On an 11-acre property with trails that lead to the waterfront, running through forests and fields of flowers, renovations are underway for a new business. While it may sound like a nature conservation centre, it’s actually a daycare.
Stepping Stone Early Learning Academy is set to open this fall and has a capacity for 50 children with ages ranging from about 15 months to 5 years. Anya Kerr, director of the daycare, founded the centre with her husband, Rob. The centre will offer child care with an emphasis on art and nature, teaching children in both indoor and outdoor classrooms at their location in Gravenhurst.
“Our centre is located on 11 acres of forest right beside the Muskoka Wharf,” Kerr said, adding that the property has direct lake access, swampy ground and forest area as well as open fields with wildflowers. “There are lots of opportunities for kids to explore different environments and habitat, and really learn about wildlife in a very hands on way.”
Kerr was born and raised on farms in Alberta and later designed an outdoor program for children on an organic farm in the Slocan Valley in British Columbia. It was a gardening program in which the children learned about plants while also helping to raise chickens and other animals.
“All the kids would be very actively involved in going to get the eggs for breakfast in the morning and picking vegetables out of the garden every day,” she said. “It was just such a fulfilling role for the children. You could see that they really benefited positively from the connectivity and learning about food so directly.”
The connection to food promotes healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices, she said, which ties into the centre’s plan to serve a menu of kid favourites with a healthy twist. Her background with children as well as her and her husband’s mutual devotion to family is what led them to consider opening a daycare, and it’s something they had been talking about for years before coming to Muskoka.
“We really wanted to do something for our community, it just took us a little bit to find where our community was,” Kerr said. “Now that we’ve settled here in Muskoka, we have decided that this is the place.”
While researching the possibility of opening a centre, they discovered a desperate need for more child care spaces in the community, so they decided it was the right time to make the daycare a reality. The centre’s Gravenhurst location is perfect for the program’s emphasis on nature as well as their focus on the arts.
Along with their regular child care hours, the centre plans to start offering more programs over time, including art lessons, dance classes and gardening workshops for people of all ages. The centre is also looking to offer PA Day programs for school-aged children to help parents keep their schedules when their kids have days off.
Kerr will be announcing an open house once renovations are complete so that interested parents and families can visit the centre, which she hopes will be a place to celebrate family and foster community.
“We’re really trying to go above and beyond just being a daycare centre,” she said. “We want to be a community hub where families can come together and reconnect with one another [as well as] reconnect with their community.”