Each morning the St. Charles Park District preschool teachers open the door and welcome their students to class where the young ones unzip coats, hang up backpacks, head to the sink to wash their hands and then make their way to their friends to enjoy some play time before settling into the daily lessons.
The simple routine is just one example of how the park district has provided a safe and healthy learning atmosphere for its youngest students who are thriving as they discover a world of letters, numbers, play and friends inside the cozy classrooms.
“We’ve been able to make it safe,” said Kara Guizzetti-Reif, Supervisor for the Early Childhood, Preschool and Day Camp programs at the St. Charles Park District. She has more than 23 years of experience in the preschool realm, having taught the three-year-old classes before accepting the role of supervisor.
Guizzetti-Reif said she understands the challenges parents face as they consider preschool for their children, but that is why she is eager and excited to talk with parents, answer their questions or concerns and help each family find the right fit.
Often, one of the first questions families consider is their schedule and budget. Hickory Knolls has a smaller preschool space, but students are able to use the nature center’s outdoor recreation space. At Pottawatomie Preschool there are multiple classes for children starting at age 2 with morning and afternoon options.
“What I like best about our preschool is that I feel we are good balance between play and academics,” Guizzetti-Reif said. She added it’s important to remember at this young age play is an important part of learning, as children discover how to share, how to interact with their peers and how to be independent too. “Kids definitely need time to play and navigate relationships.”
The park district’s preschool teachers bring their years of experience in the classroom as well as their own personal experiences as parents, which includes the understanding and compassion to help each child find success and enjoy their time in the classroom.
And even in times of a pandemic, there is plenty of laughter and fun inside the classrooms. All staff and students wear masks. Class sizes have been reduced, and the schedule was altered to provide time to clean and sanitize between class sessions. Guizzetti-Reif said it has proved successful as the young ones have no trouble wearing their masks, covering noses.
Teachers even found a creative way to keep snack time. Each child brings a healthy snack from home which they enjoy in a picnic style on their own towel that is spaced out in each facility. The children are all smiles as they chatter with their neighbors, munch on crackers and apple slices before they slip their masks back on and resume their classroom activities.
“We know how to do it safely and it’s been really nice seeing kids and adults adapt,” Guizzetti-Reif said.
Preschool truly is a magical time for young ones and for the parents too, as often the friendships created during these special years continues far behind these years.
“People come to preschool and often find their tribe. I’ve had people who met when their children were babies and they remain friends for years,” Guizzetti-Reif said. “It’s an incredible community.”