New day care fills niche

Ashleigh Ward, assistant director of OmSprout Creative Play and Drop-in Care, 1341 Mass. Apt. 1, dips Liam Kearn as Memphis Branum, right, and Zephyr Manriquez Gardner play in the main area of the child care center. The center is designed to cater to parents who prefer a holistic environment and need a flexible day care schedule.

Townes Windhol, left, and Zephyr Manriquez Gardner share a glance as the two rock together in a wooden teeter totter on Wednesday at OmSprout. The child care center is designed to cater to parents who prefer a holistic environment and need a flexible day care schedule.

A local mother has created a new child care option in Lawrence that caters to parents who favor a holistic environment and need the option of a flexible day care schedule.

OmSprout Creative Play and Drop-in Care, 1341 Mass., opened Sept. 3 and provides child care for children ages 6 months to 5 years. Schedules are based on individual families’ needs, and the methods and environment of the center are inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education.

OmSprout owner Meghan Arthur says the concept for OmSprout came from observing the needs of families during her many years working with families and children. Arthur is the oldest of four children. She started working as a nanny at age 15 and spent time nannying in both Australia and France.

“I was really able to see the way that people’s lives work and what the need was,” says Arthur. “I always found that people either had a lot of time but not a lot of money, or a lot of money but not a lot of time.”

OmSprout welcomes families that need full-time day care — Arthur’s 10-month-old son Otis is at the center full-time — but OmSprout also strives to meet the needs of families with stay-at-home parents and parents with part-time jobs by not requiring families to commit to a strict schedule or minimum number of hours.

“I sometimes feel like parents who stay home get discounted as not needing time to themselves,” Arthur says. “Even if people don’t need full-time or regular child care, child care is still something that is very important to their lives.”

Emily Hester works as a certified nurse midwife in the Lawrence area and utilizes OmSprout for her sons Patrick and Benjamin, ages 14 months and 4 years. Hester says OmSprout is a good fit for her family because she does not need full-time child care, but she often needs child care on short notice because of her profession.

“There are a lot of moms like me that need a little bit of child care, so this a really good fit for the community,” said Hester.

To accommodate families with a variety of income levels, OmSprout’s fees follow a sliding scale. OmSprout also offers a cooperative option where parents can assist at the center in exchange for child care. Parents earn one hour of child care for every two that they work.

Everyone who helps at OmSprout must undergo an application process that includes a background check. The center has a capacity for 12 children at any one time.

Arthur says the natural environment and Waldorf-inspired activities at OmSprout — coupled with flexibility and affordability — make the center different from other offerings in Lawrence.

“If you’re looking for child care that is natural and Waldorf-based, with a lot of thought going into everything that is done — that is not also super-expensive — your options are slim,” Arthur says.

The Waldorf method was developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner and emphasizes a reverence for the natural world and learning through imagination and movement. Waldorf classrooms are free of electronic media and follow a gentle daily rhythm. Arthur first learned about Waldorf methods while working as nanny in Australia, and she completed a Steiner-based “kinder” training for ages 4, 5 and 6 while living there.

Arthur said that the daily rhythm of OmSprout, as well as the toys, which are simple in design and toxin-free, reflect the Waldorf approach. Activities include puppet shows, painting and a lot of time outdoors. All of the food served at OmSprout is vegetarian, organic, and gluten- and dairy-free. The center does not have a television, but Arthur says she does play CDs for the kids.

“There is so much good kids’ music out there, and sometimes a little dance party can do wonders,” Arthur says.

Hester says the Waldorf approach meshes well with her parenting style, and although her family does not follow a restricted diet, she appreciates the healthy menu at OmSprout.

“It’s so nice to have someone with that ethic who is committed to providing some of these principles for little ones,” Hester says. “I know that my kids are not sitting in front of the TV snacking on candy bars when they are with Meghan.”

Prairie Moon Waldorf School, 1853 E. 1600 Road, provides Waldorf education on a fixed schedule for children in preschool through sixth grade. Imagine, 536 Fireside Court, offers another drop-in child care option in Lawrence.

Georgia Palos, who works part-time as a massage therapist and sends her 2-year-old son, Leo, to OmSprout, says she appreciates the availability of a child care provider that will work with her irregular schedule and finds OmSprout’s environment comforting.

“I like to keep things organic and clean, so it brings me a lot of comfort knowing that Meghan is thinking about all of these things,” Palos says. “The place is cute and it is super calm. It’s all pluses.”