By Jessica Lovell
Local co-operative nursery school Lilliput Land is coming up on its 40th anniversary, but waning enrolment means it might not make it to the milestone.
“It’s not a unique issue to Lilliput Land,” said nursery school board president Amanda Foster. “With the introduction of full-day kindergarten, the whole world is changing.”
The nursery school runs a half-day program for children ranging in age from two to five, but legislation dictates how many toddlers – ages two to 2 1/2 – are allowed in the program. The majority of the kids in the school are in the older age range. They’re kids that also qualify for publicly funded kindergarten programs. When full-day kindergarten began to be offered in local schools, enrolment at Lilliput dropped, said Foster. That is before full-day kindergarten is available city-wide.
“Next year, all of the schools in Guelph will be offering the full-day kindergarten, and so we can only expect our numbers to decline,” she said.
Declining enrolment means a declining bank balance, and the school’s board may decide to close rather than operating in a state of financial uncertainty.
“We want to be sure that we have the funds required to open the school,” Foster said, noting that the school will have no problem making it to the end of June.
The school, which operates at St. Andrew’s church downtown, is hosting a registration open house on Saturday March 1 from 10 a.m. to noon, and it is hoping to make a decision by mid-March about whether there will be sufficient enrolment to open again in the fall, said Foster.
“If we wait until September . . . there’s no way I would be comfortable telling the parents, ‘I’m sorry. We have to close,’” she said.
The school wants to give its families time to find an alternative placement, she said.
Foster estimates Lilliput’s closure would affect about a dozen families, not all of which bring their kids every day.
Alisha Zoethout and her son Ryker are one such family.
If Lilliput closes, they won’t be stranded, said Zoethout, noting her parents can look after Ryker. But part of the reason she decided to take Ryker – an only child – to the school was to give him a chance to socialize with other kids and to build his confidence as a transition into kindergarten.
“I think it is important as a stepping stone – especially going into full-day kindergarten,” Zoethout said.
The other reason she chose Lilliput is that it is where she went when she was a little girl.
“It was fun, and that is what I remember most about it,” she said. “It was a good experience, and I wanted my son to have that.”
Foster is hoping there are more parents like Zoethout out there who went to Lilliput when they were kids and would consider bringing their kids there as well.
But Foster acknowledges, “a lot of parents that are looking for care are doing so because they are working,” and Lilliput cannot provide full-time care, she said.
Daycare regulations are stringent, and she school’s current place in St. Andrew’s church does not meet requirements for a licensed full-day program, even if the school believed going full-day would solve its low-enrolment issue, Foster said.
The school can accept charitable donations, but that is not an ideal way to stay open, said Foster, noting “we want to be able to continue to be self-sustaining.”
Instead, she’s hoping that people will come out and find out about what the day- care world can offer.
For Lilliput, this includes small class sizes – a total of 16 spots – and two dedicated early childhood educators, flexibility on the number of days kids attending, and a chance for parents to play an active role in the organization.
The environment is “enriching” and offers a nice transition into a school environment, says Foster, noting she hopes the school makes it to its 40th anniversary.
“We would love to be able to start the new year with a full crop of kids,” she said.
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By Jessica Lovell
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