By her count, more than 1,000 families have come through the doors of Creative Arts for Children over the last 40 years.

Polly Critchlow never imagined her preschool would have that kind of staying power when it first opened in 1978. But, after teaching children (and more recently grandchildren) for four decades, that run is coming to an end later this month.

“It’s very bittersweet,” she said. “I’m really going to miss the kids, and my staff. I’ve had a really good run.”

Critchlow made the decision over the fall to retire.

“Managing a school and teaching at the same time, there’s a lot of work involved,” she said.

The landscape for families has also changed over the years, with Critchlow noting that many parents now need more than the two-day program for three-year-olds and three-day program for four-year-olds that the school has offered, both for two-and-a-half hours.

As opposed to other nursery schools, Creative Arts has emphasized social skills and problem solving through a play-based approach.

In particular, Critchlow mentioned one effort where children that didn’t normally play together were paired up, and given a type of activity they didn’t normally choose. The results were what she called a “notable success.”

“We find that those kids play together the rest of the day, and oftentimes will choose an activity, it becomes part of their repertoire,” she said.

As she prepares to step away, Critchlow gave a special mention to the staff that has been beside her — Bonnie Berg and Jennifer Karshna — for the past 20-plus years.

“I wouldn’t be here without them,” she said. “They’ve been a huge part of this.”

She’s also miss the children she’s gotten to work with, as some age into the school system while others will start going to other area preschools.

"That’s probably been one of the hardest things,” Critchlow said.

Well-wishers are invited to an open house and reception at the school (3116 W. Smith St.) on June 23 from 1 to 3 p.m. to celebrate the preschool’s run in the neighborhood, and the families it has served in the last four decades.

“People can just come in and say hello and goodbye,” Critchlow said. “That’ll be nice, just to have that closure.”

As for Critchlow — whose husband is also retiring from his job this year — she sees plenty of reading, gardening, cooking, and volunteer work in her future. There’s no word yet on what may come next for the space itself near Magnolia Village, though Critchlow did note that someone else could theoretically carry on the legacy of its predecessor.

“It is set up for a school,” she said. “So who knows?”

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