BRATTLEBORO -- When education pioneer Friedrich Fröbel invented the nurturing "garden of children," now called kindergarten, he never dreamed that rigid literacy training, minimal recess, and a controversial "Common Core" curriculum would one day bear its name.

Kindergarten just isn’t what it used to be -- many educators recommend starting at age 6 because the school day is so demanding -- and some parents are seeking alternatives. The Neighborhood Schoolhouse in Brattleboro has responded to that demand by reopening its half-day kindergarten for the 2014/2015 school year; the program includes a pre-kindergarten curriculum (for ages 4-and-a-half to 5) as well. Classes begin outdoors at 8:30 a.m. and end at 1 p.m., with optional after-school activities.

"I want her to have the freedom to be 5 years old," said school board member Bonnie Holmes, who has enrolled her daughter in next year’s kindergarten class. "This is such an important time in her life. I want her to go to a school where she will be nurtured as a whole person -- where kids are treated as the unique, special little people that they are."

Dot MacDonald has taught at the school for 25 years, and she served more than 20 of those years in the kindergarten program.

"Because we honor the child and still base our program on constructive and exploratory play -- including an hour of recess every day -- the children get to experience kindergarten with their whole selves instead of just their cognitive brains," she said. "I’ve seen children be extremely successful using the methods we use. They are confident, they love school, and they’re able to express themselves creatively."

Prospective families can learn more about kindergarten -- as well as the school’s pre-school and elementary programs -- at Neighborhood’s annual open house Thursday, Feb. 27, at the school. A morning open house from 9 a.m. to noon will feature outdoor activities, so families should dress for the weather. The evening open house is scheduled from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Founded in 1980, The Neighborhood Schoolhouse emphasizes environmental education, the arts, and social-emotional skills among its core subjects. The school is located at 231 Western Ave. in Brattleboro, behind Solar Hill. Learn more at