Estes Children’s Cottage

Our center continues to be a popular choice for child care in large part because of our backyard-type play area with a hill, sand pit, mud kitchen, loose parts, and a thicket of bamboo.

Even before, but also more so throughout the pandemic, we have been a haven for our families in part due to our emphasis on outdoor play, interactions with nature, and our location next to a 15-acre nature park with walking trails and a creek that the children visit weekly. Breakfast and snack are eaten outdoors by all children and one group has lunch on the front porch as well. Celebrating our 17th year of year-round operation, we continue our tradition of not missing a day of outdoor play, thanks in part to our muddie-buddies.

We were selected to be participants in “Grow Fresh” , a program through the Orange County Partnership for Children. From them we received a grant for expanding our outdoor gardening efforts. The funds helped in restoring our outdoor watering system which enabled us to access water more easily than carrying buckets from inside the house. We have raised planting beds and exchanged information with other centers, getting new ideas on how to expand our outdoor gardening. We grew tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as many herbs, and this year the children have eaten some right off the vines, while others have made it into the kitchen, to be chopped or sliced and served to all the children at lunch. One of our teachers made a salsa with the tomatoes, zucchini, and dill, for everyone to have a taste the day we were having soft tacos. In the fall we were given tips, plants, and seeds for cooler weather gardening, extending the interest in growing vegetables.

With their expanded time outside, the children have really enjoyed the mud kitchen and we gave it a re-furbish, with a microwave, toaster oven, and 2 new sinks, all discards we had salvaged. We always have sidewalk chalk available, and the children created a new use for it on their own, by taking small graters and shaving it onto their gourmet creations in the mud kitchen. In the winter the mittens have come in for wash covered with bright colored shavings, so they are going through a lot of chalk! We also cleaned out my spice cabinet of items several years old and the children have also utilized these for their outdoor cooking.

One parent participatory activity we did was for our annual anniversary celebration in December. In keeping with Covid protocols, our celebration has been all outdoors, with an art gallery of the children’s work on our front porch, and then offering a guided hike through the woods of the trails the children take adjacent to our backyard Almost all families participated, and they trekked with their children for about an hour, seeing the areas the children talk about after “hike day” every week. Since the families have not been coming into the classroom, we were quite happy with the participation and this chance to show the families a big part of their children’s weekly experience.