Monday, August 13, 2012

The Orchard

My cousin works at The Orchard. We carpool one day a week so I hear a lot about it. She likes The Orchard and has worked there for four years. It is 60 miles from her house. Assuming she works 48 weeks a year, that's 115,000 miles she's put on her car just commuting. In actuality it's a bit less because she sometimes takes the gbus and sometimes I drive. Still, that tells you how special The Orchard is.

Today I had a chance to see The Orchard. If you read carefully, you'd have a small clue that The Orchard is part of Google, one of its childcare facilities.

Wow. It was like Camp Galileo only better. I seriously wanted to stay and play. Of course it was quiet when I toured at 7am and it doesn't stay that way for long.

We entered through the staff kitchen, which was stocked with healthy, packaged snacks, fruit and cereal, drinks, boxed, refrigerated salads and sandwiches, and yogurt. There were probably other things I didn't see, too.

And then we walked into the children's space. Any child would love it there. It was like Habitot or other children's museums. Children's art on the walls. Stations for gardening, reading, cooking, sculpture, dress up, building, resting, sorting, painting, drawing, clay. It was colorful. And clean. There are teeny tiny wooden tables with teeny tiny wooden chairs. No plastic. There are shelves upon shelves of color sorted buttons and crayons and markers and feathers and glitter and pipe cleaners and ribbons and fabric and bottle caps and popsicle sticks. And each room was done like this!

There are three separate age-appropriate outside play areas and a garden, where the children plant  and harvest their own food. Which of course they then eat. There's a huge, freeform sand box and a mud box and an inches-deep river. The play structures look like Michael Graves designed them.

A dedicated Google department preps the children's food on the main campus then finishes it up on site at The Orchard . It is nutritionally balanced and aesthetically pleasing. There are shelves of Earth's Best baby food in the children's kitchen (not to be confused with the staff kitchen) for the babies.

The learning philosophy is Reggio Emilia, a self-guided curriculum based on responsibility, respect and community via the child's interests and enrichment. To me it just looks like straight up fun.

Seriously, people, if you are inclined to work full-time and have little kids, put Google on your short list. I understand now why my cousin commutes.

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