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Preschool Enrichment

Local learning programs

October 01, 2011
Four-year-old Sophie Etnier says she's going to be a ballet teacher when she grows up. She comes home from her ballet class at the JCC of Indianapolis and refuses to take off her tutu – as she's got her own dance class to teach. She tells her stuffed animals to stand in line, stay quiet and follow her lead as she demonstrates pliés and pirouettes to her "class."

"Sophie's dance teachers must be very positive role models, because she brings them home with her after ballet class by acting out what she's learned from them," Sophie's mom, Shelley Etnier, said.

Sophie has been attending Preschool classes at the JCC for more than two years. She's enrolled in the preschool program as well as extracurricular ballet and tumbling classes. Swimming lessons, music and gym classes are also a part of her days at the JCC, as they're a part of the preschool curriculum.

Shelley said it's important to her that Sophie gets exposure to lots of different ways of "teaching, learning and doing" while she's in her developmental stages.

Preschoolers like Sophie love to stay busy in order to satisfy their exploring minds. Enrolling them in preschool programs and enriching extracurricular classes will promote healthy child development through social, physical, emotional and cognitive growth experiences.

"Enrichment programs provide you with after-school activities to diversify their learning," Mindi Epstein, director of marketing and membership at the JCC, said. "Socialization is critical to a child's future success, and preschool is the perfect age to begin developing positive interactive skills."

Modern research on early learning and brain development show that the brain forms cognitive, social and emotional connections as early as infancy, according to Barbara L. Wolf, Ph.D., associate vice president of research and family learning evaluation and technical advisor to The Children's Museum Preschool.

"What we once thought didn't occur until ages 5, 6 or 7, we now know that ages 0 to 4 are, without question, primetime," Wolf said. "The more human language and varied environmental experiences that a child is exposed to, the greater potential for that child to establish beneficial learning patterns and structures for them to connect and retain what they are seeing, hearing and doing."

Many facilities in Indianapolis offer preschool programming that will stimulate a child's learning potential. "The Children's Museum Preschool is designed so that all children have a planned experience in a selected exhibit each day when the museum is not yet open to the public," Wolf said. "The children do observational "research" during the visits, carefully looking at museum objects and using an inquiry approach to understand common phenomena such as cause and effect."

Matthew Stach, father to 3-year-old Ada, who has attended The Children's Museum Preschool since January, said that his daughter loves to learn in what he calls the world's largest classroom. "The staff does a fantastic job of shrinking tens-of-thousands of square feet [in the museum] down to otherwise unnoticed details in a way that only a child would understand it, interact with it and respond to it," Stach said.

Gymboree Play & Music provides developmental sports, play, art, music and school skills classes. Adults stay with the children in most cases, but there are some 3- to 5-year-old classes in which the child participates alone.

The JCC offers gymnastics, karate, soccer, basketball, Tiny Tot Athletics, Happy Feet dance classes and swimming lessons. They also have a Play Group that meets on select Monday mornings.

Mom's Day Out programs are a great chance for parents to have time for themselves while giving kids supervised, structured play in a preparatory environment. And volunteering – a free activity – is a great way for a child to learn by doing.

No matter which enrichment programs your children may participate in, be sure to stress the importance of the learning process, not the finished product. Allow children to enjoy their favorite activity, yet encourage them to develop skill and control in activities that they normally might not choose. Every level of ability deserves praise and acknowledgment.

Be a positive role model by getting involved in all of your child's programs yourself. "Greet each day with enthusiasm, and dwell in the joy and wonder of your child," Wolf said.

The Children's Museum Preschool values parental involvement in their learning environment. "As a child's first teachers, we view parents as having a significant role in what and how their child is learning," Wolf said. "Each month, parents have a first-hand opportunity to participate in what we call Family Learning Days. The entire family can come to experience a school day in the life of their child."

At the end of every school skills class at Gymboree Play & Music, parents reconnect with their children for the last 10 minutes of the class. Parents can talk with their kids and journal about what they learned in class, according to Eileen Papesh, manager of Gymboree Play & Music's Carmel location. "Parents are the ones who make the biggest impression on children, so it is very important that parents take part in a child's Education."

"As a working mom, I'm sometimes torn between wanting to be home with Sophie and not being able to," Shelley said. "But if she were at home with me every day, it would be challenging to give her the vast exposure to different enriching programs that she's getting in her preschool programs. The more she can be exposed to now, the more she can decide for herself what she's interested in down the road."

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Tags: Education, In This Issue, Local, Preschool

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