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Live it! Q&A: How preschool sets the tone for kindergarten

Val Walstrom is the preschool program director for the New London-Spicer School District,

Much of Val Walstrom’s working life has been centered around children.

In the mid-1990s, she began a home-based daycare while taking Early Childhood Education classes at night through Crown College, a private Christian college in St. Bonifacius, an exurb of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.

She began teaching in 2005 at BBE and was later selected to begin the Cub Kids preschool program for the New London-Spicer School District, where she remains today as the program’s administrator.

What she’s witnessed in that time is how much young children benefit from a preschool environment before they begin the transition to kindergarten.

Live it! Magazine recently visited Val to discuss her thoughts on the preschool topic.

Here’s what she had to say:

Live it!: All told, how many children are enrolled in your preschool?

Val Walstrom: We are currently serving 80 children in our preschool.

Live it!: What is the program’s educational philosophy and how is it achieved?

VW: At the preschool level, our primary goal is to ensure every child is ready for kindergarten. With the implementation of all-day, every-day kindergarten in recent years, we are noticing a bigger need for children to participate in a high-quality preschool experience in order to be prepared for the expectations of kindergarten. At the same time, we believe it’s equally important to protect and maintain what is developmentally appropriate for this young age. With those things in mind, our educational philosophy is to focus on the development of the whole child emphasizing all areas of development; including social/emotional, physical, language and academic growth. We believe young children learn best through an inclusive, play-based environment that embeds learning opportunities into their daily routines. We also believe parents are the most important teachers children will ever have, making it important to offer support and education for parents, as well as the child. Finally, we believe that preschool opportunities should be accessible to every family.

We have built in a variety of programs at NLS to support our efforts with preschoolers:

1. ECFE classes: Classes that parents and children can attend together. ECFE includes learning activities for children; along with education and resources for parents.

2. Cub Kids Preschool: Classes for children that focus on kindergarten readiness skills. Preschool classes include a wide variety of scheduling options; as well as bus transportation to help increase accessibility for families.

3. Scholarship programs: With help from United Way, we are able to offer scholarships for families in need.

4. Parent Advisory Council: This board is comprised of parents; along with school staff and community members. The purpose of the board is to empower parents to take an active role in the design and implementation of our Early Education programs.

Live it!: What are the most consistent behavioral changes you observe from when a child enters your preschool program to when he/she transitions into kindergarten? And are most ready for that transition when the time comes?

VW: Time in a preschool setting allows children to become familiar with school routines. Children also learn to function and learn in a group setting. Finally, while children are in preschool, they begin to establish positive relationships with their peers.

Our experience has been most children who participate in a preschool experience successfully develop these skills prior to entering kindergarten, making the transition to kindergarten much easier for them.

Live it!: In regard to a child’s “extracurricular” activities, what role do you recommend parents play?

VW: The term “extra-curricular” can mean many different things. At this young age, it’s important for kids to have time and space to explore, cultivate their imaginations, process their feelings, and move at their own pace.

In recent years, play has been somewhat undervalued in our society, yet research continues to emerge linking the connection between play and mental health. Getting out and exploring the community with family is an extra-curricular activity in itself at this age. Any activity that allows relaxed time for parents and children to explore together, without being overly structured is very appropriate at this age.

Live it!: How do you communicate with parents about their child’s progress in your preschool program?

VW: We offer parent/teacher conferences twice a year. Teachers are also available to meet anytime throughout the year that either the parent or the teacher feel it would be beneficial. We also stay in contact with parents through email and phone calls.

Cub Kids is located at Prairie Meadows Elementary School, 650 Agnes St., in Spicer. For more information, call 320-796-2443.

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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