LITCHFIELD — Cassandra Hotchkiss (AKA Mrs. H) is moving about the Litchfield School House on the grounds of Litchfield’s First Congregational Church on a Saturday morning. She greets and chats with those visiting the new pre-kindergarten facility, accepting their well wishes and answering questions about the school, which opened formally on Feb. 3. Children are moving about the cozy space playing games and trying out the teaching tools.
Hotchkiss, an energetic woman who is quick to smile, is naturally excited about her new educational venture, although she fights off a bit of nerves.
“You always feel some nervousness about beginning something new, but I’m confident we will have a successful school. We are just starting out and we have six children enrolled thus far and are still accepting applications. We can serve up to19 youngsters and parents can choose to bring their children to us, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays or on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
The day at the Litchfield School House starts at 9 a.m., concludes at 1 p.m., and will run from September through June. The calendar will follow that of the Litchfield school system, and Hotchkiss is hoping to have a summer program that is not yet etched in stone. Admission is offered to students 2.8 to 5 years of age.
Hotchkiss, who will be assisted by her mother, Donna Andersen, who taught for a number of years in the Thomaston school system, is taking a, well, let’s say, fun approach to educating young children.
“We believe learning for young children should be enjoyable for them and that a child’s first learning experience should be engaging, educational and fun.” She believes children will learn through play, gaining an understanding of colors, shapes, letters, numbers, and beginning sight words.
Thus, each center, project and circle time at the school is based upon Connecticut Early Learning and Development Standards. Each month, teachers will focus in on three standards from the CTELDS. Teachers decide what standards will be implemented based on what students are learning and the needs of the students. For example, if students are learning songs for a holiday performance, one standard the teachers will focus on will be music. If the teachers notice students are struggling with letter identification, another standard to focus on will be language and literacy. Students are observed throughout the day. Specific projects and two circle times are used to teach letter recognition and monthly themes. A third circle time is used to reinforce a letter, color or theme we learned that day.
The daily schedule will include indoor and outdoor physical activities, which allows for fine and gross motor development. The daily schedule includes opportunities for problem-solving experiences that help to formulate language development and sensory discrimination. Children have the opportunity to express their own ideas and feelings through creative experiences through a wide variety of activities and learning experiences ranging from the arts and media to field trips and guest visitors. For outside activity, there is a playground to the rear of the Litchfield School House.
The Litchfield School House’s kindergarten enrichment program is offered to students who are kindergarten-bound for the following school year. This program occurs during the centers portion of the day on Monday and Thursday. The purpose of the school readiness program is for the children to understand rhyming words, identify words and write those words. Students who are not entering kindergarten will either have extra outside time or a gross motor activity in a gross motor indoor area.
Every month, children will be introduced to a new author, learning about that author and the different characters in books he or she writes about. The school’s first visiting author will be James Dean, author of the “Pete the Cat” series. In the yoga program, a certified yoga instructor will come in twice a month to teach children about the benefits of yoga. The school is collaborating with the animal rescue foundation Little Guild, which allows it to sponsor one of the Guild’s rescued animals that will visit the classroom a few times throughout the school year. There will also be several field trips each school year,
Hotchkiss said, “We love to know what interests each child and incorporate those interests with our learning.” The Litchfield resident has been teaching for 14 years. For six years, she taught as a substitute teacher in the Thomaston Public Schools, mostly in a pre-school class taught by her mom at the time. She also worked in preschool classrooms, in art and music classrooms and with children with special needs. While working as a substitute teacher, she taught English and fashion marketing courses at Briarwood College. For seven years, she taught preschool at School on the Green. She also holds an Associate’s Degree in Fashion Marketing, a Bachelor’s Degree in English and her Head Teacher certificate for preschool. She is also CPR and First Aid certified.
Having worked with children of various ages, Hotchkiss realized she “belonged” in a preschool classroom, and knew it was time to launch her own educational facility.
“A friend who is youth director at the First Congregational Church told me about this space and I decided that it would be perfect for what I wanted to do,” she explained. “It has a great location being so close to routes 202, 118 and 254, but we are hidden from the street. I’m hoping to draw children from all around the area.”
Litchfield resident Alexis Crelin, whose son, Arthur is a student at the Litchfield School House, is excited about the opening of the facility. “I’m really looking forward to the kindergarten readiness program. I worked with Cassandra in the past and it’s wonderful to have a new school in town.”
Christine Chizinski of Bantam has her daughter, Scarlet, enrolled. “Once we knew Cassandra was going to open the school we knew we wanted to bring Scarlet here. Being only three, she hasn’t had a lot of interaction with other children and this will be wonderful for her.”
For more information, or to register visit https://thelitchfieldschoo.wixsite.com/thelitchfieldschool, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.