A group of pre-school students in 1999

A History of The Children’s Schoolhouse

The Children’s Schoolhouse had its beginnings in 1999 as a pre-school program in the home of its founder, Kirsti Huotari Ryder. Strongly influenced by her teaching experience at the Children’s School of Arts and Science (CSAS a small private Pre-K to 8thschool which served the mid-coast area for over twenty years) Kirsti credits its founder and director, Cindy Dougherty , as her mentor. Cindy’s commitment to “unlocking the creative potential” and celebrating the uniqueness found in each individual provided the driving philosophy for the Children’s Schoolhouse. Through her teaching experience at the CSAS, Kirsti also learned how a small school can exist that offers a nurturing home-school like environment, yet still offers the structure and curriculum of a more traditional school setting.

In 2003, the school moved to lower level of the United Church of Christ and expanded the program to pre-school through 3rd grade. A top priority was the development of a staff that shared the vision of the school.


Priming the Pump.
Kirsti Huotari Ryder founded The Children’s Schoolhouse in 1999.

A grade school circle discussion at the start of school 2003

The extremely successful preschool program has been fortunate to have had a number of excellent teachers and has continued to grow. It is hoped that the pre-school will be a feeder system for the innovative grade school program. There is great continuity in the grade school staff. From the start, Marilu Fortson has taught Spanish and assisted other teachers; she is currently the 2-3 grade teacher. When Renee Railton Stachmus started with the school, she lead Journal and Presentation with the older group of students ; she is now the 4-6 grade teacher and a driving force in social outreach and environmental programs. Gretchen Sibley has been involved for a number of years; she is the Science teacher and Phys. Ed Director. There has been a strong art program taught by Julie Hoffman and others.


A moveable dragon for the art program


The years in the basement of the United Church of Christ helped to build a strong foundation for the curriculum and clarity of how the school would function. Faculty became able to discern the rhythms of the days and create schedules that responded to these fluctuations.


Older students perform Puff, the Magic Dragon


A personalized academic program that is balanced with group lessons and activities has been able to respond to the children’s needs. The school has used community resources as far away as Augusta, where the older students had an opportunity to serve as Senate pages, to supplement the program.


Pages at the State House


Cast of The Quest for the Pearl


The school was flourishing, but during the winter of 2005-2006 it became clear that it was time to find a new location. Even though there was a great deal of space for very reasonable rent at the UCCC, it was time for the school and the church to make some changes. With just three weeks before the start of school, after weeks and months of an ideal location emerged at 223 North Street in Bath.


233 North Street, Bath, October 2006


With little time, lots of faith and a generous loan, the CSH spent the fall of 2006 running the Pre-K to 1st Grade programs out of the first floor, while the second floor was under renovations. The 2nd-6th graders had their morning classes at the Winter Street church and came to North Street for their afternoon activities. Parents, volunteers, and the children themselves joined contractors in the work necessary to bring the building to the vision of its founder.


Parents and staff support work to be done inside and out – Fall 2006


Parents and staff support work to be done inside and out – Fall 2006


In January 2007, as the students returned to school from the holiday vacation, the Children’s Schoolhouse welcomed them all to its new home.


Art work area


Pre-School Room


After the first weeks of settling in, it became very obvious that the new space was excellent. Staff and students quickly settled into routines, established a new schedule and have been enjoyed being in the space ever since. For the second time, the CSH float was a prize winner in the Heritage Days Parade.


Prize winning Heritage Days float


During the summer of 2007 the school offered our first Summer Enrichment Program, with themes on Earth Care and explorations of other cultures, through movement, art and music.


Students enjoy an African mask


When school opened in the fall, the Pre School Program, lead by Kari Marco McKenna, had a waiting list.


School Director Kirsti Ryder with Pre-School Director Kari Marco


The school had overhauled and strengthened the academic curriculum and created a Bridge Program to offer to home schooling families who may want to have their children in school part time.

Special Projects for the Fall of 2007 include a trip to the Willlow Pond Apple Farm in Sebattus, Maine. (In 1989, Willow Pond Farm started the first Community Supported Agriculture project in Maine. The grade school. also had a hayride at Hawkes Farm & Greenhouses in North Bath. In the World Around Us Class they continue to foster these connections between food and farming, farming and fiber, as well as the general health of the planet andthe choices we make. At Shaw’s Supermarket, they studied food displays to determine the country from which the food came and considered the advantages of eating locally grown foods.

Students, apples, and Jill Agnew at Willow Pond Farm.

Lessons about The Day of the Dead supplemented Halloween activities.

Day of the Dead Display


Visiting Musicians have stimulated the students’ loves of singing and the rhythms of music.


Donna Sewall plays her fiddle.


The Board of Directors and started to seriously commit to the application for non-profit status, development of a budget and the adjustment to being a board run non-profit. As soon as 501 (c) (3) status is achieved, there are plans to offer scholarships for children who would benefit from participating in this extraordinary school.


The Children’s Schoolhouse Summer 2007

The Grade School students moved into the upstairs of the renovated building at 223 North Street by the end of 2007. An open house brought new families to the school. The program was in full swing in the spring of 2008. Students ranged from 3rd grade to 6th grade. Meanwhile, downstairs, there was a solid preschool group.

The Grade School students moved into the upstairs of the renovated  building at 223 North Street by the end of 2007.  An open house brought new families to the school.  The program was in full swing in the spring of 2008.  Students ranged from 3rd grade to 6th grade. Meanwhile, downstairs, there was a solid preschool group.

Students move into their new classrooms

The school year culminated with a remarkable musical production of The Big Bad Musical.

Little Piggies

For various reasons, many of the students made plans to go to public school for the 2008-09 school year.  The very good news was that they adjusted well to public school and were living proof of the quality of their academic preparation.

On October 28, 2008, young people vandalized the school.  They dumped over shelves of material, broke a toilet, opened the water valve from the furnace, and threw scissors into a wall.  Water damage was extensive.  Kirsti relied on the philosophy and vision statement of the Children’s Schoolhouse and urged compassion toward the perpetrators.  “This has been hurtful.  It has also impacted the community.  Our philosophy has helped us work through it, and it has helped us with our students. We have discharged out grief and are able to move forward.”

Parents helped put the school back in order.   With space upstairs, children lost only the one day when the vandalism was discovered from school. When all was said and done, the school was in better shape than before.

Grade school students help pre-schoolers with a puzzle

The grade school program continued, but there were only two older students.  They benefited from semi-private classes for their academics, and built self confidence and leadership skills when they participated in activities for the entire school.

The focus turned to Pre-School, Kindergarten and 1st Grade.  Parents joined in; one taught Movement Class;

another helped to ease children’s anxiety with going to the doctor.

The high quality art program continued, and there was an art show at Café Crème.

True to the school motto, “Love Yourself, Love Each Other, Love the Earth,” the entire school recorded an advertisement for BCTV Channel 14 which urged drivers not to idle their cars in our parking lot.  It is a NO Idle Zone.

There were two fundraising events in the spring.  The CSH participate in the City Wide Yard Sale (MayFair), and Tony “Zumba” Garreton organized a Zumbathon for scholarships for the school.

The scholarship money went toward helping parents who had chosen the CSH as an option in the free public pre-school CHOICES program.  The CSH and RSU 1 had thought the CSH program was eligible, and, by the time it was determined the school needed national certification, the other programs were full, so the Board  gave our families a significant discount.

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Blast off!

The financial downturn “sealed the deal” for the extended Grade School program, and for the 2009-2010 school year, the school population has been almost entirely pre-schoolers.

The quest for accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has been a major influence at the school.  The 2009-2010 school year has continued the fine tradition of appropriate introduction of academics to 3 and 4 year olds through art, music, Spanish, science, reading, the Letter of the Week and many other innovative approaches to the curriculum.

Visitors, such as Reg Smart, who charmed the children with his stories of growing up in Australia, add to the program.

Wood carver, Wayne Robbins, challenged the children to draw a line he could not turn into a whale.  He won!! (The children were the real winners to have experienced his talent.

In addition, the teachers guide and support the children as they learn appropriate socialization and gain in self confidence.  Physical activity on the wonderful playground is supplemented by indoor  trapeze bars and other activities when the weather does not allow for playing outdoors.  Children play outdoors unless it raining or there is a bad storm.

For the 2010-2011 school year, the Board has voted to start building back the Grade School program by offering Kindergarten and  1st Grade  if there are enough students to justify a separate teacher. The Bridge program for home-schoolers was very helpful to their socialization and provided supports to parents who wanted help with art or science or other subjects.  It is the hope of the Board that we can rebuild the grade school program.