Clare Winn opened Crozet PlaySchool last year in the basement of her home in Old Trail and took in six toddlers. Now she’s moving to a classroom in Crozet Baptist Church on St. George Avenue and expanding her enrollment to 13 children.
“I got into it for the educational side, not for day care,” said Winn, who earned a B.S. and M.Ed. in early childhood education from Virginia Tech and taught in schools in Fairfax, Albemarle and Charlottesville before settling in Crozet four years ago. “I like the earlier ages. Early childhood is my passion.”
When she began scouting for a new location in Crozet with commercial zoning but a house-like setting—with not much luck—the county’s social service agency suggested that she investigate the possibility of setting up in a church, which can be well-suited for the use.
“Crozet Baptist was very enthusiastic,” said Winn. She will have a large classroom in the church’s 1993 addition, plus an outdoor playground, a grassy yard, two gardening beds, and an asphalted surface. There’s a bathroom connected to the classroom and a kid-height sink. Winn said she will take field trips into downtown from the church.
County building and state social services officials have inspected and approved the facility.
“I’m eclectic. I was trained in Reggio Emilia—from Italy—when I was in college. We went on a 10-day visit to schools in Reggio, in northern Italy. It was transformative for me. It changed how I view education.
“Reggio Emilia is about the image of the child. Children come with a lot of knowledge and our job is to guide them and follow their interests. We view the child as a capable, competent learner.
“I take children where they are and then we scaffold up to the next level. I do a lot of play-based things, building with blocks, dramatic play like “kitchen” or “vet’s office,” and sensory play like making play-dough. It changes every two weeks. It keeps them engaged. It’s not playing with the same set of blocks all year. I’m very enthusiastic about it.”
All ages are together in the classroom.
“A big part of the week is process art, using materials without a set outcome. There’s not a craft at the end. It’s open-ended. The things that leave here don’t look the same.
“I’m really inspired by the Montessori style. I’ve read a lot about it and the practical life skills they do. The kids [at Crozet PlaySchool] wash their glassware and nothing has been broken. They treat things with respect.
“No screens,” said Winn. “I don’t believe in screen time. They can’t have it with me.” She stresses music and dancing. “We’re outside a lot, too, and we do reading aloud.” Winn uses a handwriting program to develop the children’s ability to make print letters.
“I use what’s called responsive classroom, a mini-version. We start the morning with a meeting, a greeting time with a rhyme. And we have a student share time.”
The school provides a healthy snack, has parent-teacher conferences and Winn blogs regularly about what’s happening in school.
The school follows the Albemarle school calendar and next year will start on August 26. Her hours are from 8:30 to noon weekdays. She will have an assistant when she moves to the new space
“I think demand is high from new families and there’s not really a lot of preschools,” said Winn, who has three children, the oldest of whom is a first grader. She expects her students to go on to public schools. “I know what they need to be ready for kindergarten.”
She has a few spots still open. Children must be three to five years old and potty-trained. For more information, visit the school’s website, crozetplayschool.com or call 434-242-8424.