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The Natural Pod team is still talking about how incredible our visit to the first Vancouver rooftop childcare centre was. It was the grand opening of ‘The Village’, the sixth childcare program implemented by Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House. The Village occupies the whole 20,000 square foot rooftop space of the new Lord Nelson Elementary School, and is an incredible, thoughtfully designed space with a huge outside play area that the kids just love. 

We’ve been working with Anna Cuomo, the Director of childcare at Frog Hollow for nearly 10 years now and it’s such a joy to see what Anna and her team have achieved over that time. Frog Hollow runs multiple community programs for children, adults and seniors, and they really do create community and bring it together. They now have six childcare programs, including The Village, that span daycare, pre-school, and out of school care, and they all hold to the Reggio teaching and learning philosophy. 

By joining in the celebration of the opening of this new centre, not only did we get to meet the educators and see the great work they are doing, we had the chance to catch up with Anna and The Village’s lead educator, Ileana Gavrila, and talk about why they feel the play and learning environment is so important, and the positive role Natural Pod furniture plays in the Frog Hollow childcare spaces.

Here is what Anna Cuomo, Director of Childcare, and Ileana Gavrila, lead educator, had to say:

“The Village is our newest childcare centre and is very community centred, we have 93 spaces caring for infants to school aged children here with parents being very involved as well. We wanted to have Natural Pod furniture in this location too because we love the flexibility it offers us. For example, particularly the tables, they allow us to use them separately or connect them together. In each of the programs, we’ve seen them being frequently rearranged and they’re constantly in use by children and by adults. In our toddler program it was really great to see the two smaller tables being able to be placed together to make one big table. And in our preschool program we’ve had those Natural Pod tables there for six years, so many people and children have come through that space and the tables have given them the opportunity to use it in many different ways. Sometimes the furniture is used together or separately for months, then other times just a few days, and having smaller tables that can easily be made into one big long one if needed, well I just love that flexibility, it makes a big difference in the program and it’s so nice to have that choice. I’m also particularly impressed with the longevity and durability of the table tops, as they go through extreme wear and tear. They have to deal with markers, watercolours, crayons, craft projects, and they hold up beautifully to all of it.

Another reason it all works so well is because the tables and benches are so easy to move around. When we have our annual celebration event, and also our pumpkin patch event around the same time, all the furniture gets moved out of all the rooms to make space, and it gets moved on and off trucks for all the different programs. We’ve had much of our Natural Pod furniture for 6 years so it’s been moved many times, so it’s a real testament to its durability. For the pumpkin patch event we actually move the furniture outside and it becomes part of the event with a thousand people coming through during that time and the furniture has stood up to that and being constantly in use.

When I consider the play and learning of the children across our different programs, the furniture definitely plays a big part, as our approach at Frog Hollow when it comes to the environment, is we consider it the third teacher, so we are very intentional about our furniture choices. What I do like about the Natural Pod furniture in comparison to any other options is the lines – the design has very clean lines, which does invite flexibility not only for us but for the children because, for example, a table doesn’t just have to be a table, it could be something else, like a house, and the benches often become writing tables, and it’s great to be able to add play invitations to them. Like right now we have a bench which the children have just made it into a fort with the addition of a couple of pillows.

I think having the lines very clean and very simple really helps with the flexibility. It’s always changing depending who’s in the program, whether children or educators or families so it’s nice to be able to have those options and programs have the opportunities to change or evolve as well. Even the different programs we run in different locations may have the same furniture but they look completely different because the furniture is, and can be used in such different ways. I would also say the furniture is very calming for any child that comes into the space as it’s not loud. I think the intentional use of the color is really calming and grounding within the rooms and the environment. It promotes group play.

Some of the children came here to The Village from Kids World – which is one of our out of school care programs, mostly grade 2 to 6 – and they were very inspired by the set up and environment here, so when they went back to Kids World they asked if they could move the furniture around there, and of course we said yes. It was wonderful to see them take ownership of their space and really thrive in that experience.

Actually, when we first got the Natural Pod furniture 6 years ago I remember we were concerned at the beginning whether it would work for school age children, but who was I kidding, the school-age children can easy move everything themselves and they will often put all the tables together and use them as one to create a single big table where they’re having their own meetings, it’s just beautiful to see. And even the educators use them too for their own meetings.

We keep using Natural Pod furniture for any new program we create because it works, and it lasts, and it’s beautiful, and it’s non-institutional, and I’d really love to see it more in school environments replacing those out of date rows of desks. I think every child and educator would benefit so much from having the opportunities it provides.”

Thank you to Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House for inviting us to the grand opening of this incredible new rooftop childcare centre. It was wonderful to see the commitment that has gone into creating The Village and the impact it’s having on the community as well as the children in its care; congratulations!  And thank you to Anna and Ileana for sharing your time and experiences with us.

From left to right:  Ileana Gavrila, lead educator at The Village; Bridgitte Alomes, CEO and founder of Natural Pod; Anna Cuomo, Director of Childcare at Frog Hollow; and Shannon Logan, Director of Operations at Natural Pod.

The official grand opening of The Village, the newest of Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House childcare programs.