ADDISON COUNTY — Pre-school art adorning storefronts in Bristol, Middlebury and Vergennes throughout April encourages residents to think about the importance of educating future members of our society.
“I think preschool education is really invisible to a lot of people,” said Kerry Malloy, director of the Lincoln Cooperative Preschool since 1997. “People have a lot of misconceptions about what preschool education is actually about — ‘Oh, they’re just learning colors and learning how to play with friends’ when there’s just so much more than that.
“(Young children are) just incredibly intelligent people. And if you teach them in a fun way, they’re up for learning basically anything.”
The Addison County Early Childhood Directors Network organized posting of the children’s artwork during April — the Month of the Young Child — to make high-quality programs visible to the larger community.
“We wanted to bring quality education and quality experiences for kids birth to five more to the forefront in our communities,” said Quarry Hill School Director Su White, who with Otter Creek Child Center’s Linda January is a key organizer of the month-long displays of children’s art and learning. “So we’ve collaborated with many of the local businesses. There’s artwork. There’s photographs showing kids making their artwork and showing kids engaged in the work and learning that they do in the early education programs where they spend their days.”
The children’s artwork and displays come from 20 large to small preschools, childcare centers and home care providers from Bristol, Middlebury, Vergennes and surrounding towns.
“One thing we really want the community to understand is the importance of the early years,” said Amethyst Peaslee, resource specialist for Mary Johnson Childcare Services. The MJCS (a separate entity from the Mary Johnson Children’s Center) is the Department for Children and Families’ designated Child Care Support Agency for Addison County.
“We now know that 80 percent of a person’s brain is developed before age three; 90 percent is developed by age five,” Peaslee said. “So it’s really essential that we invest in the early years and in early education because that’s when all this brain development is happening.”
Peaslee cited the Vermont Let’s Grow Kids campaign as another effort to raise visibility on the important of quality early care and learning. According to the campaign’s website, "more than 70 percent of Vermont children under age six have all of their parents in the labor force" and “more than half of infants and toddlers likely to need child care in Vermont do not have access to high-quality, affordable programs.”
All early education experts interviewed for this article emphasized that young children learn through play — and that their learning doesn’t necessary look “academic,” nor should it. Discussing the importance of making art, for example, Peaslee explained how manipulating materials also builds fine motor skills; talking about colors and textures or about what you want to make or paint and why, builds language and literacy skills; being able to make choices, solve problems and express feelings builds a child up socially and emotionally. The importance of curiosity, wonder and creativity — when a child learns that he or she can observe, ask questions and solve problems — was brought up time and again.
“You have to be creative to solve problems,” said Ashley Bessett, director of Evergreen Preschool in Vergennes.
Evergreen Preschool’s display in Vergennes highlights the children’s exploration of spring. At the center is the children’s colorful painting of flowers bursting open in the sun. Around the painting are photographs that highlight the different kinds of learning the children engaged in: exploring the natural world and their community by looking at Otter Creek rushing over the nearby dam on its way to Lake Champlain; working together to paint the flowers; asking questions, such as, What happens when ice melts? (prompted by watching the shallow backyard “skate puddles” turn to slush); developing observation skills by looking at the returning geese or the buds breaking out on trees.
In Middlebury, the Quarry Hill School display shows the same kinds of learning on multiple levels that took place during an exploration of birds.
“We were doing a whole study of birds,” said White. “So we’ve got the art of the birds, but we’ve also got the binoculars that we were looking through in the photographs and the wings that the kids had on their backs out in the play yard. We had a bin of birdseed and some of the birds that we made were playing with the kids in the birdseed. We were working with feathers. We made eggs out of clay. It’s not just the two-dimensional aspect of art. It’s multidimensional.
“So it’s not only art for art, it’s art and the process of making art and how that carries into how kids operate,” White continued.
The Lincoln Cooperative Preschool’s display in Bristol shows the children’s ABC books and fish paintings and the preschool’s focus on its outdoor classroom and equipment.
The home-based Jennifer Cyr Family Childcare display includes photographs of kids as budding nature scientists, exploring the natural world by touching the bark on trees, getting snow on their tongues, building structures from tree limbs and branches, and good old-fashioned playing in the mud.
To see the art and informational displays, walk Main Street and look for the businesses mentioned in the box in Bristol, Middlebury and Vergennes. The art and displays will be up throughout April. For more local activities geared around the Month of the Young Child, go to minibury.com.
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