Filling in the Vail’s garden of learning |

Filling in the Vail’s garden of learning

Nathan Rodriguez
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyRoxy Surridge, 2, left, takes a lunch break with fellow toddlers Wednesday at the Children's Garden of Learning in Vail, Colorado.

VAIL, Colorado ” Earlier this year, the Children’s Garden of Learning in Vail, Colorado had two dozen open spaces for toddlers and preschoolers.

Director Robin Henzler attributed the openings to families moving downvalley coupled with rising fuel costs. In the ensuing months, classroom spots filled in as families geared up for the fall.

“At the time, parents told us they wanted to enroll their children, but wanted to wait until after the summer,” she said. “We’re usually full with a waiting list, but right now we still have room for six more kids.”

The Children’s Garden is an inviting atmosphere, with an abundance of natural light and colorful children’s artwork adorning the walls of its entryway. High-pitched voices echo down the halls, and small groups of children are found doing everything from fingerpainting to learning how shadows work to constructing stick figures from a pile of straight and curved planks.

Joanie Semler’s class of preschoolers threw a dance party, and drew the shades near the door as the invigorating sounds of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” coaxed children from a resting position to leaping around the room in a frenzied free-for-all.

With 115 total available classroom spots and 19 part-time teachers, the preschool has a lower student-to-teacher ratio than many others, Henzler said.

“That’s kind of a big deal because it gives the teachers an opportunity to interact on a close personal level with the kids,” Henzler said. “So between that and the curriculum, both the kids and the staff get to explore a full web of knowledge to figure out what they need to know and how they’re going to get there.”

The preschool bases its curriculum on schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, which Newsweek touted as the best in the world in the early 1990s. Loris Malaguzzi founded the approach after World War II, which encourages kids to form relationships with peers while giving them enough space to allow their development to progress naturally.

“One of the best things about working here is being able to see the kids grow up,” Henzler said. “They get more comfortable with socializing, and we’ll watch them go from parallel playing where they’re just near other kids to cooperative playing where they’re more interactive.”

Clara Shattie has taught at the school off and on since 2002, and now has her own two-and-a-half year old daughter attending the Children’s Garden. With plans to move to the northeast in the near future, Shattie said she’ll miss the preschool.

“I wish we could take it to Vermont, because it’s very difficult to find anything that even compares to it,” she said. “There’s just such a great sense of community here. It’s an incredible place to work, and just a nice, positive group of people to work with.”

She said the opportunity to work at her daughter’s school has been invaluable.

“It’s wonderful because I get to know exactly what kind of quality care she’s getting during the day,” Shattie said. “I get to see firsthand what she’s getting, and it’s fun to be a part of it as both a parent and teacher.”

In the past several weeks, students have taken field trips to area fire stations and Vail Square at Arrabelle, and Henzler said they plan to continue exploring the community over the next year.

“We have a great outdoor space and a nature trail here, but we want to get out more and explore some of the bigger buildings in town because our community has a lot of really cool things for the kids to explore and figure out.”

To learn more about the teachers or curriculum at The Children’s Garden of Learning, visit its Web site at

The preschool has a waiting list and will start enrollment for June 2009 in late January. For additional enrollment information, call 476.1420 or email

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