What?: You can see why this session is called The Greenhouse; on the cold January Sunday we attend, the mid-morning sun is flooding the bright, high-ceilinged studio with its white painted floorboards and stylish plywood walls. It feels simultaneously light and airy, and warm and cosy. A small group of toddlers are clustered around the little yellow table scribbling in wax crayon, while twin babies rattle wooden toys in the carpeted chill-out area – not that Tomato Tutors really needs a chill-out area, since the whole space is so ridiculously zen.
Opened in September 2017 by tutor Laura Alvarado, Tomato Tutors is a holistic education studio offering a variety of sessions and workshops for all ages, from Montessori classes for 2-4s to art clubs for 5-10s, and from exam-prep sessions for GCSE students to adult pilates and parent lectures. With subjects as diverse as creative writing, art, science and engineering, maths and nature, there is literally something for everyone, regardless of age, ability and interest. This relaxed Sunday morning session is a kind of prelude to everything Tomato Tutors does; a free, free-flow playgroup for under-5s in a warm, nurturing environment; an incubator for your little seedlings, if you will.
Led by psychotherapists Catherine and Chris and influenced by Françoise Dolto’s Maison Verte (another Green House) in Paris and A.S Neill’s alternative Summerhill School in Suffolk, The Greenhouse is much cooler than your average stay-and-play with its stylish setting and complete absence of pink plastic and the inevitable rhyme-time session that seems to conclude every other playgroup in existence. Kids are free to do their own thing, whether that’s selecting a book from TT’s beautiful reading library, loading the dinky wooden pram with model zoo animals and taking them for a ride, drawing at the little table or building a den using little more than a colourful crochet blanket. There is a palpable sense of community among the accompanying parents, and not one of them looks harassed or bored.
By the time home-time rolls around, 15 minutes short of the two-hour mark and with the studio now filled with tinies, I haven’t heard so much as a snivel out of anyone – except when I told Bab it was time to go home and she momentarily lost it. This place is nothing short of magical, and yet the concept is so wonderfully simple: a calm and caring environment where little ones follow their own lead, and curiosity is king. Very few things have the ability to get us out the house at 8am on a Sunday, but this definitely just made the list.
Where and When?: The Greenhouse takes place on Sundays from 9-11am. Tomato Tutors is located at 174 High Road and is an eight-minute walk from East Finchley (Northern) station.
Best Bits: The space is so beautiful I want to move in, and I’ve never seen such a chilled-out bunch of toddlers in my life.
Worst Bits: Tomato Tutors is a bit of a mission unless you happen to live in this neck of the woods, which can make getting there before 10am challenging – although that might be what’s stopping this lovely session from getting horribly packed.
Facilities: Buggy parking, toilets.
Would We Come Back?: If we lived on the High Barnet branch of the Northern line we’d go every week. We don’t, as it happens, but we’ll definitely be back.
Bab has a rare quiet moment at The Greenhouse Playgroup, Tomato Tutors, East Finchley.