Kinderfarm Preschool, a nature-based early learning center in Iowa City, is looking for a new owner. Heather Norman, the owner of the preschool since 1993, said she is ready to pass her role on to someone new.
The early learning center is open to children ages 3 to 6. The program focuses on teaching children about nature and how to care for it, alongside traditional academic teachings like reading, writing, and mathematics.
Norman said every day, students and staff go out to the barn and help with daily chores for the animals, as well as the garden when it’s blooming. Children are also taught how to care for plants by gardening during the warmer months.
The program hasn’t changed much since 1973 when Jim and Phyllis Tucker opened the preschool. The students still go horseback riding, feed the pigs, grow vegetables, and explore the 20 acres of land that Kinderfarm owns. One of the many unique things about Kinderfarm is there are no TVs or computers, Norman said.
“We believe the best way for kids to learn is to actually have the touching, smelling, and looking at nature experiences rather than pencil and paper drills and sitting in front of a computer,” Norman said.
Norman hopes the next person to take over Kinderfarm will keep the learning center alive, she said.
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In 2023, if someone takes on the challenge of running the preschool, it will have been in operation for 50 years. Norman said this is one reason she hopes someone buys it.
“We’ve had so many families come through our door, and we’ve started to see kids that I had and their kids are now coming here,” Norman said. “It’s really impressive.”
Some parents with children enrolled at Kinderfarm are worried about the decision to sell the learning center.
Alta Medea-Peters, an Iowa City resident and parent, sent her first child to Kinderfarm almost 10 years ago. Her second child is currently enrolled at the preschool. She said she wanted to make sure both of her children experience the magic of Kinderfarm.
With the future of the preschool uncertain, Medea-Peters said she is concerned about where she will send her youngest son to preschool.
“My kiddos have always been exhausted afterward and can’t wait to go back,” Medea-Peters said. “Both boys have cried when it’s time to leave, and I think that’s a sign that it’s a magical place.”
Tessa Swenson, an Iowa City resident, has two children currently enrolled at Kinderfarm. This was the first year Swenson had her children go to the preschool and she said it has exceeded her expectations so far.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “There’s just so much for the kids to do there to learn and grow.”
Despite loving the preschool, Norman selling the preschool doesn’t worry Swenson. What worries her is the possibility of someone not purchasing the preschool and it being shut down, she said.
“It’d be amazing if they were able to sell and continue the preschool,” Swenson said.
Because of the pandemic, more school-age children have attended Kinderfarm, Norman said. The kids would do their schoolwork in the morning and in the afternoon participate in Kinderfarm activities.
Kinderfarm introduced a buddy system, where one school-age child would be partnered with a preschool-aged child and perform daily farm chores together. Norman said the kids enjoyed it and she hopes the new owners expand it even more.
Norman added that she would be willing to stay on temporarily to help ease any concerns parents have and to help the new owners get settled into life on the Kinderfarm.
“My big hope is that it lives on,” Norman said. “This is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. You live and breathe Kinderfarm 24/7, and it’ll take a very dedicated person to run it.”