The Children’s Education Center of the Island (CECI) Celebrates a Joyful Childhood

The Children’s Education Center of the Island believes that when thoughtful learning through a child-centered play curriculum is combined with direct experience in the classroom, a transformative change takes place. This connection is both powerful and empowering, and this basic human connection need not be sacrificed when a child begins school. We believe that the earliest, most memorable kind of learning includes building block communities, digging for doodlebugs, and making mud pies from sand. We believe that empathy, love, curiosity, and respect are the truest foundation of learning. We integrate many approaches to support a child’s learning path by:

  • providing a supportive learning environment to encourage discovery, questioning, and experimentation;
  • engaging cognitive growth and problem-solving skills through hand-on games and activities;
  • developing physical motor skills through active learning and play;
  • promoting social skills and positive self-image through group play and cooperative learning;
  • cultivating emotional literacy and empathy to develop self-esteem;
  • nurturing self-expression, creativity and reflection;
  • encouraging family involvement to help students appreciate the wisdom of their first teachers – their families;
  • celebrating diversity of all living things and the individuality of children and families;
  • instilling respect and appreciation for the natural world.

It all started over a cup of coffee in 1974 when Judy Workman, Starr Thomas, and Bari Fischer were discussing the need for getting the young children of the island — whose homes were scattered in various locations — together for supervised play and educational experiences. They formulated what they wanted in a preschool, more than a ‘socialization experience’, more than a ‘baby-sitting experience’. Four months later, 20 children were enrolled in a 6-week summer program.

The center was set up as a nonprofit parent co-op organization and housed in the 50-year old pine building on the bay at the end of Bailey Road that for 40 years had been the home of Bailey’s General Store. Francis Bailey agreed to let the center use the vacant building as the store had closed in that location in 1966. Francis Bailey was generous and encouraging and rented the store for $1 a year. Interested parents scraped, swept, shoveled, and scrubbed to give the old store a cheerful new facelift. One June 24, 1974, the program kicked off with “A Child’s Summer on the Islands” from June thru July 26. Everyone agreed that the name should cover both Sanibel and Captiva, thus it became THE CHILDREN’S CENTER OF THE ISLANDS. In 1996 It was changed to the Children’s Education Center of the Islands. the center was founded with an emphasis on nature and science, the arts, and reading. The first brochure stated, “We wish to give our children an awareness of the beauty of our natural environment as well as an appreciation of their place in it, a sensitivity for one another and to the world that surrounds them.”

Through the years, an increase in enrollment and the news that the center could only use the old General Store for one more year caused the parent co-op board to seek a new location. The center began pursuing a five-acre lot on Casa Ybel that was donated by the Sanibel Lions Club and the Bailey family. There was also the opportunity to use some old cottages that were donated from the Casa Ybel Resort. After a big fund raising effort, and donated time from Art Steidel and Rob Leonard, Construction Managers and Mark Anderson, Benchmark General Contractors, the hard work for the board and parents began in preparing the cottages for the move in 1980. Another building was added to the preschool campus in 1997. In addition that year, the Muench family established the Mark Muench Memorial Fund to construct a playground in honor of their youngest son who was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Much of the success of The Children’s Education Center of the Islands through the years has been directly from the dedication of the parents and the board of directors, the Sanibel-Captiva communities, as well as the dedicated teachers.

Through the history of the Children’s Education Center of the Islands, the nonprofit preschool has had the right recipe for education: meet the needs of island families, involve the community, but always make the children the top priority.