Preschool provides solid foundation for learning

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My children are both in elementary school now. No more preschool for us.

I have to admit, I am grateful — extremely grateful — for free public education. Now that I am no longer paying half my paycheck for my children to go to preschool and child care I feel like a weight has been lifted.

But I miss those preschool days. I miss the little notes home, the naps, the field trips to the fire department and the police station. I miss the creative art projects, all still taped up to the insides of my cupboards and doors.

I suppose I won’t entirely miss the backpacks full of papers and “drawings” — “full” being the operative word. My children used to bring home so many pieces of paper each day that at times I felt I was drowning in them. I tried to tape up the special ones, moving previous masterpieces to the baby book. But after a while the baby book became a baby box and soon I had so many pieces of art, many with just a single shaky line, I couldn’t find room for them. I would have to sneak around, after the kids were asleep, and throw some things away. To ward off feelings of guilt, I would chant to myself, “It’s the process, not the product,” as I threw away their precious art.

I remember certain things about my own preschool days. Apparently I loved preschool (or more likely, my mom did!), because I attended multiple different programs: Betty Shields, the WWCC Parent Co-op, and Mary Drake’s.

I remember some of the songs we would sing, songs about the days of the week, songs about numbers, fun songs like “The Farmer in the Dell.” I remember Betty Shields bringing in a dentist who showed us plaster teeth and how to brush. I remember sharing my record player with my classmates at the Co-op.

I was in my 20s before I realized most of the kids who attended Betty Shields with me also graduated from high school with me. Just another wonderful perk of growing up in a small town, knowing who used to suck their thumb and who cried when their mom left. Or in my case, who never brushed their hair, and who insisted on being called “Baby Chicago.”

My children were fortunate enough to attend Kid’s Place. My Aunt Florene taught at Kid’s Place when it was first founded, and my younger brother Daniel was in one of the first groups. I was in high school at this time and I loved going to pick him up at school, seeing the quiet and organized groups of kids playing with blocks and wearing costumes. I decided at that point that my own children would attend Kid’s Place some day.

Years later, when I found out I was expecting my first baby, I called Kid’s Place to be put on the waiting list. The director, Kathy Hiatt, thought nothing of putting a baby who was not expected to be born for 8 months on a waiting list. Good thing I did, too! Both of my kids were able to start in the smallest child room with Mrs. Endicott when they were just 2 years old. They were both able to attend Kid’s Place for a few years, and even now still wish they could go there.

Besides the gentle teachers and very small classes, they loved the creatively designed play areas and kid-friendly organization, the college kids who were always there helping, the little field trips (“nap walks”) they would take around the Whitman College campus and downtown. I am so glad my children got to experience this.

Now that the kids are both in elementary school my life has opened up. Getting them to and from school is easy with busing, they are pretty independent with their school work and they only bring home the occasional art project. I love watching my kids grow up — although I do miss those preschool days.

Sara Van Donge is a Walla Walla native and middle school dual language teacher. She can be reached at saravandonge@gmail.com.

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