CC Alum Shannon Harrison Taking the Reins at Children's Garden Preschool

Passing on a nature of nurture
Hotchkiss, Parsons retire from Children's Garden

Nancy Hotchkiss and Connie Parsons have been the figures that many young and eagerto-learn faces have grown up seeing over the last 35 years at The Children's Garden Preschool.

The two women have come to an age where they are now teaching the children of those they taught decades ago. And even though the preschool has always been more like an extended family, the women have decided the time has come to retire.

"I feel so lucky to have been a part of this for so many years," Hotchkiss said. "I think it's just time."

Parsons said she is looking forward to a slower-paced life with more time and flexibility to spend with her own grandson.

"My next plan is to not make any plans for a while," Hotchkiss laughed.

The Children's Garden Preschool has been a fixture of the community for more than 40 years, and for at least 35 years of its history, the school has been in the hands of Hotchkiss and Parsons. The women purchased the preschool from its former owner, Noele Clews, in 1979. Coincidentally both from Connecticut, Hotchkiss and Parsons met in graduate school at the University of New Hampshire. The original school was opened in 1973 and housed in a pink Victorian on South Street, but has been located at 290 Peverly Hill Road since 1982.

"It's the people," Parsons said of what she will miss most. "Any place we go, we're always running into parents or former kids. We get to see what they chose to do for their lives. It makes us feel really connected to the community."

Parents feel bittersweet about the retirement.

"I think it's so very sad," said parent Shawn Blakey. "We're happy for them, but they've created quite a legacy in the community. It's such a warm and friendly environment that breeds creativity."

Blakey's daughter, Norah, 5, said of her teachers, "I love them! It's going to be a whole new adventure at kindergarten." Her little brother, Callan, 3, will start at Children's Garden in the fall.

Taking the reigns as of June 11, Shannon Harrison is "feeling very excited." Harrison grew up in Portsmouth and sent her own son, Shea, now 8, to The Children's Garden. "Nancy and Connie have built a wonderful program here," she said.

Harrison has been teaching at an integrated preschool in West Newbury, Mass., for 18 years, but is looking forward to working closer to home. A Dondero and Portsmouth High School graduate, she studied elementary and early childhood education at Rollins College in Florida and Cambridge College in Massachusetts. Her professional development has primarily been in special needs and literacy.

"I just love little ones," she said of her desire to pursue a career in early childhood education. "They have that natural sense of inquiry and love to learn and play."

Harrison particularly loves the way in which learning at Children's Garden is very "art-, nature- and playbased." She intends to keep with the philosophy of the school.

"It's sad, but it's wonderful the school will continue on," said art teacher Gretchen Sargent. "(The school) has always allowed me to be creative and express myself with the kids. I found a family here."

Parent Erin Trainer agreed the school is "very homey." "We fell in love with it," she said, adding that her son, Dean, started attending this past school year. "It's like dropping him off at a relative's."

Nicholas Tsetsilas, 7, said what he liked most about the school was "making friends." His sister Zoe, 10, remembered her favorite memory was the hanging doughnut game at Halloween each year.

"It's a very, very nurturing school," said their mother, Paula Tsetsilas. "They have a wonderful philosophy, so much teaching through play."

In addition to throwing a retirement get-together, many of the parents collaborated to assemble two memory books and purchase a birdhouse in Hotchkiss and Parsons' honor. The memory books contain notes from families and a class picture from each of the 35 years the women have owned the business.

To learn more about The Children's Garden and its teaching philosophies, visit www.childrensgardennh.com.