NEGAUNEE - For kids, playtime is about learning - learning to use their hands and eyes, learning to use their imaginations, learning to interact nicely with others.
Although kids can learn these things in almost any play situation, preschool programs work to teach those lessons with the aim of preparing their students for moving on to elementary school.
"Preschoolers are active learners. They learn best in an environment that gives them opportunities to move, explore and use all their senses," said Doreen Bertucci of the Negaunee Co-operative Preschool.
Preschool is a chance for three and four year olds to start exploring the world around them. The Negaunee Co-operative Preschool is based on parent involvement in the program, and helps kids learn letters, numbers and fine motor skills. As a treat, the program also brings in guest speakers, such as U.P. 200 and Midnight Run volunteer Todd Hennigan and his dog Banshee. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
The program holds separate classes for 3- and 4-year-olds for two-and-a-half hour sessions several days each week at the Mitchell Methodist church in Negaunee, teaching everything from the alphabet to how to wait patiently in line.
"It gets them ready for public school," Bertucci said. "They separate from mom. They can be independent."
During class each day, students get plenty of playtime, which Bertucci refers to as a kid's worktime. Between playing games on a colorful piece of carpeting marked with the alphabet and learning to use scissors, preschoolers aren't just learning those specific skills, but also how to plan and strategize.
"When they're doing art, they're planning, they're making choices, they're solving problems," Bertucci said.
More important than getting early lessons in gravity and balance by playing with blocks, kids in preschool are also learning how to interact with their classmates and teachers.
"We take care of ourselves and the things around us," Bertucci said of one of preschool's big lessons. "We take care of the things we use."
As a co-operative program, the Negaunee Co-op focuses not only on its students, but also on getting the parents of those students involved.
Parents make up the board of the non-profit program, as well as providing help within the classroom and helping to organize activities for their children and their classmates.
"It's one of the most important things you can do to help your kids succeed," Bertucci said of parents becoming involved in their children's education.
Parents also work to help bring special programs to the classroom, such as arranging field trips to the parents' workplaces or bringing special activities into the classroom. In the past, Bertucci said the preschoolers have been able to decorate cookies with parents who are bakers and see live chickens raised by one of the program's parents.
"I like it because then I know what he's doing and how he's growing," said parent Jacki Paulsen, whose son Ryker, 4, attends the Negaunee Co-op.
Last week, Paulsen helped organize a visit from U.P. 200 and Midnight Run volunteer Todd Hennigan and his dog Banshee, who serves as the mascot for the annual sled dog race. Kids got the chance to learn about sled dogs and got to pet Banshee.
"I think it gets them involved," Paulsen said of the special programs. "It helps them be aware of more activities out there."
The biggest part of preschool, however, is getting young kids to begin their school careers with a positive start.
"We teach them to love school," Bertucci said.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.