Marta Estrada, Founder & Executive Director
Hi, I’m Marta, the founder and director of Jardin Infantil Academy. I found my life’s calling at an early age: working with children. Growing up in El Salvador as the eldest in a family of five children, I embraced my caregiver role. I led my siblings outside for long days in the countryside, an experience that created close family bonds and positively shaped all of us. I completed three years of teacher training in El Salvador and launched two preschool programs, before beginning my Canadian adventure.
Everything about my life changed when I arrived in Toronto in 1990, except my desire to work with children and positively shape their early years. I earned an Early Childhood Education diploma from George Brown College and worked as an Assistant Teacher at a daycare in Toronto’s west end.
I didn’t know it then, but forest schools were starting to gain popularity across Europe at this time, spreading from their Scandinavian origins. Educators were discovering that these nature-based pre-schoolers were particularly well prepared for the transition to kindergarten: they had strong social and physical skills, showed creativity and innovation, and were full of self-confidence.
In 2000, I took the leap and created Jardin Infantil Academy out of our family’s home near High Park. The name means “kindergarten” in both Spanish and French. I came to see in my own work exactly what forest school proponents observed: children developing self-confidence through exploratory play and forming meaningful relationships with each other and the environment. Later, inspired by the positive impact the program was having on young children’s development, we created our camps for school-age kids.