Go Ask Mom

Kids, seniors to learn together at new nonprofit Durham preschool

Wildflower Cottage for Children in Durham is a new full-time Reggio-inspired child care center where children learn in a cozy-home-like setting; are encouraged to create, imagine and problem-solve with everyday materials; and have the opportunity to learn from multiple generations.

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Krissy Snyder of Wildflower Cottage for Children
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

Krissy Snyder has spent her career working with young children.

A member of the third class graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a birth-kindergarten teaching license, she jumped head first into a job as director of an established child care program in Durham. During her 16 years there, she led the program to achieve a five-star state license and national accreditation.

Now Snyder, who lives in north Durham with husband and two daughters, is taking another leap. She's launched Wildflower Cottage for Children in Durham, a new full-time Reggio-inspired child care center where children learn in a cozy-home-like setting; are encouraged to create, imagine and problem-solve with everyday materials; and have the opportunity to learn from multiple generations.

Snyder has big plans for the school, a nonprofit that opened in January near Duke University. I checked in with Snyder by email to learn more about the program and her hopes for it. Here's a Q&A.

Go Ask Mom: What prompted you to make the leap?
Krissy Snyder: The field of early childhood education is currently experiencing a bit of tug-of-war. There is strong agreement that we absolutely must protect children and provide high quality care. Yet, the tools currently being employed to measure quality often overlook the depth of relationships between people, the ability to collaborate with others and the freedom to explore and imagine without bounds.

For a few years leading up to this launch, I gathered inspiration from research, parents, teachers and colleagues. All expressed strongly-held beliefs about the rights and privileges of early childhood. This program is a response to those hopes and dreams. 

GAM: How is a Reggio-inspired program different from a traditional preschool?
KS: Reggio-inspired environments are very thoughtfully arranged, so much so that they are often referred to as the “third teacher.” A cozy, home-like space captivates children, allowing them to focus on relationships, playfulness, and joy. Indoor and outdoor areas are dynamic and ever-changing.  

Materials are primarily real-life items, chosen for sensory richness (wood, wicker, cotton, smooth metal, ceramic/glass, recycled treasures, and nature collections). Unlike most toys manufactured for children with a single outcome in mind, these materials encourage multiple uses in play.

Our teachers view their jobs primarily as a way to help children explore, express thoughts and construct and reconstruct their own ideas and understandings. Teachers cultivate a strong sense of interconnectedness, including the practices of compassion and social justice.    

GAM: You have plans to incorporate intergenerational experiences. What does that mean? Why is that important?
KS: Young children and older adults were simply made for each other!

When young children have ongoing relationships with older adults, it gives them an opportunity to be part of an extended family (especially when biological families may be far away).

They gain insight into our history and traditions and learn respect for those different from themselves. Older adults embrace the opportunity to serve as mentors and role models as they share their unique skills and talents. Additionally, when seniors have encounters with children, they report higher levels of overall wellness —more physical activity, increased learning stimulation and emotional stability.

Our short-term goal is to partner with senior adults in the community who will “adopt” us. They will be screened, oriented and matched to a spectrum of intergenerational activities (sending birthday cards, baking, doing art, producing puppet shows, planting, reading books, etc.).

GAM: What are your hopes for Wildflower Cottage's future?
KS: We aspire to have children — all children — visible and integrated fully into the life of our community. In our imminent plans, this is something that can be accomplished by neighborhood walks (interacting with neighbors, merchants, pets, and landscapes within our vicinity).

We will be looking to further utilize the 5+ acres of forest on our campus (hiking trails, hammocks, zip lines, punching bags, fairy villages, child-made webs, and — of course — wildflowers to support our local honeybees!).

Our long-term ambition is to renovate the 1920s house next door and to encourage a senior adult day program on this campus for ongoing intergenerational experiences and relationships.

GAM: What have you learned so far as you've launched the program?
KS: This season has the sweet aroma of patience. We are still learning — just like our children! We are learning alongside them and realizing that true wisdom travels in both directions.

We have also realized that Reggio-inspired programs are not “cookie cutters” that can be duplicated in a different setting. Each individual program takes on the flavor of its children, families, teachers and surrounding culture. It is the one of the truest tests to “be yourself.”

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