideals of the Waldorf system.

The school has never had the space for those kinds of programs before, but now with the implementation of a building separate from the main school, they can put those programs into place. It’s a way for them to become more familiar in the community, said Lind.

To tour the building and learn more about Pine Hill’s new community programing or early childhood education,the building is holding a grand opening and open house on March 23 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. To learn more about Pine Hill or the community programs offered, visit www.pinehill.org

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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