A core group of parents are keeping the ball rolling for a play-based, cooperative preschool in Nikiksi.
The families have been meeting at 9:30 a.m. every Monday since December and will host a public meeting Saturday in hopes of boosting enrollment and establishing some ground rules.
“Cooperative preschools offer high-quality social and educational experiences for children with a focus on the family and parental involvement,” school organizer Katy Bethune, a retired Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Title 1 and early intervention specialist teacher, wrote in an email. “The parent involvement allows for lower operating costs, as parents perform many of the duties which would be paid positions in a traditional private preschool — janitorial, administrative and teacher’s aides are all parent volunteers.”
Bethune said Nikiski only has one preschool right now, but there is more demand than that. She said she wanted to open a brick-and-mortar educational center for three- to five-year-olds, because “learning independence and social skills” outside the home before entering Kindergarten is a solid foundation for success.
“A cooperative preschool is ideal for this as parents are able to participate in the daily activities and be present to help their children transition to a school-type environment,” she said.
The group has been meeting for a two-month trial run at the North Star United Methodist Church.
The space is not dedicated to learning, but has been an area to hash out ideas and refine daily practices, Bethune said.
Kaci Tauriainen, also a retired teacher and mother of eight, two of whom are preschool-age youngsters, said she found out about the start-up preschool at the Nikiski Post Office. She said she has been attending since nearly the start of the weekly gatherings, and is committed to volunteering as long as her kids are the right age.
“I put my name in the bucket,” Tauriainen said with a laugh. “I like the cooperative thing. I like the idea its not the same every time; it’s a little different every time.”
She said her son Harrison, 4, and daughter Finnlee, 3, are shy by nature. Being beside them in a comfortable setting outside the home has encouraged them to be a little bolder socially.
“It is so nice to see they get excited when I tell them we are going to playgroup,” Tauriainen said.
Before meeting Bethune, she had not known about play-based learning. She taught at the middle school level for years in Texas, but now sees how valuable learning hands on can be.
When there are activities with actual demonstrations that the children are encouraged to take part in, they actually pick things up Tauriainen said she didn’t think kids their age were capable of understanding.
Play-based learning teaches children critical thinking skills that make experiences in the classroom more enjoyable later, during their careers are students, Bethune said in a previous Clarion interview. Academic preschools teach the regurgitation of information, and can turn kids off of learning in the long-run, she said.
She is also set on a cooperative model because parents can be more involved in their child’s learning process and it is more cost-effective. And, she said, there are the added benefits of parents meeting other parents.
“Often friendships are formed that last many years and create a strong sense of community,” Bethune wrote in the email. “I know I made many connections with community members when my children attended Kenai Cooperative Preschool that I still associate with today. I want my children and grandchildren to have the opportunity to experience that.”
The next step is establishing a steering committee, board of directors and securing a license, so the families can secure a dedicated space, which the parents hope to accomplish this spring, Bethune said. The goal is to get classes going a for as many as two to five days a week next fall, she said.
For that to happen, they want student enrollment to double, Bethune said. Families from Kenai are encouraged to join, she said.
Saturday’s planning meeting with take place at 10:00 a.m. at the North Star United Methodist Church in Nikiski.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.