When she went to Wilton High School, she was Libby Voulgarakis; now that she owns and runs Children’s Learning Center, her own childcare school right here in Wilton, you can simply call her “Miss Libby.”
Libby-Ann Longo, a third-generation Wilton native, realized her dream of opening her own daycare this past September, when she founded Children’s Learning Center at 463 Danbury Rd.. As a teacher and director at a few Fairfield County schools over the last 15 years since, she often considered opening her own daycare. Plus, education seems to be a family thing–her husband James Longo is also a Wilton lifer whose mother taught at Cider Mill for 42 years until retiring last year, and her sister-in-law, Melissa Mancl, is now the assistant director at Libby’s school.
Libby said for her, early childhood education runs especially deep. “My first job in high school, I worked at the preschool at the high school that they run as part of their early child development program, for students who want to go into education. And this very place here, back then, was Homespun Learning Environment, and I got an after-school job working here as an assistant preschool teacher.”
When Libby learned that the building had become available, her husband was her biggest encouragement: “He said, ‘You’ve been wanting to do this for years, and now the building where you first worked in the field is open, you have to do it.'”
That was a little over a year ago, and after doing some remodeling and renovations (with help from her contractor husband) they were all set to open by mid-August. But because the state delayed their inspection, the school couldn’t open until after Sept. 16–which unfortunately caused several families to back out. “They needed the Sept. 1 start date, so it’s been a slower start than we’d like.”
The program Libby offers at Children’s Learning Center is a full-time daycare center, with three different classrooms, one each for infants (6 weeks-18 months), toddlers (18 months to 3 years) and preschool (ages 3-5, until kindergarten). “The preschool room is run on a preschool curriculum, so they get the benefit of a pre-K program built into the daily structure.” Libby also said that they’ll adjust for children transitioning between each age group, based on the individual child’s needs and abilities.
“We’re open 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Melissa and I have done this for so long, we pooled all our ideas, and what we liked and didn’t like from every place we’ve worked. As a parent, as director, as a teacher, what would we want. We don’t recommend that a child be in daycare for 11 hours, but being a working mom, we know and are geared to the working parent. We don’t offer partial days, but people have the option to choose 5-days a week, 3-days a week (Mon/Wed/Fri) or 2-days-a-week (Tues/Thurs). We also do drop-off days, so on days when we’re not full, a parent can call and ask if we have openings. We keep a 1-to-4 teacher-to-child ratio.”
Families need to be part of the program and enrolled to take part; enrollment involves making sure all the medical forms are on hand and registering with the school.
Libby said there try to program lots of fun activities, including in-house field trips, Spanish lessons for the preschoolers, and lots of play. “Our philosophy is that children learn as they play. As a mother and as an educator, I’d rather a child go to kindergarten knowing their self-help skills and their social skills. I know other schools feel differently, but there needs to be a good balance of the academic and the social at that age. They really learn from play.”
Play and creativity, she added. “We like to say, if your child doesn’t comes home a mess, they didn’t have a good day,” she said, slightly tongue-in-cheek. “They’re going to finger paint, glitter will be everywhere. We do a lot of non-structured arts-and-crafts. Free imagination.”
In addition to her past experience working at the same spot, one of the positives that drew Libby to the location was the convenience factor for commuting parents. Located right on Danbury Rd., just north of Cannondale and the Wilton High School, it’s very easily accessible–and looks just like a residential house. “I looked at other properties, and a lot of them the playgrounds were fenced in right next to parking lots. A lot of them felt like sterile centers. We really wanted to go for the home-away-from-home feel. It feels like the kids are sitting on their living room floor playing at home. It’s very homey, and when we go outside it’s almost like they’re playing in their own backyard.”
Indeed, there’s a toddler playground, sized just right for them, as well as a separate preschool play space outside. During nice weather, the kids will picnic outside as well. There is a sprawling back deck in addition to the backyard; Libby said it’s great for everything from letting the babies play in exersaucers on nice days to having a place for the kids to be outside if the ground is too damp after an overnight rain. “The deck was a big selling point, because it’s too hard not to have outdoor time, and it’s approved for all age groups.”
There are other factors that make Miss Libby’s program stand apart from other local daycare programs: Children’s Learning Center is open year round, save for one week in August and one week at Christmas. That means that they don’t close according to when the Wilton Schools close, which is frequently, compared to working parents’ schedules. “We really meet the needs of working parents. And we do offer drop-off days. Our prices are really good for what we have to offer, after doing a lot of research on what other childcare centers charge. I know from experience as a working parent. I did the lowest tuition to still keep afloat, because I really think it’s important,” she said, adding “We also accept Care 4 Kids, a state program that supplements childcare expenses, and I don’t think a lot of other programs in town do.”
To find out more about the available openings and programs at Children’s Learning Center, visit their website or call 203.762.2863.