03/01/2007 - Cheri Corbett doesn't seem to like kids. Cheri Corbett seems to love kids. It shows in how she interacts with them and how she guides her staff to interact with them.
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Cheri started Kids Works 13 years ago as a community entertainment center where parents could come and let their kids play or have birthday parties.
"A positive place for kids to come and be kids," says Cheri.
Friendships developed among children, parents, and staff. Over time, a parent would sometimes ask a staff member to keep an eye on their kiddo while they ran a few errands. Eventually Kids Works evolved into a full-time, full-service day care. Three years ago, Cheri added a preschool.
Last spring Kids Works graduated fourteen preschoolers toward their march into kindergarten. At the ceremony some teachers sobbed their hearts out as they said goodbye to the graduates, some of whom had been there since they were two years old.
Two of those teachers, Nicci Walling and Brynn Ramsey, talk enthusiastically about their love of teaching. Nicci has always wanted to be a preschool teacher and has been doing so for two years. Brynn started teaching at Kids Works six years ago while she was still in high school. She
currently studies Early Childhood Education at Casper College.
"We base our learning centers on each kid's attention span and ability, not on age," Brynn says. "We know each kid individually and allow them to self-pace." All the teachers give kids extra attention if they need it or teach higher-level skills when a child is ready.
"We try to keep a one-to-eight ratio of teachers to kids, no matter the age of the kids," Cheri says. This allows flexibility so kids can easily intermix among groups, as each is ready to learn new things. It also helps them learn to meet and be comfortable around new people. In addition, siblings, often years apart in age, can be together in the same group if that's what they need.
Cheri employs a hands-on philosophy to teaching. The teachers and children play together, sometimes in small groups and sometimes in large. Teachers strive to lengthen each child's attention span while the kiddos learn shapes, counting, songs, writing, and other necessary skills.
Teachers lead "shape hunts" and even three-year-olds can identify and say sphere and cylinder and other shapes that would make a geometry teacher proud.
Playing "Store" is another favorite activity. The kids take turns being customers and cashiers as they buy and sell "real" merchandise with "real" money. Customers know how many items they can buy based on how much money they have. When they get to the checkout, the cashier counts the money and sacks the merchandise, practicing social skills by saying such things as "Thank you for shopping here." Sometimes, a child sees something in the store he wants but doesn't have the money to buy. The child asks and is given a chore to do so he can earn the needed money. Typically the chore is to straighten the store shelves.
Kids Works' inventive and imaginative teachers are alert for teachable moments and adjust their teaching accordingly. For instance, when the kids were growing bored with writing letters and words, their teacher asked, "Okay, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"A policeman!" was the first and loudest answer.
"What are some of the things a policeman uses on the job?"
"Do you want me to show you how to write 'handcuffs?'"
And, voila, a limitless resource for practicing the art of writing is born.
"The kids like looking at the map of the world and hearing about the different counties and different cultures," says Nicci. "One little girl found a kimono in the toy box and knew it belonged to Japan.
High-end preschoolers are learning to read, speak Spanish, and use sign language.
"Kids Works fills a unique and different niche," says Cheri.
And lest one thinks it's only about learning, learning, learning at Kids Works, one of the rooms houses a gigantic, netted cage where kids squeal down curly slides and lumber around in waist-high brightly-colored plastic balls.
I don't know about you, but Kids Works sorta makes me want to go back to day care again.