Preschool encourages exploration

10/14/2016


By Sue Cody

 

Learning Together 3I walk up to a well-kept house in a quiet Warrenton neighborhood, uncertain if this is the right place. I am looking for Learning Together Preschool. Maybe I had the address wrong; after all, there is a play structure at one of the houses across the street.

 

But when I knock on the door, I am welcomed by an enthusiastic Cathy Larson, who leads me down some stairs into a wonderland of childhood activities. Dinosaurs occupy one corner. Play stations dot the room: colors with markers, mailboxes with names on them, a grocery store complete with cash register, a reading area, Play-doh place and a bearded dragon resting in a hammock inside a glass aquarium. Each space also has books that relate to that subject.

 

Learning Together Preschool is clearly a labor of love for owners Cathy and Richard Larson. Surprisingly, the preschool has openings for four more children.

 

Learning Together 4Decades of dedication

 

“We flunked retirement,” Cathy says. Richard taught school in the Seattle area for 30 years, then the couple ran a preschool and daycare center for nine years. They lived on Kauai, then moved back to Seattle, but Richard says, “It didn’t feel right.” Their love of the Oregon Coast brought them to Warrenton, where they found a house that was perfect for a preschool.

 

“Our passion is children. Richard loves teaching, and I love to create,” Cathy says. And she has created an amazing preschool.

 

Learning Together 13Engaging Curriculum

 

“99 percent of what we do is hands on,” Cathy says. “We have a basic curriculum that meets Oregon Early Education Foundation Standards. But things are always changing.

 

“We listen to where the children’s interests are and it unfolds for us,” Cathy says. “They can go as far as they want to go.” The couple has had 4-year-olds who were reading and others who weren’t ready.

 

Pre-writing materials fill one corner: colored paper in drawers, labels on toys, scissors to make collages, textures to work with. Not only is each drawer identified with its contents, but the color on the lettering matches the color of the paper.

 

In the grocery store, fruits and vegetables have individual bins with labels so children can make the connection between the object and the word. The cash register has big numbers on it, to connect numbers with value.

 

Learning Together 8“Richard and Cathy have put their hearts and souls into this preschool,” says Tara Mestrich, Family Care Connection administrative program specialist. “They have invested in high-end toys, and their program focuses on the education piece.”

 

While it is licensed for six children, ages 3 1/2 to 5 years old, only two are currently enrolled. To tour the center, or to enroll, call (503) 994-3022. Classes are held from 8:30 to 11:30 Mondays through Thursdays during the school year. Some children arrive earlier, Cathy says.

 

Learning Together 10Invitation to explore

 

I am intrigued by the backyard that doesn’t look like a typical playground. There are no traditional climbing structures, swings or monkey bars. Instead, Richard has built a “naturescape.”

 

Little elf houses are somewhat hidden among flowers and shrubs, some at eye-level for the children. A slide is built into a berm, so if the kids fall off, they roll in the grass. A tunnel of sticks covered with nasturtiums invites the children to run through it. There is an area of rocks I am tempted to stack.

 

Coming soon is a dinosaur dig – a box filled with sand, where the kids can explore and uncover dinosaur eggs one week, maybe bones the next. The whole naturescape invites exploration.

 

Learning Together 9Play as learning

 

Even play has a purpose, and each area has a sign listing how playtime builds skills. At the Play-doh, center, children are:

 

• Exercising muscles

• Exercising imaginations

• Using tactile senses to stimulate brains

• Increasing attention span

• Explaining shapes

 

Manipulative toys advance fine motor skills and concentration. Speaking in complete sentences encourages language skills. Books in each area reinforce the connectivity of the subject to real world experiences. For instance, photos of buildings and books on architecture line the walls of the room containing building blocks.

 

Having seen research on learning centers and the need to connect words to their meaning, I believe this preschool hits the highest benchmarks.

 

Cathy is quick to credit a couple of websites that have been very helpful: Some of the dinosaur equipment and snack chart are from: http://playtolearnpreschool.us/dinosaur-dramatic-play/. Signs that help educate parents and visitors are from: http://www.pre-kpages.com/center-signs/.

 

Learning Together 6More than teaching credentials

 

Despite their obvious qualifications, Richard and Cathy had to clear many hurdles to open their doors. Learning Together Preschool is registered with the state as a Childcare Family Home. They both passed state criminal background checks, hold Oregon Food Handler’s certification, child/infant CPR, and First Aid card. They also further their early childhood education by taking at least 25 hours of continued education per year.

 

“This is their passion,” Tara says of Richard and Cathy. “They are soft spoken, their price is reasonable, and they are teaching one-on-one.”

 

For more information about the preschool, see: http://www.learningtogetherpreschool.com/, call (503) 994-3022 or email: larsons@learningtogetherpreschool.com.

The Way to Wellville and Columbia Pacific CCO are dedicated to improving early childhood education in this region.