Heather Longyear’s Little School on the Farm

Heather and Jack Longyear. (photo by Dion Ogust)

After 34 years of nurturing Woodstock’s preschoolers, Cheryl Chandler graduated her last Supertots class this past spring and moved with her husband to Olivebridge. Much of her play equipment, cubbies, and kid-sized furniture ended up at a farmhouse, not far from the center of Woodstock, where Heather Longyear’s Little School on the Farm is launching its first class of three- and four-year-olds.

Chandler decided to join her husband in retirement and make more time to spend with her grown kids and their children. She leaves Supertots behind with difficulty. But she knows, from having had Longyear as a teaching assistant when the three Longyear children were in Supertots, that she’s handing off the preschool baton to a caring and like-minded teacher.

Both Chandler and Longyear subscribe to the play-based model of learning for young children. “I believe kids, especially at this age, learn through play and exploring nature,” said Longyear, standing on a fenced-in patio furnished with kid-sized picnic tables, looking out at the fields. “We’ll be outside as much as possible. The farm will be part of the curriculum — collecting eggs, feeding goats, tending the garden and greenhouse. We may also do canning and soap-making — the homesteading things my family does in our everyday lives.”

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Her husband, Matt, grew up on the farm, which his grandparents bought in the 1940s. Heather, in her suburban youth, was mesmerized by Charlotte’s Web and Little House on the Prairie, the latter title inspiring the name of her school. “My dream was to live on a farm,” she recalled.

She has a Masters degree in elementary and special education, covering pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. She taught preschool in college and taught public school before her children were born. The youngest of the Longyear children is just starting kindergarten. It’s the perfect time for Heather to launch a preschool, after 11 years of spending most of her time at home with at least one child, and now that Supertots’ closing has left a void in the local preschool universe.

Matt updated the bathroom and kitchen and modified other rooms of the handsome old farmhouse to lay out welcoming spaces for the incoming class. In the playroom, six chairs sit in a semicircle around the fireplace, which is fronted by iron railings. “I have a vision of reading to the kids in front of the fire,” Heather mused. On the other side of the room, a wooden train set sits on a low table, and boxes are stacked on shelves, with labels such as “ Velcro fishing set,” “Beading strings,” and “Shape connecting circles.” Another room has a puppet theater, art supplies, and dress-up clothes.

The first class of six children will attend Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for three hours each morning. Five-day programs are also available. Most of the children now enrolled already know Heather from the Tuesday morning story hour she has been offering and will continue to run until October, with a $5 donation requested. “It’s outdoors,” she said. “I also provide snacks, we do a craft, and we explore the farm.”

For now, she’s happy to start small and work out the kinks as she shapes the school. But new students are definitely welcome.

For more information on Little School on the Farm or the Tuesday story hour, contact Heather Longyear at 845-532-7770 or littleschoolonthefarm@gmail.com.

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