Kinderberry Hill is 'beyond daycare'
"The purple castle" opened Dec. 5, 2005, along Woodbury Drive, but before Kinderberry Hill came to Woodbury, it grew up a town away.
The preschool — known at first glance for its brightly colored peaks and playgrounds, director Kathy Sjursen said, and more importantly for its ahead-of-the-curve curriculum for infants through preschoolers — was started by a group of HealthEast doctors in the 1970s and sprouted three locations in Roseville, Edina, and Maplewood, near 3M Center.
Kinderberry Hill has an academic focus, with developmentally appropriate practices, academic standards, strong language, math and social studies curricula, and teachers who follow research and best practices but also recognize what's best for their classrooms. While some centers follow a strict curriculum, individualization is encouraged at Kinderberry Hill.
"This is beyond daycare," Sjursen said. "People are choosing this for their child's early education. Families put a value on these early years of learning."
Family connections with teachers at Kinderberry Hill have spanned decades, due to a high teacher retention rate. Eight employees, including Sjursen, came along when the Maplewood location moved to the bigger and better building in Woodbury. The school now has 28 employees, and it hires only lead teachers — no assistants or aides — for its classrooms.
Chad Dunkley, CEO of New Horizon/Kinderberry Hill, bought the three schools in the early 1990s.
Sjursen rose through the ranks, starting in 1994 in Roseville, serving as assistant director in Maplewood for two years before becoming director in 2000, and overseeing the transition to Woodbury.
With strong leadership, and as Kinderberry Hill grew to six locations, many improvements were made and the Woodbury school kept traditions from annual Halloween Spooktaculars inviting back alumni to celebrations on Thanksgiving, Mother's and Father's days. At Woodbury Days families remember getting crazy hairdos given by Kinderberry Hill staff, the school has sponsored the Puppet Wagon and held a preview party, and it supports Woodbury Community Theatre and enjoys visits from its actors, among other partnerships.
The 50 families who stayed at Kinderberry Hill when it moved wanted their children's daycare to be educational, as well as the healthiest, safest environment. In the early days, it was a no-brainer to hire a nurse to work on site, and Kinderberry Hill maintains that position today.
Kinderberry Hill seeks to be a higher level of care and education in a sea of choices for preschools, Sjursen said. The school has small class sizes, individual lockers, and a quiet and calm environment.
Customers have rewarded the school with loyalty and referrals as the number of families doubled during the past dozen years.
In 2008, Kinderberry Hill adopted the University of Minnesota's SEEDS of Early Learning Emergent Literacy Program.
The schools were designated as sweet-free zones in spring 2011. There is fresh fruit, organic baby food and organic milk, but no treats.
Enrichment at Kinderberry Hill includes music, Spanish, fitness, science instruction, infant sign language, animals on site, and much more.
In fall 2015, the Executive Function Partnership and Assessment Program started. The curriculum is aimed at helping children manage their feelings and have self control, to assist in their ability to learn.
The school has an outdoor classroom for gardening and all-day programming, a STEAM room that enhances what has always been part of the school's curriculum, and an indoor playroom with lots of natural light.
In spring 2016, the loose parts room opened. There, items from nature and loose parts — leaves, blocks, tea cups, shells, platter, cars, feathers and more — come together through unguided play.
"It's where they use creatively their imagination, think outside of the box, experiment in ways that they may not have the opportunity to do when we give them a bucket of toys," Sjursen said. "Parents are already doing this when you open up a pot-and-pan drawer."
Creativity is needed for problem solving, she said, and every classroom gets a chance to use the loose parts room for a week at a time. Widely popular, loose parts have trickled into the classrooms and onto the playground.
It's an all-inclusive program that is thoughtful of conveniences for parents, Sjursen said.
Parents are constantly in the loop on the learning that goes on in Kinderberry Hill's classrooms. In fall 2010, Kinderberry Connect Parent Communication System was introduced. Teachers communicate every day by instant message.
Should parents be waiting in the lobby, they may access live-streaming security cameras on a bank of computers.
The communication eases the minds of Kinderberry Hill's parents, Sjursen said, and shows documentation of feeding, diaper changing and milestones. The instant messaging app shares pictures throughout the day.