Magnolia Alva of Napa is 3½ years old and already a big fan of Seasons of Wonder preschool, judging from how little fussing there is when her mother Ashely Alva leaves her there, the mother of five said.
Maggie’s siblings range in age from 6 years to 6 months and attend a different school, but Maggie’s been with Seasons of Wonder since it opened in Napa some three months ago, she said.
“We absolutely love it,” Ashley Alva said, adding that she is most impressed with the way the staff helps her toddler work on her potty training and interacting with others – something many are struggling with during the shelter-at-home orders necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She gets socialization and is (nearly always) outside in their outdoor mud kitchen, or the gravel pit,” the young mother said. “They get to play in the elements. It’s been amazing. Maggie has been making her own friends, works on her drawing, and is getting more comfortable with my leaving. We’ve noticed a change in her when she goes to daycare compared to when she’s home for weeks on end. We would absolutely recommend it.”
Seasons’ owner/operator, Simone Findlay, 39, says this is precisely what she likes to hear.
“We have an outdoor classroom, and we’re outdoors 100 percent of the time except for naps; meals, welcome, circle time – are all outdoors,” Findlay said. “We really believe kids just need to be dressed for the weather. So, when it rains, you put on boots and play in the rain.”
The mostly outdoor format works well during the pandemic, but, it’s not where the concept comes from, she said. In fact, the school’s name derives from the Reggio Emilia – beautiful environment — child care philosophy, which included “lots of discovery, so I knew I wanted lots of ‘wonder’ in it, and it’s nature-based, which is where the seasons come from.”
The Reggio Emilia curriculum is child-driven and adaptive, with an emphasis on “exploration, creative expression and active learning in a nurturing and relaxed environment,” according to websites on the subject.
“Seasons of Wonder embraces a developmental approach to early childhood education and care,” Findlay said.
“The curriculum focuses on all aspects of a child’s growth and development – intellectual, physical, social, and emotional. We are running a fully outdoor program for ages 2-6 until COVID restrictions lift and we can use our indoor spaces.”
Though in the childcare business for more than 20 years and a child development instructor at Napa Valley College, Solano College and Pacific Union College in Angwin nearly as long and plans to continue doing so, Findlay said she’s been wanting to focus more on the childcare end for some time. She said she’s run several preschools including in Las Vegas and Hawaii.
Due to the pandemic, Findlay can only have 12 kids at her school, despite being licensed for 30. She currently teaches eight.
The Lake County native now lives in Napa with her husband and their 2-year-old twin girls who are the main reason for wanting to concentrate of the childcare aspect of her training, Findlay said.
The preschool is located in south Napa at 605 Hunt St. It was formerly known as Circle of Learning.
“It’s been a dream for 20 years, but this decided it; pushed me to do it,” she said. “I’ve been looking for a location for almost two years.”
Her twins are also her students, Findlay said.
“It’s wonderful. I get to spend time with them, it’s pretty amazing,” she said. “We run a school day program – from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with opportunities to do a high-quality program. Inside we have an art studio we’ll be using, and creating a makers space and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab — spaces where small groups of children do projects.”
But, as the pandemic makes being inside closed rooms for long periods with other people dangerous, most of the day, the children are outside.
“The big thing now that sets us apart is the outdoor classroom,” Findlay said.
“We have all the areas you’d expect to find – math, science, literacy, a beautiful mud kitchen my husband built. They make mud pies, magic soup, and other things and just get good and messy. We do a lot of art. Gallons of paint are put out every morning. We do a lot of color mixing.”
Findlay said the outdoor area also features big easels all along the fence, a good size rock pit, with Tonka trucks, a lot of (plastic) pipes, electrical spools and other imagination-triggering items.
“It’s a pretty neat spot,” Findlay said. “I’ve been dreaming it up for 20 years. Finding the philosophy I really believe in. I’ve seen a lot of programs in Napa and Solano and took the best of all of them and created what I call ‘Reggio inspired’ — a nature-based program. Reggio is a community-based/art/creativity focused preschool program in Italy.”
The pandemic and the shutdown and shelter at home orders of the past 10 months has made opening her business “extremely difficult,” she said. No one anticipated in August that this would still be going on in January.”
But, Findlay has been letting parents know about the safety measures built into the program and the benefits of the right preschool program for young children and their parents.
“We’re trying to tell people we’re offering socialization opportunities for the kids, (something largely lacking during the lockdown),” she said. “It’s a small program with just two teachers and we follow all guidelines, temperature checks, hand washing, and we’re all outside.”
Presently, the program is offered three days per week — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — through next month, Findlay said she hopes to add an additional day. There is also a two-day option, she said.
Seasons’ program also offers a respite for overworked parents, she said.
“I think parents are finding from all the many months cooped up with their toddlers that they need a break from the kids so they can get some work or chores done, and we’re here to help.
Findlay says she gets as much from the children as they get from her program.
“For me it’s very fulfilling. I love that every day is something new. I love seeing the world through the children’s eyes,” she said. “It’s the little things. It makes my day/week to discover things with the children.”
Watch now: CDC Says Risk of COVID-19 in Schools Is Small
Photos: New Napa preschool Seasons of Wonder
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