Kindergarten readiness a top priority

Published 12:19 pm Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Children race to the door to see what is brought to them today.

No, Grandma or Grandpa is not visiting; Mom or Dad isn’t coming back from a business trip.

The children are excited because the Preschool on Wheels teacher has just arrived at their day care with a tote of early learning lessons and art projects.

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Through the Preschool on Wheels program, licensed teacher Jessie Bolinger visits 10 day cares and the Adult Basic Education child care room for 30 minutes each week to guide preschool-aged children through lessons geared toward kindergarten readiness. Skills taught include identifying shapes and colors, classifying animals and letter and number recognition.

Debbie Baas is one of the local providers who utilizes the program.

Baas said while many day care providers also work on these skills themselves, she thinks it’s important to strengthen these skills at every possible opportunity.

The children thoroughly enjoy the program, she said. Baas said no one at her day care has to be prodded to take part in the lessons. The 3- to 5-year-olds do so enthusiastically, and younger children often follow suit.

No one is excluded from participating based on his or her age. Younger children merely receive more guidance from the day care provider.

The program, which is in its eighth year, is funded through the Early Childhood Family Education program with Albert Lea Area Schools, with a yearly fee paid by participating day care providers.

“To be very honest, it is a program that is not self-sufficient,” said Jenny Hanson, director of early learning with the school district. “We’ve always gone into the red running the program, but we feel it’s a very important piece of outreach and promotion.”

The program is offered to all licensed day cares in Albert Lea. In addition to being able to offer their children the added benefit of Preschool on Wheels, day care providers can earn hours toward their licensure recertification through the program.

Preschool-aged children who are potty-trained also have the opportunity to participate in center days. Six days a year, they are picked up by a bus at their day care and brought to the preschool room for a longer 1 1/2-hour day to help ease them into the transition from day care learning to learning in a classroom setting.

Hanson said the program fills another niche in the community by bringing early childhood and kindergarten readiness skills to children, making it easier for families to have their children participate in an early learning experience without having to worry about how to get their child to an actual preschool facility.

Bolinger said she couldn’t be happier to be part of the program. Following her graduation from St. Cloud State University, she returned home to Alden where she worked in a day care. It was there she received a call from Hanson, offering her the position of Preschool on Wheels teacher.

“I never actually thought I’d be working in Albert Lea as a teacher,” Bolinger said, noting the position is perfect for her because she loves the little ones. “I didn’t know if I would actually be able to find a job as a teacher.”

It’s a position that Hanson can see Bolinger staying in.

“I just see her growing in what she has been able to bring to the day cares,” Hanson said.

Why does Bolinger choose to work in Albert Lea? 

Bolinger was grateful to find a teaching position so close to her hometown of Alden but knew she wanted to continue to live in a small town.

By the numbers

10 – Day cares that utilize the Preschool on Wheels program, along with the Adult Basic Education child care room

3 to 5 – Ages of children the program targets