Registration for St. Charles Park District offerings now open
When it comes to her role, Kara Guizzetti-Reif likens herself and her team of teachers to gardeners.
“So much of early childhood education is laying the groundwork and planting seeds,” said the preschool, early childhood and day camp supervisor for Pottawatomie and Hickory Knolls preschools. The schools offer the programs for children 2 1/1 through 5 years old.
Sometimes those “seeds”—how to form strong peer relationships, undertake activities autonomously, and follow instructions, to name a few—bear fruit immediately. Other times, educators may have to be patient, but to see young pupils flourish in their school setting is well worth the wait.
Registration for the 2022-2023 school year is open now. The year begins August 22, and continues through May 19. Registration for summer preschool classes start in April.
The same core philosophies guide instruction at both schools, with educators developing curriculum to help children become independent lifelong learners.
“All classrooms are staffed with two co-teachers, and kindergarten readiness and social skills are taught through weekly themes chosen by classroom teachers,” Guizzetti-Reif said.
Classrooms at Pottawatomie are larger and can accommodate a greater number of students. Active play takes place on the inclusive playground at the community center’s outdoor park or indoors in the space’s gym. The nature discovery center’s outdoor play area and nearby walking trails serve as the location for many of the daily activities at Hickory Knolls Preschool, though an indoor room is available in the event of inclement weather.
“We take advantage of having animals and naturalists onsite, and include them in lesson planning with critter talks and visits,” said Guizzetti-Reif of the program at Hickory Knolls.
In Twos Plus, the school day is primarily play-oriented as children learn how to navigate relationships with those around them and develop a sense of independence. Children must by 2 by March 1.
In the Threes program, students benefit from a greater focus on basic academic concepts. Educators build more structure into the school day, honing in on essential skills such as observation, counting, sorting and comparing. Children are 3 on or before September 1.
In pre-kindergarten, students build on their skill sets with the addition of letters, numbers and basic writing skills. Children are 4 on or before September 1 for this class.
Guizzetti-Reif, who was a teacher in the Threes program prior to her current position, really values the effort and care staff bring to their roles.
“Many of my instructors have been here for several years. We’ve got a lot of stability,” she said. “Expectations of the students will grow and change, but if a kid is having an off day, the teachers are going to meet that kid where they are.”
The instructors, all of whom are parents themselves, also seek to create a feeling of safety and security in every student who walks through the door. Tending to a child’s social and emotional needs is paramount in a preschool setting, particularly when the environment is a new one, Guizzetti-Reif said.
“That first month of school is really about establishing that this space is theirs and that we want them to feel comfortable here,” she continued. “And if a child doesn’t have the words to say how they’re feeling, we’re going to help.”
Melissa Nolan of St. Charles is well-acquainted with the Pottawatomie Preschool program, first sending her daughter Nora for two years, followed by the same for son James.
“We had a very good teacher experience and the school has a really nice and balanced focus on play-based learning,” she said.
Nolan enjoyed the schools’ partnership with the St. Charles Library, which conducts a monthly story time for students, and appreciated the dedication she saw in all of the staff, mentioning how teachers recorded videos of themselves reading books and shared ideas for crafts and activities during the early days of the pandemic.
“They really go the extra mile,” she said.
To learn more about the preschool program, including enrollment, visit www.stcparks.org/preschool.