By Darlene Donloe
BALDWIN HILLS — The Little Urban Farmers Learning Space offers a different kind of preschool learning experience for children.
Shaunte Taylor, a Los Angeles native with more than 20 years of experience in the child care industry, is the owner and founding director of the creative space, which has earned a reputation for offering high-quality care for little people between the ages of 2 and 4.
A forward-thinking child care provider, Taylor, who is married with two children, believes in nurturing “the whole child.”
At Little Urban Farmers Learning Space, it’s about being creative, having fun, and supporting children’s curiosity through hands-on learning.
For instance, the children learn about farm animals and how to incubate chickens. There are four chickens on the premises that Taylor said the kids see go through their life cycles.
“One chicken died and we had to explain death,” Taylor said. “We start from what they know or don’t know. We, of course, fully communicate with the parents as well before explaining to the kids that the chicken is not coming back and that it was due to natural causes.”
There also was a goldfish that met its demise.
“When the goldfish died, we asked the children if they wanted to flush it down the toilet or bury it,” Taylor said. “We told the kids that we would do whatever the majority decides. They decided to bury the goldfish. It felt like ownership with the kids. That’s important.”
Throughout the school year, Little Urban Farmers, which has been open throughout the pandemic with a reduced number of kids, has a dual-language learning program designed to encourage early language development in both Spanish and English. Children also participate in a multitude of cultural experiences, such as learning how to play musical instruments and tasting different foods from around the world. They also take school field trips as part of the curriculum.
One such trip was a spring exploration to Home Depot, where the students learned the difference between indoor and outdoor plants. Taylor said she wanted to explain the difference “in person” because it “visually gives them a better understanding.”
“My vision for this space was to introduce children and the community to urban living, farming, learning fruits and vegetables, and more,” Taylor said. “From the farm to the pre-school, I wanted to introduce a fruit or vegetable every month to children. I then want to cook with the various foods.”
After going to an apple orchard where the kids picked apples, Taylor said she then cooked applesauce and apple pie.
“The kids then learn whether an apple is a fruit or a vegetable,” she said. “They learn if the skin is edible. Then I tie in math. I ask the students, ‘How many can you share this with?’”
When it comes to vegetables, Taylor said she starts off with seedling plants that are compostable. Students water the seeds every day.
“The goal is for each child to have a garden to take home at the end of the year,” Taylor said. “That was the vision.”
In 1997, when the business was called Ethan and Friends Family Daycare Inc., it started off as a child care facility and an after-school program. Six years later, Taylor changed the name to Little Urban Farmers Learning Space and it became a creative preschool.
Taylor lived her childhood over again through the kids. She decided to incorporate things she didn’t get to do as a kid into the program because she wanted her students “to experience as much as possible.”
“We’ve done manicures and pedicures and massages,” Taylor said. “There are some things that families don’t have the time or the money to do. It was the first time they had been to a nail shop. From that experience, they have great memories.”
Taylor prides herself and the learning space in making sure the students get diverse exposure.
“They are getting social skills,” she said. “If they don’t get skills, it means nothing. If you have no social skills, you are limited and you won’t go far. They are little people, but they can think.”
Pre-COVID, Taylor’s students numbered around 14. Since COVID, the number of students has been cut in half. Masks and temperature checks are part of the protocol before kids can enter the school and before they go home.
Taylor admits social distancing didn’t work out so well. No sick children are allowed at the Little Urban Farmers Learning Space.
Little Urban Farmers Learning Space has four staff members. Students can be signed up to attend for two, three, or five days a week. There is a fee to attend the Learning Space. For prices, Taylor said to contact the program.
Prior to COVID the schedule included Monday as a free day, Tuesday is Spanish, Wednesday is yoga, Thursday is drumming from Ghana and Friday is Hip Hop. The preschool never closed during the pandemic.
“Parents continued to want to stay here with their kids, but we couldn’t allow that,” Taylor said. “Not during a pandemic. We lost most of our families. Some families continued to pay tuition because they wanted to support us. For about four months, we only had two kids. Today, most kids have come back. Some aged out and went to kindergarten.”
Taylor’s philosophy includes the Reggio Emilia-inspired, Waldorf-inspired learning environment.
A Reggio-inspired classroom is a nontraditional learning environment where there are no assigned seats. Children have easy access to supplies and learning material, and are consistently inspired and encouraged to direct their own learning.
“You follow the children’s lead,” Taylor said. “I’m not an expert, but I like the philosophy. I don’t like the traditional way to sit down in assigned seats. They have more to offer if they explore. In traditional schools, everything is test-driven. There isn’t an opportunity for children to be children anymore.”
Taylor said the Reggio Emilia-inspired environment allows for young people to cultivate relationships where they learn from one another and expose each other to experiences and perspectives beyond their own.
“This organic process helps our students develop a deep appreciation of humankind, something we feel is desperately necessary in the world outside our classroom today,” she said.
The Little Urban Farmers philosophy believes “the key thing is to allow children to resolve conflicts themselves.” Every child has different learning strategies.
Asked if she thought it was safe for students to return to public school, Taylor said “no.”
“They are still learning about the virus,” Taylor said. “Even with the vaccination, there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Taylor beams with pride about what her preschool has accomplished and what it currently offers as an alternative to traditional education.
“If I was a kid,” she said. “I’d love being here.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.