ORANGE >> On April 23, alumni of Orange Congregational Church Nursery School will have an opportunity to sit in the chair where they once had snack time and maybe visit the firetruck apparatus on the playground, in celebration of the nursery school’s 50th anniversary.

The “reunion” will take place following a special anniversary worship service that day at 10 a.m. The service will be child-centered, and a reception will follow.

“Our focus is to have alumni come and remember the good things,” said Nancy McCausland Mull, a former teacher in the program and committee member for the anniversary.

Mull said it is estimated more than 1,500 have graduated from the program and more than can be counted have attended.

The nursery school was begun in 1967 by three church member mothers. It has evolved into a place not only for playtime, music and social interaction, but also where children experience their first writings and pre-kindergarten academics.

“We have big shoes to fill but are passionate about what we do and enjoy having a job that can allow us to genuinely belly laugh every day,” said Director/teacher Tracie McDermott.

Since those first days, the program has grown in size, there are three rooms, and, in reach, to non-church members. None of those enrolled now happen to be church members, and they hail from Orange, Woodbridge, Bethany and West Haven.

The school was once a co-op that mandated a parent come in twice a month to help with the children and clean. It did away with that model and now relies on its paid staff because most parents today are working and no longer have the time, Mull said.

Church member Barbara Moritz, who is also part of the anniversary committee, has fond memories of her son and daughter’s time at the school years ago.

“I loved that it was Christian-oriented and I loved that I could be part of this and see what was going on,” Moritz said. “It was a wonderful way to meet my children’s friends and for me to make friends.”

The program is faith-based. There is a message across the bulletin board, “God Made us all Beautiful,” a simple prayer at snack time and other God-centered references, but it’s general and the nursery school draws other faiths.

Sarah Noyes, assistant teacher, said her own kids went there. “I liked the faith-based part of it, the idea of planting that seed early in life.”

The older group starts with free play time: there are stations with activities including a reading corner, sand table, monster trucks, art area, a wardrobe of costumes for role playing, a pretend store, play kitchens and even indoor climbing equipment.

Snack follows and then there is a circle time with show and tell, a weather report, the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of “My Country Tis of Thee.”

The children also have opportunities to learn pre-reading skills, science, math, music and social skills through various play and project activities.

Mull, who is retired from a long career in public education that followed her time as a teacher at the nursery school, said the program has grown and ebbed through the years, depending on the demography of the town.

Teachers at OCCNS work together with surrounding preschools, rather than viewing them as competition, McDermott said. Anyone with questions about the anniversary celebration can call the church at 203-795-9749. There is no need to register for the event.