The following article appeared in the Stoney Creek News, Volume 55 NO. 39 on Friday September 24, 2004. Duplicated here with the kind permission of the author, Abigail Cukier

Preschool preparing children for kindergarten

By Abigail Cukier
News Staff

 Early Scholars Preschool

The bright, colourful room is full of activity. Ethan is playing with blocks, while Christian and Nicholas commence "cooking" plastic vegetables on the stovetop. Ciara is curled up in the Reading Corner. The children are ready to start their program at Early Scholars Preschool in Stoney Creek.

Many studies have shown a child's first six years are the most important in terms of brain development and subsequent learning, behaviour and health. An investment in early learning also helps a country's economic and intellectual prosperity.

This is why many local parents are sending their children, two-and-a-half to five years of age, to Early Scholars Preschool. The new school, on Barton Street near Gray's Road, strives to enable children to build their self-esteem so they may grow to their potential in preparation for kindergarten.

Local parents urged owner/director Tammy Leach and program supervisor Nancy Wills to start their own school. The early childhood educators have known each other for a decade and have worked at daycares in the area. They both wanted to work in programs that prepared children for school through early literacy, science and math in a safe, fun environment. They just weren't sure they wanted to run a school.

"Last October, parents asked us to start our own school, but it's very different being the administrator than being a teacher. Because it's difficult to change existing programs, we decided to take the plunge," said Ms. Leach. "These parents have helped us every step of the way. We couldn't have done it without the parents supporting us."

In May, Ms. Leach and Ms. Wills, with parents' help, began transforming their storefront facility into an open, inviting preschool. The walls are a soft purple, small tables and chairs are bright green and purple. A large, lighted mirror allows children to check out their dressup costumes. Stations throughout the room are filled with art and science supplies, loads of books and toys.

A main component of the Early Scholars curriculum is storybook-based. Each morning, during circle time, children will hear the same story for two weeks. As children become truly familiar with a story through multiple readings, they learn and practise important language skills, such as being able to predict, role playing, recalling details and answering questions.

Ms. Leach heard from kindergarten teachers that students' fine motor skills are lacking, showing up in activities like holding scissors and dressing themselves. So these activities will be emphasized at the preschool.

"Play is very important, but it's about what materials you give them to play with," Ms. Leach said. "We want to develop the whole child to make the transition to kindergarten as smooth as possible."

And communication with the parents is also key to a successful program.

"We will talk about their strengths and areas we are concerned with," Ms. Leach said. "And we listen to the parents. They know their children better than we do. And if we can't hear the parents, the children will know."

Early childhood researcher Dr. Fraser Mustard compared children's readiness for kindergarten and standardized test results in Grades 3 and 6. He found children who lag behind early on will generally remain so.

He concluded more government investment should be made into programs aimed at early childhood development. He said good parenting, interaction and reading to children are also important to development.

Nicole Ilich is excited about the Early Scholars Preschool. Her three-year-old son Nicholas attended the daycare where Ms. Leach used to work. She helped him and brought him out of his shell.

"He was so excited to come here. He kept asking, 'When is September?'" said Ms. Ilich. "We don't have the time to really teach them, so we want to send them to preschool to prepare them for school. We don't want a daycare, but a place to get ready for kindergarten."

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