401 Meeker St Delta CO 81416 970.874.4421

Little Sprouts teaching its second generation

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Photo by Hank Lohmeyer When entering the Little Sprouts Preschool classroom, children and parents are greeted with an attractive, comfortable, and well laid out invitation to exploration and learning.

Since 1995, Little Sprouts Preschool has given a generation of local families a chance -- that is a chance for quality, early learning experiences for its preschoolers in a safe and caring environment close to home.

As Little Sprouts Preschool enters its second generation of service and looks to the future, it also offers a choice -- that is the choice for its children's early learning in a community-based setting that places the family at the center of fully professional, caring guidance and instruction.

Little Sprouts Director Lora Ely and board member Jim Hatheway sat down recently with the DCI to talk about the preschool's many contributions to the community and how it is planning to continue being valuable and relevant to local families in the future.

"The Little Sprouts program is designed to engage the whole child," said Hatheway, one of six local people who sit on the school's board of directors.

"This is a very unique program," he added. "You see the kids come in every day excited about going to school. Our teachers are here for the kids, and every day they go above and beyond."

One example of the deep engagement that the school's four, fully-certified instructors have with the children and their families is the nutrition and healthy living curriculum that was developed by the school's own staff. The learning experience focuses on foods that are healthy choices and why they are. The learning is reinforced with healthy treats served at snack time each day.

Hatheway says the school has gotten very positive response from parents on how the children bring that learning home and share it with the family.

Hatheway noted another example of how the staff's dedication to the children reaches out beyond their preschool years and helps them find success in the school district's kindergarten program. He explained, "Our teachers have very good relationships with kindergarten teachers at the elementary school. Each year they sit down with the kindergarten teachers and discuss each child's learning strengths and keys to the learning styles of each individual student."

Graduates of Little Sprouts are now bringing their own children to the preschool for the great learning experiences they themselves had when just starting out. While most of the school's 50 students are from the Surface Creek Valley, others come from Delta and the North Fork to experience the Little Sprouts quality program of individualized caring.

When Little Sprouts' founding director Jenna Wright created the preschool and its programs, she had the correct focus on the child and family, director Ely notes. Wright's vision has proven true through the years. Ely explained that even the Little Sprouts classroom and playground facilities have been developed to enhance the school's instructional program and focus on the whole child and family.

Ely explained how the school playground is setup to provide early education support. The area is furnished with age-appropriate activities for three-to-five year olds. It is secure and closely supervised. It is carpeted with a super soft bedding material that ensures the only thing resulting from a childhood spill is a gentle learning experience.

Ely notes how, on entering the classroom itself, there is a feeling of immediate interest and engagement. Bright colors, interesting objects and different areas each with a unique theme and feeling encourage a young mind to want to investigate and see more, she explained.

Hatheway added, "The open concept in this building is one of the unique aspects about Little Sprouts. There are many interesting activities to attract children, and they have a chance to interact with others in the learning environment." But in addition, children learn attention-focusing skills and self control as their teachers engage the groups of eight or fewer in specific activities until some free time arrives for individual classroom explorations.

On the academic side, Ely notes that early literacy teaching is phonics based with enhancements designed to help children experience the feeling of learning. The program is called Zoophonics. And in addition to learning curriculum that has an academic character, Ely explained that the Little Sprouts program focuses on character development aspects of learning: taking responsibility, practicing behaviors of kindness, and learning compassion towards others. The Little Sprouts program teaches interpersonal skills and also provides experiences for interacting with the community at large.

For example, the children have opportunities to interact with and learn about others at the local food bank and in young adult skills classes at the other schools. The Little Sprouts program has a definite focus on learning to be a contributing member of a family and of a community.

A focus on community is only natural for the Little Sprouts program. Community support has been deep and ongoing since its founding in 1995. From that beginning 21 years ago the community has been the major, generous, and enthusiastic supporter of the preschool. Businesses, local public institutions, individuals, groups and service organizations have all opened their hearts and checkbooks to support the Little Sprouts vision over the years.

Little Sprouts is looking forward to the future, and to the next generation of youth that will take their first, all-important steps toward success there. It is interesting, Ely notes, that three of the Little Sprouts directors have had children go through the program but have remained on the board after their own children moved on in order to continue making contributions to a local institution they have come to believe in deeply, and to love.

The board of directors has had many discussions about new programs and pathways to learning that they want Little Sprouts to provide. One change coming next year is the start of a four-day per week program for three-year-olds; the four-year-olds already are on a four-day schedule.

Other ideas are for more community people to come in and give kids a taste of the agricultural part of the community. Also, people with music skills to share, or construction workers to explain their roles are ideas for new learning experiences are being considered.

A need is being seen to de-emphasize electronic media and the gadget-based social experience that is everywhere these days. Little Sprouts is aiming toward learning experiences with more hands-on feeling and awareness of the community and world all around.

The board has had many discussions about programing to meet the needs of the future.

Little Sprouts is moving in a direction that will continue providing the skill sets and personal tools for children to develop confidence when experiencing new people, new environments, and new situations in life. And as from the very first, it is an education that starts with, and is centered in the family.

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