This article originally ran on GuelphToday Nov. 14.
A Guelph co-operative nursery school is celebrating its 50th year of nurturing and growing young minds.
Lilliput Land Nursery School started in 1974 and is co-operative so parents are involved in helping the school run. It is inside St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at 161 Norfolk St.
It hasn’t always been at this location but at least four others.
“And I think for quite a while we were you know, one of the only or possibly even the only nursery school in Downtown Guelph. There's certainly a few now. And there's this huge growing need for more,” said Paul Nichols, president of the Lilliput Land board of directors.
The school runs from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m. Monday through Friday and 16 students a day get to see their learning emerge with the help of two teachers.
“So you know it's not just play …there's purpose to it. We're helping to improve gross motor skills. We're helping the children with conflict resolution and then learning how to engage with other students in the class. And of course all the elements of creativity. The artwork and the amazing stuff that they create it's just so cool to see,” said Nichols.
“You know it isn't a big faceless corporation. We know everybody,” he said. The board is made up of four parents and one teacher.
He said the nursery school is a bit about Guelph culture and history. He hopes he’ll hear more stories from the community about Lilliput while celebrating its 50th year.
“I think parent involvement and, you know, trying to do things in a bit more of a democratic, more hands on way is sort of, in a lot of our DNA,” he said. “I think that’s been a fantastic part of how the schools evolved. I mean 50 years is a heck of a long time. All parent run.”
Since it is a co-op parents are asked to sign up for a job to help the school whether it be to pick up groceries, fundraising or helping with the social media parents are involved.
In one of Nichols first tasks as president of the board he went to the bank to sign some papers. One of the bank tellers chimed in and said their children went to Lilliput Land.
During the pandemic class sizes were smaller because there was lower enrolment, said Nichols.
“And the reason why the school was able to survive that period was because the previous boards, again, all parents, all volunteers, really made some good decisions. They built up a bit of a reserve fund and the school was able to fall back on that,” he said.
This is why a fundraising campaign is being launched on Thursday so the school can build back up its reserve funds.
“We feel like we've come through a tough time, we're feeling optimistic. And we … really want to try to make sure that we can survive another 50 years,” said Nichols.
Nichols’ children three-year-old Remy and five-year-old Mira have been a part of Lilliput Land and he’s seen them grow.
“You know having my daughter in there and especially post pandemic it was a very smaller class. You know we were nervous too but just to see her change and see how well she was able to socialize with other children. I mean she kind of like ruled the roost a little bit when she went Lilliput Land which was so nice to see,” he said.
Going there helped set her up for school and seeing his youngest at Lilliput now he is doing the same, Nichols said.
“We're completely play based. So all of everything that we do is based on the children's interests,” said Brandy Cannady, teacher at Lilliput.
“We're both just pretty focused on making sure that they feel safe, they feel loved. We help them interact with the other kids,” said Danielle Maci, teacher at Lilliput.
Cannady and Masci have been teaching at Lilliput for the last eight years. They both had children who went to the school.
It’s a really caring and nurturing place, said Kate Mullins, parent of two-year-old Flora who goes to Lilliput. “It’s really confidence building. It’s been like a great first step,” she said.
Parents want to bring their children where they have a high sense of trust, said Nichols.
“It's the first time for a lot of parents where their children will be, you know, away from them. It's a big deal. It's probably harder on parents than it is on the little kiddos,” he said.
On the first day of school children will start their new routines by switching into indoor shoes, washing their hands “and then there's the hand-offs,” said Nichols.
“It’s a short goodbye and a long hello,” he said.