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A place to expand imagination

Smilestones Junior Kindergarten opens its doors in Langley
Aydin Charania uses his imagination during playtime at an open house for the Smilestones Junior Kindergarten in Langley.

The playgrounds are ready and the art room stocked at Langley’s newest junior kindergarten facility, set to open its doors to children between the ages of two and five on Feb. 3.

Langley is the third Lower Mainland location — joining Burnaby and Surrey — for the Smilestones Junior Kindergarten, a daycare and preschool. It was founded by Anna Matchneva, an educational consultant with children herself, in Burnaby four years ago.

The junior kindergarten will be Langley’s first based fully on Reggio Emilia educational philosophy.

Reggio Emilia philosophy, named for the Italian town in which it originated after World War II, focuses on collaboration among children, teachers and parents, student-driven exploration and discovery, and building a sense of community.

“We do focus on academics, certainly, so we do teach children reading and math. It’s part of our curriculum,” said Matchneva. “But in addition to the strong academic preparation, [the program] also develops their creativity and imagination.”

“And that’s what’s missing for children nowadays, because nowadays their days are filled with electronic gadgets and close-ended tasks with predictable outcomes.”

She said Langley is the perfect place for Smilestones to expand given its status as a growing destination for young families.

Smilestones, located at 8661 201 Street, features two fenced outdoor playgrounds, an indoor play centre, seven classrooms and a dedicated art room. Hot lunch, yoga classes and music experience fit in with the student-driven curriculum, where Matchneva said teachers are expected to lead longer-term projects based on what the students take interest in. The program also features a higher-than-average teacher to student ratio and is available full-time or two to three days a week

“Here, we expand their imagination,” said Matchneva. “We show them it’s safe to create.”

The space is brightly painted and full of natural light — a principle of Reggio education that makes finding the right location for a new facility a challenge.

One thing you won’t find in abundance at Smilestones is plastic. The material is limited not just for health reasons, but again as a component of Reggio philosophy, which stresses the importance of using natural items.

Instead, the indoor play centre features polished stones, piles of pine cones, silver ducting material, chemistry goggles and simple wooden toys — all materials Matchneva says encourages children to come up with their own ideas of how to play with them.

“Our materials are what you’d call open-ended materials,” said Langley Smilestones co-owner Ashifa Kanani, explaining that the items are changed every week.

“Children learn so much better when they’re learning hands-on in a playful way,” she said.

For more information about tours and registration visit

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