“The space really belongs to the children,” said Kim Wilson, as she talked about the program she teaches, the Little Learners Program at N.B. Galloway School in Channahon.
Although adults are always welcome, she recognizes that the space is for the children. And, youngsters need space to play. Important to Wilson, too, is having an area for playing with blocks, for the same reason. Children need to the space to build things and to try things.
The three to five year olds in her morning class are remarkably cooperative as they go about their task of being children. There are no worksheets; the focus is on communication, developing school readiness and play.
When the children are only into the first hour of school time, hands have been washed, names have been reviewed, as have the alphabet letters. The Pledge of Allegiance has been said, and the milk order counted. Most of the young students get a chance to help by counting the milk, holding the flag, being the weather person, or by being assigned to line leader duties for later.
“We are a five-day-a-week program, very language intensive,” Wilson said. “When they do move on to kindergarten, they’ve had a good solid preschool experience."
Forty children are served by the program- half in the morning, half in the afternoon. There is no tuition charged. Students are screened and factors such as school readiness, a foreign language spoken in the home, medical issues, or prior early intervention are considered and may warrant admission to Little Learners. The Program is state-funded with the grant being administered through the Laraway School District, and this part of the program had been for housed for the last ten years in Channahon. Five school districts are served by the same grant, including Laraway, Elwood, Rockdale and Union. The other section of the program is housed in the Laraway district.
“Alright, friends, go ahead and stand up,” Wilson instructs the children as they stand they move down the hall. She reminds one student, who falls down and out of line, “Remember personal space.“ And, she reminds the student, gently that was the second time with the same misbehavior.
There is great animation during the alphabet song, with each letter corresponding to a hand and mouth gesture, and all the youngsters simultaneously doing the actions as the cards are shown. Wilson gently corrected the students whose attention strayed, to get them back to the lesson. When it was time to move to the next activity, most of the children moved quickly to their station.
The classroom is divided into various area, the playhouse area and the block area, among them. Some of the areas have been supplied with gently-used items, as Wilson says she is a “big garage-saler.” The toys get rotated frequently with the rest of the toys, which reside in her basement when not in use. Limited funds for materials forces Wilson be creative with her funds.
Instructional Assistant Brandey Parker said art projects are focused on muscle activities, using fingers or spinners to spread paint rather than on having all projects look the same.
“However it turns out, it’s fine,” she said.
No two art projects look alike; the process and the skills are as important as the final outcome.