Last updated: February 16. 2013 10:07PM - 223 Views

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FORTY FORT – Go ahead; try not to smile with a guinea pig named Ringo on your back.

Maggie Hornung beamed like a little cherub as the class pet gave new meaning to the term "piggy back" during the official start of Wyoming Seminary's new "toddler program" Tuesday, nestling briefly on the back of the youngster sprawled on the floor. Soft carpet under you and fuzzy fur ball on top? Maybe they've invented a new relaxation technique.

The new program takes in children from 18 months to 3 years old, up to five days a week – the school is flexible on how many days a child shows up, as long as the total count per day stays at 10 tykes, Director of Admissions Katie Callahan said. That's five for each of the two teachers.

The goal is to give the toddlers early lessons in independence, self care and social skills, as well as a head start in their education. "She's already learning letters," one proud mother said while watching her child through a one-way window set up to let parents check on their children without being seen.

That's one of the features built into a converted home next to Wyoming Seminary's Lower School, which now houses both the new toddler program and the existing pre-school for 3- and 4-year-olds. There's also a changing station with hide-a-way stairs the youngsters can use to get onto, a kid-size bathroom area separated by a wall high enough for toddler privacy but still allowing adult supervision, and alarms on the exterior doors that give a gentle but firm notice someone is leaving.

And there's a super-soft play area outside, made of artificial turf on top of extra bouncy rubber. Maggie headed straight for the Playskool cop car. Cash Harrison opted for the pint-size sliding board, only he didn't want to take time running around the back to the ladder; he started working his way up the slide before turning around at the top and enjoying the descent. The new early education building – officially dubbed "Arlington House" – sits across the Lower School parking lot, fronting Arlington Road. It currently handles 13 toddlers and 19 pre-school children. Along with a full day of activities from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., there is before-school care beginning at 8 a.m. and after-school care until 5:30 p.m., Callahan said.

Being the class pet, Ringo attends full-time.

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