When Springwater Environmental Sciences Charter School first opened in 2006, the younger siblings of its founding group of students could be heard exclaiming “I want to go here too!” Now the pre-kindergarten set of little brothers and sisters have their own opportunity with the creation of the Springwater Preschool.
The Springwater Preschool is a tuition-based program housed on the same campus. Although not part of the charter school, they are a part of the same community and collaborate closely with the school staff. They’re literally in the same family “tree”: Springwater Charter School kindergarten students are “Oak Leaves”, and the Preschool Students are affectionately known as “Acorns.”
The Springwater Preschool operates two classes of students ranging from 3-5 years old; each class has a maximum of 14 children and two teachers. Two of those teachers are Stephanie Dodge and Cara Seifert, who helped start the preschool and are also parents of students at the adjoining charter school. The Preschool is open Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon.
Cara explains how the preschool themes and projects often emerge from the children’s interests. “Preschoolers come with a natural wonder and set of curiosities. Science is happening all around them non-stop. One recent event was the thought of snow. We asked the children to think about their theory of how snow is made. We then asked them if they could draw their idea. They did. One child is pretty sure it comes as an overflow to the cloud’s very full tummy. In our sensory table, we set up an experiment with a product called Insta-snow” (a dry substance that grows and fluffs up just like snow when added with water).
On any given day, Acorns might make “oobleck”, experiment with magnets, observe the class walking stick insects, write and perform skits, or take nature walks in search of bird nests. Cara adds “we of course weave in and out what all preschoolers should know…time for fine motor and large motor skills, cognitive development, plenty of social interaction, and opportunities for children to grow emotionally.”
Being co-located with the Springwater Charter School offers opportunities for the Acorns to interact with the older students. They occasionally overlap on the campus’ extensive play yard with the “big kids”, who might graciously provide pushes on the swing set or just come by to chat. At times, older brothers or sisters at the charter school have stopped by to read with the preschool students or share a special talent. “Just the other day, a boy from the Acorn group wanted to send a note to his best friend who is in the Oak Leaves class,” Cara notes. “I sat down with him in our messaging center and we wrote a note together for Ryan. We then quietly delivered it to Ryan’s mailbox in Rae’s room. I enjoy these sort of exchanges. It reminds me that we are our own small community within the larger community of Springwater.”
Starting in February, the Springwater Preschool will begin enrollment for the 2011-12 year on a first-come, first-served basis. From February 1-11, enrollment is open to current Acorn families wanting to return in the fall and/or to siblings of currently enrolled Acorns. From February 14-28, enrollment expands to include any families of the Springwater Charter program who wish to enroll their preschool child in the fall. During those weeks, interested Springwater families can stop by to observe the classroom on Monday and Wednesday from 9-12:30, and Tuesday/Thursday from 9-3:30 (advance notice appreciated but not required). During the morning hours, the teachers may be less available to answer questions while they focus on the Acorns. On March 2nd, the preschool will host an open house from 10-12 (children are welcome), which then kicks off open enrollment for the general public.
Cara sums up her feelings about teaching at the Springwater Preschool with these words: “I find great joy in working with young children, no matter the setting. I learn from them far more than I can ever teach to them. I think what I have enjoyed most about this particular program is being given the opportunity to build it from the ground up.”