Tucked away in the bustle of Watertown Square sits a place where young children can play, learn and grow.
The Russell Cooperative Preschool opened in 1975 and since the early 2000s it has made its home in the basement of the First Parish of Watertown.
The preschool is big on parent participation, nature and it encourages children to be creative and use their imaginations, said Director Sara Andrikidis.
The cooperative part of the school includes having parents help out at the school regularly.
“One parent a day comes in to help with daily tasks, such as snacks, setting up, clean up and getting beds ready for rest time,” Andrikidis said.
The school serves 3-5 year olds all in the same classroom. Andrikidis said the older children serve as mentors of sorts to the younger ones. Typically there are 15 students each day.
Parents come in about one day month, for each child, said parent Amy Panza, who also serves as the school’s treasurer.
Panza looked at many schools, but Russell felt just right for her children.
“This environment is about growing their imagination without outside influences,” Panza said.
Russell asks its students not to wear clothing with media-created characters on them, and when it comes to play time, they come up with their own characters, rather than looking to those from Disney, Nickelodeon or other places.
The outdoors play a big part in the day for the children, too, Andrikidis said. The school has plenty of green space for students to enjoy.
“Most of the time we are outside at least three times a day,” Andirkidis said. “We go out in almost all weather, unless it is howling or raining. The kids love it.”
Kids enjoy a song and sit in a circle each morning. This is an opportunity for them to share something they have brought to school, too.
Then they head out for an art or craft project. The main classroom is filled with stations and objects they can play with, create their own stories and enjoy with friends.
The children also help prepare the snack for the day. Each day of the week has a different food item, such as apple sauce, bread, soup and porridge. For the apple sauce, for instance, the students will cut up some apples with kid-friendly cutting devices.
One thing Panza noticed about Russell was the calm feeling at the school, which she says translates to home too.
“I think it has had an amazing impact on my kids,” Panza said. “They know how to control themselves. I see it at home.”