By: Marie Huey
Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases great work happening in child care and preschool settings across Minnesota. From innovative early learning programs to parent perspectives on what works, check out the Early Education Spotlight for unique examples of Minnesota’s early learning successes.
Little Learners in Ada, Minnesota, is set up to be unique. Located in the same building as Benedictine Living Community, which offers independent and assisted living options for adults, the early learning program finds many opportunities to partner with the “Grandmas and Grandpas.”
Daily intergenerational activities include exercise, active games, or song and dance. The children especially enjoy story time with their older friends. The director of Little Learners, Karen DeVos, says both the children and residents enjoy their time together and look forward to seeing each other.
Every Wednesday, Little Learners delivers Meals on Wheels to people in the community. Benedictine Supportive Services prepares the meals. A couple of child helpers load up into the van and ride around from house to house, delivering the meals to each individual. The delivery children and the recipients all feel special in the process.
The Wonders of Play-Doh
Outside of their time with the residents and community, the Little Learners have plenty of fun opportunities to learn through play. DeVos cites Play-Doh as an excellent example. When molding and shaping the substance, children build fine motor skills, which are important later on for writing. The sensory experience of touching and feeling it engages their brains in ways that research identifies as the foundation of scientific learning. Because Little Learners currently has three Play-Doh rollers for six to seven children, the kids have to learn how to communicate if they are done or want to use the roller. It is just one great practical example of setting boundaries and sharing at a level appropriate and relevant for children.
Different Learners, Different Lessons
Little Learners’ high-quality support of children’s development is also apparent in how they apply curriculum to different age groups. During the first theme of the year,“My new school, my friends,” the preschool-age children discuss ways to be a good friend during circle time, and the stories they read have slightly more complex themes about friendships inside and outside of school. The toddlers read shorter, simpler books that require less sitting time and relate to simpler themes of keeping hands to themselves instead of hitting.
Community Connections and Quality
DeVos’ relationships with the community are key to the success of Little Learners. Formerly a Family Child Care provider for 16 years, she knows many families in the area. Her previous experience providing foster and respite care connected her with the county, where she has developed a very positive relationship. This has
helped make it easier for Little Learners to provide care to children who receive financial assistance through Early Learning Scholarships and the Child Care Assistance Program.
DeVos’ hard work and partnerships reiterate to families the high level of quality care they receive. Currently Two Star Parent Aware-rated, which means they employ some school readiness strategies that go beyond basic health and safety licensing requirements, they are in the process of increasing the rating to Four Stars, the highest level possible. Parents love that the center is teaching their children, and that it is still small enough that all children receive individual attention. Beyond the aim to support children’s cognitive development, DeVos strives to support the little learners to become good people who are well-rounded and kind.