Local musician Katie Baggs and her business partner Krista Phelan are opening an alternative pre-school in St. John’s in January of 2018. Part of what makes Little Nest Children’s Community different from other daycares is their commitment to strengthening kids’ relationship to nature.

“Kids approach the world with a sense of awe and wonder anyway, so we want build on that,” Baggs said. “… showing the kids that we recognize the beauty, magic, and importance of nature will help them appreciate it, which is important because that’s something that will stay with them for their whole lives.”

Baggs and Phelan have backgrounds in Primary/Elementary Education, and have been dreaming about opening an alternative pre-school for years. After completing a Bachlor of Education, Phelan went on to do a Montessori Early Childhood Diploma and both women are currently completing Forest School training.

They have crafted a set of Guiding Philosophies for Little Nest that draws on the elements of their diverse training that resonated with them the most. They want to focus on, “child-directed learning, problem solving, self-expression, and creativity…” all of which they believe happen naturally outside.

Baggs explained that they chose their location, in Elizabeth Towers, based on the fact that it has both a fenced in outdoor play-area and access to a green space behind the building. Baggs was excited about the green space because at Little Nest spending time outdoors will be prioritized, no matter the weather.

“The children will be spending an extended period of time outdoors each day, more than you would probably find in a typical daycare setting,” Baggs said. “…We’re going to encourage everyone to be prepared and dress for all weather because we’re going to be outside everyday; rain or shine or snow or minus twenty.”

Baggs and Phelan recently met with Sarah Ferber, Food First NL’s Education Manager, to talk about creating a Food/Nutrition Plan for the pre-school that incorporates teaching the kids about gardening and growing food.

Ferber suggested they invest in hydroponic or aquaponic growing units and begin by planting herbs and lettuces, as a way of introducing the kids to the gardening aspect of the program during the winter months. In the spring they will plant flowers and vegetables in raised beds in Little Nest’s fenced in play-area.

“Ultimately the goal is to be able to go out and harvest a few little things from our garden and actually involve the kids in growing it, preparing it and having it with our lunch,” Baggs said.

Eventually Baggs hopes to plant a garden in the green space behind the building, which anyone in the neighbourhood would be invited to use. This would teach the kids about gardening and help build a relationship with the community around Little Nest.

Indoors, Little Nest will also be different than your average daycare centre; Baggs and Phalen are foregoing  the splashy bright colours and plastic toys we associate with most children’s classrooms. Instead, the space will be painted with calming colours and filled with traditional Montessori materials along with musical instruments, supplies for dramatic play, art materials, and books.

As a musician, Baggs is excited about encouraging the kids to make art during their indoor time, and about helping the kids connect with the local arts community.

“At the pre-school age … kids are just coming into that realization that they’re separate from their parents and they’re able to do things all by themselves, and I think art is probably the first step,” Baggs said. “So giving kids lots of opportunities to be in control of the things they make, and giving them a sense that what they create is valuable, is the absolute best thing for kids at that age.”

In January a third staff-person with an Early Childhood Education Diploma and lots of experience working with young children will be joining the team. Little Nest is offering full or part-time enrollment to sixteen kids (ages 3-5). With three teachers on staff, they will be above the required caregiver-to-student ratio, making sure all the kids get the attention they need.

There has already been a lot of interest in the program, and spots are filling up quickly, but there’s still room for a few more kids at Little Nest.