- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

PUTNAM TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - A Putnam Township preschool and child-care center is expanding its reach, opening another location to allow even more children to learn while getting in touch with nature.

Down on the Farm Uptown is licensed for about 45 children and opened in early February about a mile south of downtown Pinckney. It joins Down on the Farm and Down on the Farm Too, according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (http://bit.ly/1ggtuOS ).

“Being outside with nature is a big part of what we incorporate into our preschool and with our infants,” said owner Jenny Chambers, who started Down on the Farm on the Chambers Family Farm nearly a decade ago and now serves more than 100 families. “We incorporate learning with animals and nature, and that’s kind of what sets us apart.”

Also setting it apart is Down on the Farm’s new partnership with the Livingston Educational Service Agency and Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program, which got a $65 million funding boost last year. Great Start is for children age 4, and it is funded with state dollars for families with annual incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty rate - about $68,000 for a family of five.

“We were able to help 16 families who qualified and are receiving free preschool,” Chambers said. “These 16 families had been coming only a couple days a week because that’s what they could afford, but now they can come Mondays through Thursdays.”

The state budget requires 30 percent of Great Start funding to go to private services such as Down on the Farm.

“I thought that was wonderful to include us,” Chambers said. “I think this is going to be the new wave if it can be affordable to states.”

Only 4-year-olds can take part in Great Start, but Down on the Farm provides preschool and day care for babies and children up to age 13. While Down on the Farm Uptown is not actually on a farm like the other locations, Chambers said nature and animals will still play a role in its curriculum.

“This location doesn’t have the farm aspect as much, but we’re looking to get a lean-to with some chickens, maybe rabbits, just a few little farm animals,” she said. “We will also have field trips for preschoolers this spring, where a bus will take us to the Farley Road site once a week.”

Chambers, who has four children with her husband, Keith, said the family farm on Farley Road includes cows, a donkey, a miniature horse, pigs, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats and more.

“My own children were in 4-H, and just that experience with animals, not every child can have that,” she said. “There are a lot of families that can’t even have their own pets like dogs or cats.”

She also plans to take advantage of Down on the Farm Uptown’s proximity to the village of Pinckney.

“Since we’re near downtown Pinckney, we’d like to incorporate some of the town aspect, like the police station, fire station, exploring the community, using the park and library,” she said.

While farm animals and community resources are helpful tools, Chambers said the teachers at Down on the Farm Uptown emphasize literacy, using the Phonic Soup and Handwriting Without Tears programs favored by school kindergarten classes.

Kathleen “Grandma Sue” Huhman is the literacy teacher for Down on the Farm’s preschool program.

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