Healthy U planning preschool to create good foundation for children

Chelsea Hamblin

A new year brings new opportunities and in 2024 a new preschool is coming to the Illinois Valley. It will be sited at Healthy U and is the brainchild of Healthy U Executive Director Sarah Kitting and Children and Families Program Director Chelsea Hamblin.
Kitting explained how preschools are an important asset to a community: “The 0-5 age range is the most impressionable and developmentally important time in a person’s life, and those initial years really set the stage for a lifetime. Preschool isn’t just for an academic head start (although dominant culture in America pushes for this) or frivolous play amongst cute toddlers. I had the realization during a stay day at my son’s outdoor preschool program that invaluable learning happens every day–how to resolve conflict; how to be a kind friend; how to be empathetic; how to work together as a team; how to be patient.”
According to Rene Brandon, in a study from Southern Oregon Early Learning Service Hub, out of 3,000 children of preschool age in Josephine County, only 28% have access to preschool. That number drops to 22% when you factor in affordability and most options in JoCo are in Grants Pass.
“We are highly underserved,” wrote Kitting. “Cue Chelsea Hamblin, an incredible early childhood educator, with a wealth of knowledge about early childhood development, education and care, as well as 17 years professional experience in the field. We view this as a natural part of the evolution of Healthy U and the services we offer.”
The opening date is set for April 15, 2024 but families can apply for enrollment beginning in January. Participation in the program has a maximum of 14 kids and will serve ages 3-5.
Hamblin provided the details: “We will operate Monday-Thursday, 1-5 p.m. The first ‘school year’ runs April-June 2024 and we’re closed in July.
“In August 2024 we’ll start back up for our first full academic year, operating as a ‘year-round’ program at 42 weeks/year. Students will arrive each afternoon to a thoughtfully prepared environment, inviting them to engage in open-ended, child-led play that authentically weaves together literacy, math, science, social and emotional learning, creativity and the arts.
“While you can expect to see many classic preschool activities, such as blocks, painting, dress-up, books, and puzzles, the way that we interact with these materials will be determined by what excites our students – and there is no way to know for sure what that will look like until we meet our families.
“During our time together each day we will play indoors and outdoors, we will serve a snack, and we will have a class meeting. Our days will be infused with music, dance, laughter and care. Activities such as learning how to dress oneself, use the toilet independently, share a meal with friends, or deal with big feelings are major tasks of early childhood, and we do not view them as subordinate to academic goals, or tasks to just be checked off the list so we can get back to the learning.
“Learning how to care for ourselves, our friends and our things is perhaps the most important work of our day and in fact, those three guidelines provide the foundation for everything that we do as a classroom community. Our schedule will follow a consistent routine, yet offer lots of flexibility and move at a pace that allows children to feel successful in their growing independence,” explained Hamblin.
The cost is still being worked out but Kitting said it will have a base cost of around $650. This is “industry standard” for the Valley area and type of program. “That being said, we have always been committed to providing equitable services and do not want cost to be a barrier to our programs, especially early childhood education. We are committed to providing a sliding-scale option, and we are still working out those numbers…we believe every family should have access to early childhood education.”
Hamblin will be the director and lead teacher for the program and will be hiring an assistant teacher to work alongside her in the classroom. Also, families of enrolled children are welcome to volunteer in the classroom if they have taken Hamblin’s Conscious Discipline Parenting Class. “Conscious Discipline is an evidence-based approach for parents and teachers, that teaches brain-science backed techniques for emotional regulation and problem-solving for both adults and children. The class is currently offered virtually thanks to The Family Connection. We will partner with them to offer the class in person in January and again in May and it will be open to the community,” said Hamblin.
In an effort to support parents if they take the class in person, dinner and childcare will be available. The class is eight sessions, whether online or in person and reservations are required.
This program offers many opportunities for parents to be involved in their child’s experience. “We will be regularly sharing photos, videos, dictations, transcripts of children’s conversations, work samples, etc. through social media as well as having documentation on display at the center. We hope that the community will engage with these offerings and explore the serious work of children’s play as a vehicle for learning. We also plan to offer a “Parent Cafe” in early 2024, inviting parents in our community to come and talk about their needs, dreams and goals for their young children,” said Hamblin, adding, “Our vision is that this preschool program will only be Healthy U’s first step towards a huge increase in support for Early Childhood Education in the Illinois Valley. In the next few years we hope to build toward offering full-day, full-year care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. My dream is to someday create a new facility in Cave Junction that accommodates multiple ECE (Employment Related Day Care) classrooms, as well as offering a variety of other services to support families.”
The preschool has already received wide support from The Ford Family Foundation, the Roundhouse Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation and the Marie Lamfrom Rose Grant. Although many programs in the I.V. are funded by foundation money, community support is critical to obtaining those grants and to that end Kitting said, “We also plan to launch an “End-of- the-Year Fundraiser” with proceeds benefiting the preschool. Our sights are on $7,000 as a goal, but we hope for all the support we can get.” Other opportunities to support the program include volunteering for fundraisers and joining the board. Find out more at chelsea.healthyu@gmail.com and RSVP for the parenting class at tinyurl.com/TFCparenting.