Celebrating 25 Years in Napa Valley

Story from the Napa Valley Register in September 2018

Ray Welch is the owner of Children's Cottage Preschool and Infant Center along with his wife Mary, who founded the center 25 years ago.

Ray Welch is the owner of Children's Cottage Preschool and Infant Center along with his wife Mary, who founded the center 25 years ago.

Ray and Mary Welch have been in the childcare business so long that the 3, 4, and 5-year-olds they used to teach are now having babies of their own. Babies that, like their parents, are attending Children’s Cottage Preschool & Infant Center. “It’s come full circle,” Ray Welch said. “This month, one of my preschoolers is getting married. Being in business 25 years, you get to see the long, full cycle of kids having kids.”

When Mary Welch first opened Children’s Cottage in Napa in 1993, she and Ray had three small children of their own. Mary, who had experience in childcare, said she thought that opening her business was smart since their family needed it too. About a year later, Ray joined the Children’s Cottage team. The kids call him “Mr. Ray.” The Children’s Cottage philosophy is a mix of Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf philosophies, Ray Welch said, noting that his wife had “stolen” what she thought were the best parts of each childcare program. “It’s really child-directed,” Welch said. Inside their building is a light, airy room where nearly a dozen “learning centers” are setup. Each one teaches children something different through play; things like science, art, and drama. There is, of course, a block area and a circle time area, too, Welch said. “The kids have lots of options,” Welch said. All of the learning is directed by a teacher. The center consists of two buildings and is staffed by 12 teachers. They currently have about 75 children ranging in age from newborn to 5 years old enrolled in their programs. The babies, Welch said, are the passionate part. “It’s kind of a labor of love because it’s one teacher for every three to four babies,” he said. “It’s much more intense and more involved” than taking care of the older preschoolers.” Children’s Cottage started accepting newborns – babies between age 0 and 2 – about 10 years ago when it dropped its afterschool care program. There are about 20 infants currently receiving their care through Children’s Cottage, he said.

Newborn care is what was needed at the time — and still is, Welch said. “That’s where the huge crisis and where the huge demand is for the whole state of California and probably the United States,” he said. But figuring out its place in Napa hasn’t always been easy for Children’s Cottage. It has changed locations several times and was even temporarily housed in Crosswalk Community Church for a time. Finding the right location and the right size buildings was one of the business’s early challenges, Welch said.

“Now we’ve got our permanent home,” Welch said of the Alta Heights location the childcare company has been running out of for the past 10 years. “It’s an old church built in the 1950s – the building is kind of a sacred spot for children.” The building at 1078 East Ave. has been used for childcare in one form or another since 1976, he said. The property recently went under a small remodel this year when Welch installed safe, low-maintenance artificial grass in the playground area. He also built a shaded deck so that children can still play outside when it rains. “It makes the playground more kid friendly and usable all year-round,” Welch said. Mary doesn’t teach at the preschool anymore, but Ray still makes appearances. “I’m not in the day-to-day, but I have a lot of fun with the website and the Facebook,” Ray Welch said. He also helps out with special events including the Halloween parade, the firetruck visit and Mother’s Day tea. “And, of course,” he said, “I get stuck with doing little repairs when something needs to be fixed.” As much as he enjoys it, though, someday Welch will get out of the business and let someone else takeover. Until then, though, Ray Welch said he’ll keep on doing his “hobby” of maintaining the website along with the occasional visit to the center. Soon, he said, those visits will include a visit to his own grandchildren, who may also start attending Children’s Cottage. “Full circle,” Welch said, again.

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