At home, at last

CHILD’S NATURE: Waldorf-inspired day care finds home new in Wilton after months in limbo

WILTON — After nearly a year of uncertainty, the teachers and parents of the day care program formerly housed at ConVal High School have found a new home. Executive Director Peggy Waterhouse and the staff of A Child’s Nature are in the process of moving into their new space at the Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton, where the day care program will be operating as an independent nonprofit organization serving families with children from six weeks to six years old.

“We have been going on a long journey with them,” Waterhouse said on Thursday about the process that resulted in the collaboration with Pine Hill. “It feels like a return to home. Now we can really expand on the mission of A Child’s Nature.”

During the seven years it was located at ConVal, the day care program had been known as the Pine Hill Child Care Center. It was under the oversight of the Pine Hill Waldorf School, which leased the space from the ConVal School District at no cost, in return for the program providing care for some identified preschool students at no cost to the school district and offering internship opportunities for ConVal students in the Applied Technology Center’s childcare program. But late last year, Pine Hill Waldorf School didn’t renew its lease and the school district made plans for other use of the space, leaving Waterhouse and the parents of her students without a home.

In March, A Child’s Nature was incorporated, with an independent board of directors, and Waterhouse began searching for locations in the Peterborough area. One possibility was to renovate a home in Greenfield, and Waterhouse even got site-plan approval from the Greenfield Planning Board. But the cost of bringing an old building up to state standards was too high. And on July 1, when the lease on the ConVal space expired, A Child’s Nature moved to Wilton on a temporary basis, using space at the Pine Hill Waldorf School that would otherwise have been vacant during the summer months.

Now that move will be permanent. Pine Hill Waldorf School, which serves children from kindergarten through grade 8, has a new building opening this fall to serve kindergarten students. So the former kindergarten building and a large classroom space in Pine Hill’s main building will now be used by the children attending A Child’s Nature.

“We still have eight of our original families from Peterborough,” Waterhouse said. “They figured out a way to make it work. We’re now ready to accept more children. Until we were certain of making the change, we really couldn’t advertise and couldn’t fund raise really well.”

Waterhouse said the center can accommodate up to 32 children in the space being leased from Pine Hill. Three staff members stayed with the center during the transition.

“We’re not starting from the ground up,” Waterhouse said. “We still have all our systems in place.”

Waterhouse said becoming an independent operation should allow A Child’s Nature to qualify for community block grants and other types of funding that might not be available if it had remained formally affiliated with Pine Hill Waldorf School. But the two institutions will be working closely together. Both are based on the principles of Waldorf education developed by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, with a focus, Waterhouse said, on developing the hands, heart, mind and spirit of each child.

“This is an opportunity to broaden the services available to families seeking a warm, nurturing environment for their children,” said Pine Hill School Administrator Mary McDonough. Pine Hill School had been planning to develop some type of child-care and preschool program, McDonough said, because the space was available and there seemed to be demand, including from parents of Pine Hill students who have younger children. Having A Child’s Nature on the campus will offer parents a chance to have children ranging in age from 6 months up through eighth grade all at the same location.

“We had been embarking on a way to serve younger children, and once A Child’s Nature split off, this seemed like a logical place for them to regroup,” McDonough said.

Waterhouse said one of the two classrooms will hold children between the ages of 6 months and three years old. The cost for those students is $250 a week. The other classroom is for students ages three and up, with a cost of $200 a week. The center will be open Monday through Friday from 6:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Waterhouse said bringing the Pine Hill space into compliance for child-care licensing was easy in comparison to other alternatives she looked at in the Peterborough and Greenfield area. She’s hoping having the program in Wilton, where there is plenty of outdoor play space that suits the center’s mission, will provide the stability to increase enrollment and focus on fundraising. And eventually, she hopes A Child’s Nature might also be able to open a second location.

“There could be possibilities to expand back into the Peterborough area some day. That’s still a goal,” she said.

But for now she’s excited to be getting up and running in Wilton.

“Pine Hill is where I became a kindergarten teacher,” Waterhouse said. “Now I’ve landed back in my old kindergarten classroom.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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