by Alison Bailey
Sequoia Hartman’s northeast Olympia childcare center and preschool, Sequoia’s Treehouse, was in an unusually fortunate position when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in our community in March.
As our community continues to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, few sectors are more tenuous than childcare. Parents need to work to support their families, and not every parent has a job that allows them to work from home. Single-parent families and families with two working parents need childcare.
Sequoia’s Treehouse is a childcare center and preschool with one mission that outshines any other: Get kids outside. Owner Sequoia Hartman is a passionate advocate for outdoor learning from a young age. “Being outside helps kids learn in different ways,” Sequoia explains. “It helps their immune systems and their mental health, among many other benefits.”
This is why Sequoia bought a four-acre farm a year and a half ago. She had already been running a half-day school program at the farm when the pandemic arrived. Prior to COVID-19, she was uncertain about whether she could fill a full-day outdoor learning program. She had hoped to enroll 10 or 15 four- to seven-year-olds. As of mid-August, she is at capacity with 40 students enrolled and ready to start in September.
In addition to the fact that so much of her curriculum keeps kids outside, Sequoia attributes her success thus far to a number of other factors. One is the physical layout of her facility. She has seen many childcare centers where all of the rooms are connected so that you have to pass through one or more rooms to get to another.
Her facility has unconnected rooms accessed through hallways. She suspects this may help keep germs from spreading more freely.
She also had very stringent cleaning and sanitation policies in place prior to the pandemic. She and her staff have doubled down on keeping floors, handles and surfaces clean. They are also closely adhering to the state’s face covering guidelines. Any adult inside the building must wear a mask, including parents during drop off and pick up. Children do not have to wear a mask and adults may remove theirs outdoors. The hand sanitizer flows freely.
Sequoia feels extremely fortunate to be in the position she is in as a childcare provider. Currently, she has roughly 80 slots filled with 115 available in her childcare center and preschool. “This is not the trend in this industry,” she emphasizes. “Centers are closing, even corporate ones. This is a struggle for many if not most of people who own childcare businesses.”
“Aside from the masks and more cleaning, not that much has changed for us,” Sequoia goes on. She acknowledges that there is an inherent risk in bringing groups of humans of any age together but feels strongly that outdoor childcare and education programs like hers are a viable option to keep children healthy, engaged and learning as we move into an uncertain future.
“It’s hard to change people’s minds about how their children are being educated,” Sequoia goes on. “I hope that because of COVID-19, we as a country can find a way to make a shift toward getting kids of all ages out of classrooms and into nature with the help of more farm and forest schools.”
For more info about Sequoia’s Treehouse and to inquire about enrollment, call 360-742-3651 or visit sequoiastreehouse.com.