It’s Arbor Day, and the Play Garden in Mt Pleasant knows it. The children have been learning about local trees, reading about trees, creating artistic interpretations of trees with recycled materials. And this isn’t even school.
Founder Maren Anderson is petite and unassuming, but seems to be everything to everyone. Throughout the course of our hour-long chat, she manages to break up several disagreements (“Hands are for high-fives and hugs”), discharge five children, bond with other moms, locate a runaway sock and dry a few tears. At one point, she pauses mid-sentence to dash into the bathroom, returning with a little girl with thoroughly washed hands. “Sorry,” she says with a smile. “I was listening to that water run a little too long and thought something might be up.”
And all the while: not a hair out of place, no sign of stress or frustration. The life of a single mom is hectic enough, but Maren takes it all and more in stride. It’s how she conceived the concept of The Play Garden.
“I was working as a waitress so that I could be with my son during the day,” she explains. Unable to find a perfect place where her young son could learn, socialize and play during the day, she created one. “Every parent is doing the best they can. Sometimes we just need a few hours, but we want our child exposed to new and different things.”
An educator at heart, Maren loves to learn. And then she loves to share that knowledge. With a Masters in Education, she broadened her nutritional comprehension at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition while living in California. She brought her west coast ways back to Charleston, bursting with excitement to communicate all she’d learned with others.
The Play Garden is where she teaches by doing: it boasts all green products, from a cedar floor and non-toxic art supplies to all chemical-free cleaning products and eco-friendly toys. Meals are organic, peanut-free and always nutritious. Children are guided through yoga, creative arts and sensory learning, but are never required to participate in any activity.
Don’t call it a daycare. It’s not a pre-school. It’s an alternative for the mindful parent, a safe and supportive place to allow your child to thrive for a few hours. A drop-in learning facility with structured activities and seasoned caretakers.
But to the grown-ups, it’s more. It’s a network of parents, sharing advice and asking questions. It’s an opportunity for a child to be exposed to new things. It’s a community of conscientious families and a hub of healthy discovery.
And at the center of it all is a tiny blond with big dreams and an even bigger smile.
Words by: Carter Worrell Dandridge
Photography by: Andrew Stephen Cebulka