O ne day at snack time, two preschoolers got into a discussion about where milk comes from. "Well, cow milk comes from cows, and rice


Best Place for Kids to Meet the Producer

Pike Market Child Care and Preschool

One day at snack time, two preschoolers got into a discussion about where milk comes from. "Well, cow milk comes from cows, and rice milk comes from rice," the astute modern child noted. "But where does soy milk come from?"

The second child didn't even hesitate: "Soy cows!"

Their teacher overheard the exchange, but didn't get out a book or open a Web page to explain soybeans to the kids. Instead, the entire class took a field trip up a flight of stairs to meet a farmer who could explain how soy is grown and turned into a whole variety of products. That kind of thing is especially easy to do at the Pike Market Child Care and Preschool, located one floor below the fish-throwers, vegetable sellers, and craft vendors.

"Just our location in the context of the market is huge, we really are in the heart of the urban core," says Ellen von Wandruszka, the school's executive director for four years. "I think a lot of people don't realize that the market isn't just about flowers and fish, it's about families."

The school opened 27 years ago, and has a distinctly progressive vibe. Some of the kids have two dads or single moms. A collection of books in the office is separated by categories like "Identity" and "Multi-cultural." Posters on the wall of the administrative offices list anti-bias goals. The classes are looped, meaning that once kids start at 18 months, they stay with the same teacher until they are sent off to kindergarten. The goal, says von Wandruszka, is to prepare kids with the basics as well as to inspire confidence and risk-takingâ€"something von Wandruszka says was lacking when she taught in area schools.

Normally, says von Wandruszka, "If you're a single mom making $1,200 a month, you're forced to put your kids in substandard care." But Market Child Care accepts people through a state program that requires only $15 a month. (Higher-income families pay as much as $1,300 a month.) Other families receive various degrees of support from the Market Foundation, the school's biggest backer. The result is both economic and ethnic diversity. About half the families at the school receive some kind of assistance, and more than half the kids are nonwhite.

Now the school is trying to expand. Thanks to the levy passed last year, the Market is getting a major face-lift. Von Wandruszka is hoping to raise $2 million to move down to a newly remodeled floor and add infant care.â€"Laura Onstot

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