On Tuesday morning, in a renovated house tucked in the back of Hood College’s campus, about 10 toddlers sat around a table painting pictures of a pig.
This month’s theme at the Georgetown Hill Early School they attend is “farm,” and all learning and play is based on it.
Georgetown Hill Early School took up residence on Hood’s campus in September and will host an open house Saturday.
The preschool program has been around since 1980 and operates exclusively in Maryland, with locations from Hyattsville to Clarksburg, and now the Hood College Lab School in Frederick.
Georgetown Hill’s philosophy is play-based learning, said Emily Adesina, director of the Hood location.
“We incorporate all of the great skills that children need to be kindergarten ready ... through play-based activities,” Adesina said. “So they might be learning their letter names and sounds, but instead of doing it on a worksheet, we might have them digging through a sensory bin of beans to find their letters and identify them.”
When learning about farms, for example, concepts are introduced at the most basic level but all through play, such as a market that will be set up with a toy cash register so students can start to understand commerce and the exchange of goods; or a farm-building station for them to learn social and critical thinking skills.
Adesina explained that the school has found this model increases student engagement and overall success.
“They’re having fun. Play is what they want to be doing. ... So incorporating the learning into that increases student engagement and decreases behavior challenges in the classroom, because it’s naturally what children at this age are looking to do,” Adesina said.
For Katherine Heyser, a more educational focus was exactly what she wanted for her 2-year-old son, Noah.
“We wanted more than just a typical day care center for him. We wanted him to have learning,” Heyser said, adding that she knew she wanted to enroll Noah at Georgetown Hill pretty much from the moment she walked in.
“We were so impressed with the environment,” Heyser said. “And [Noah] just seemed so happy and comfortable in the classroom. The teachers got down on his level during the tour to introduce themselves, and it was just exactly what we’re looking for.”
Besides the welcoming environment and focused programming, Heyser said the biggest selling point for her and her husband, who both hold full-time jobs, was the scheduling options.
Georgetown Hill is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and parents can choose how many days of the week their child attends and what hours.
“A lot of preschool programs are not really conducive to parents that work full time,” Heyser said. “A lot of them have maybe a three-day-a-week program, but it ends at 2 o’clock. This one offered kind of a great combination of the extended hours for us.”
Adesina said this is key to the mission of Georgetown Hill.
“We really try to be flexible to the modern family,” Adesina said.
Peter Cromwell, CEO of Georgetown Hill Early School, agreed, saying the former Onica Prall pre-K program that occupied the space offered limited scheduling and that was something they really wanted to change coming in.
“Hood has always had a great reputation but has always had scheduling limitations that weren’t all the convenient for working families ... so to us that was sort of the first opportunity to make these kinds of choices available,” Cromwell said.
Cost of attendance depends on scheduling. Attending full time, five days a week costs $1,175 and full time per month, three days a week costs $760 a month. For the half-day program, five days a week costs $775 a month and three days costs $500 a month.
Adesina said the school does offer financial aid to families.
Leigh Adams, whose 3-year-old daughter, Evie, attends Georgetown Hill, said not only was the scheduling flexibility a plus, but that she was also impressed by the level of communication she receives from the school, especially through an app the school uses called “Kid Reports.”
Through the app, families can receive updates on their child throughout the day on everything from the activities they’re doing to snack or nap time information, Adesina said.
“Every day we get a report,” Adams said. “And it really provides us the opportunity at dinnertime to talk about the day and what [Evie] learned and ask questions, and that’s been really rewarding for us.”
The school does not provide breakfast or lunch but a morning and afternoon snack and works with a nutrition specialist to develop healthful options.
There is also a bilingual teacher on staff, and Spanish language is worked in throughout the day, Adesina said.
“It’s not just a day scare program,” she said, echoing the testaments made by many parents whose children are enrolled.
Adesina said she hopes the open house on Saturday will show parents what Georgetown Hill can provide.
“There’s not a lot of preschool programs out there that are really education-focused ... with great teachers and that are full day,” Adesina said.
Heyser agreed, saying she felt there were a lack of options present in the county.
“After touring and doing a lot of research, I have not found anything that has met all the criteria I was looking for like Georgetown Hill has. ... The whole environment is very different than what I have found is offered in Frederick,” she said.
Adesina said the goal of the school is to eventually expand. Currently operating only on the first floor of the house, Adesina said they eventually hope to expand to the second floor and open two more classrooms.
“The first year is kind of pulling up our sleeves,” Adesina said. “We want to meet the community’s preschool needs, but we also want to be a part of the community as a whole. ... We want to be at a place where we’re connected in the community.”
Fifteen children are currently enrolled, and about half are full time five days a week. Adesina said the school will operate on a rolling enrollment basis for the rest of the school year.