Tillsonburg Little School celebrated its first birthday Tuesday with cake for the children, parents and staff.
They also had a visit from a vet, so the one-year anniversary was an exceptionally big day for the kids.
"We're having birthday cake right now with party hats," said Wendy Marques, acting director and supervisor. "And singing happy birthday."
Tillsonburg Little School's origins go back to First Baptist daycare, which had a 40-year history of providing affordable, quality daycare in Tillsonburg. Daycare changed, however, when the Ministry of Education announced it would be phasing in full-time Kindergarten from 2010-2015. In 2011, local child care operators received notice that FT Kindergarten would be implemented in Tillsonburg at Maple Lane and St. Joseph's in 2013 and Rolph Street and South Ridge in 2014. In that year (2011) a decision was made to close First Baptist Weekday Nursery in 2013, and some of the parents formed a group to start looking at other daycare options.
That led to the opening of Tillsonburg Little School (TLS), 'the Little school with a Big heart.'
"We started out with two children and now we have 27 families," said Marques "and our toddler group is almost full."
Renovated when it opened a year ago, Marques loves the big windows in their 102 King Street East building. The children like its proximity to the train tracks.
"It's right behind this window, so the kids get to see trains going by every day. And of course it makes all kinds of noise. They enjoy it."
Marques attributed Tillsonburg Little School's success, in part, to its staff, its board members, "who are very much involved in the activities that go on at the day care," and positive word of mouth advertising."
"The staff," nodded TLS director Annette Abbott. "The community, and the way the board of directors and the staff communicate and work together to make it a success. We have great staff."
The parents also like its structure, how it prepares the children for school, and how the children can learn at their own pace.
"You're getting them to ask questions," said Marques. "Instead of saying, 'this is what happens,' you say, 'I wonder what happened here?'"
With her older pre-schoolers, Marques' class put a plastic bottle of water outside and brought it back inside the next day.
"We looked at it to see what changed. They felt it. They saw that it was not liquid any more, it was hard. Then we watched it during the day to see what happened to it. We brought snow in and watched it melt. And saw the snow, when it melted, wasn't as large. And we saw the dirt that was in the snow – and that's why we don't eat it. We want them asking questions."
With some of their older children 'graduating' to the next age group for 2015-16, there will be more space for the younger toddlers.
"That's the group (toddlers) you want to have full most of the time because they're going to be here for a few years."
Hot lunches are provided every day, said Marques, noting TLS has four full-time staff, two part-time, and a part-time cook, who also prepares homemade snacks in the morning and afternoon.
"When we get more children in the other groups, we'll add more staff," said Marques.
Children typically start at 18 months, although they can take a couple at 15-months. Ages range up to JK, which fluctuates.
"We definitely need more children," said Abbott. "We're not full. We have open spaces, so we would like to see them filled up. It's a difficult thing with all the Junior K's that have opened up, and now some of the schools have daycares opening.
"We're always looking for new children. Promoting the daycare and getting new children is ongoing."
Looking back at the past year, Abbott said it's been fun at TLS.
"It's not always been easy, but you know what, it's been a great experience."