By LINDA M. LINONIS
THE 3- TO 5-YEAR-OLDS ATTENDING Serendipity Christian Preschool at Westminister Presbyterian Church discover and learn new things daily.
Its name, which means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise” sums up the results of preschool activities, said Sandy Knaus, director since 2011.
“Children make unexpected discoveries every day,” she said.
The preschool is marking its 30th anniversary. Children, their parents and church members will celebrate by having a float in the Boardman Memorial Day parade on May 27.
Knaus and Susan McGee, who was with the preschool for 28 years and 25 as director, shared their thoughts.
Knaus, whose four children attended the preschool, began as an aide in the 3-year-old class then taught the 5-year-old class for two years before becoming director. She has a degree in elementary education, as does McGee.
The first year, McGee said, the preschool had a director, two teachers and three students in September then 15 students by October. The highest overall enrollment was 120 children. Current numbers are 17 children in the 3-year-old class that meets mornings Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays or Tuesdays and Thursdays, 16 in the 4-year-old class that meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and six in the 5-year-old, pre- kindergarten group, that meets mornings five weekdays.
Children are from all over the Valley.
The women said the Rev. Gordon Butcher, a former pastor, started the preschool “as an outreach to the community.”
Knaus said the preschool follows the Creative Curriculum based on the Early Learning Content Standards of Ohio. The focus is on active play, as McGee noted that “play is the work of children.”
Other activities are skill building with letters, sounds and math, gym to develop coordination, chapel and outdoor land lab. There’s a fenced-in playground.
“We knew it was important for children to be in touch with nature,” McGee said. The outdoor land lab provides many opportunities for children — once, five deer crossed in front of the group.
“We focus on the senses — what they hear, see, smell and touch,” Knaus said, noting children walk the path monthly to observe changes. They might make tree rubbings or collect leaves for an art project. An art show is planned next week.
“Worksheets aren’t used. It’s all hands-on,” McGee said.
Activities build on skills as children learn letters and sounds then begin to form sentences. Play dough might be used for children to form letters. “They’re learning letters, and it’s developing dexterity,” Knaus said.
Knaus, who also teaches a 4-year-old class, said the program allows for children’s interests to direct classses. Knaus said one cold winter day the children started talking about animals who live in cold climates such as polar bears and penguins. “We can be flexible, so I pitched my lesson plan and we focused on that,” Knaus said.
Knaus said the 3-year-olds are in “their first school experience” and it’s about “learning to socialize.” She said many children at this age “parallel play,” that is, play with the same things independently of one another but next to one another. A preschool goal is to teach group play, where they learn to share.
Jackie Jamieson, teacher for 3-year-olds, recently hosted a tea party, where children minded their manners and sampled new tastes.
McGee said working with children “was the best job ever.”
“There wasn’t a day I wasn’t happy here,” she said, adding she loved the “a-ha moments” as children expressed excitement about learning.
Knaus agreed. “There’s something every day that makes me smile,” she said. “The connections you forge last a long time,” she added, noting she sees names of former students now in high school and college in local newspapers for academic, sports and community activities.
The women said chapel is nondenominational. “Age-appropriate Bible stories are taught,” McGee said. In general, the women said, the focus is on God’s love.