Child's play: Preschool offers kids a chance to learn while having fun!

By Molly Bennett
Deseret News
Published: Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008

Original Article

Nestled in a quiet Kaysville neighborhood there is a little red brick house with a white picket fence where children go for reading, writing and 'rithmetic.

"It really isn't a June Cleaver thing," said Heather Peel, who laughed after describing her house.

In her basement, Peel has a room full of school supplies, toys, dress-ups, children's drawings framed on the wall, a miniature table with chairs and, of course, the alphabet border across the top of the wall.

"It was crazy how it all came together," Peel said while looking at the picturesque room.

During the summer months, the room is very serene. Come fall, however, it is overrun with 4-year-old students in Peel's preschool, which is held during the school year.

"They hang their school bags," Peel said while describing the beginning of a typical preschool day. "We'll have an activity, and we have discover time at the carpet."

She pointed out the big, round, blue rug in the center of the room.

"We have a routine," Peel said. "But I don't want to be rigid."

When Peel and her husband, Darren, started thinking about having an in-home preschool, they initially planned for a pretty small outcome.

"I just thought it would be fun for people to walk their kids here," she said.

June Cleaver would approve. But Peel's preschool is no Mayfield business.

Soon, people were signing up from Layton, Farmington, West Kaysville and Syracuse. Now, starting her third year this fall, Peel's preschool has a waiting list.

Katrina Egan from West Layton took her daughter, Mia, to Peel's preschool last year. Egan has taken her children to five different preschools. She said it is pretty common in her area for any preschool to have a waiting list.

"If they get popular, they get waiting lists," Egan said. "Two-year waiting lists are most common. Three years is most I've heard."

With a waiting list until 2013, Peel said she has been overwhelmed by the response.

"Sometimes parents are embarrassed to call me to get a spot when their kid is still a baby," Peel said. "But I'm glad because I hate turning them away. That's the worst part."

Peel said the earliest that she will let parents put a child on the waiting list is when they are pregnant with the child.

Laura Elggren from East Layton said she signed her son, William, up for Peel's preschool three years in advance.

"She has an extremely long waiting list," Elggren said. "I took the last spot in the class."

Considering recent census reports on Utah's youthful population, it does not come as a surprise that preschools are in high demand. The report showed that one in 10 Utah residents is younger than the age of 5 — a number 40 percent higher than the national average.

"There's such a need for preschool," Peel said. "It's not just a 'go play so mom can shop' deal."

Courtney Jensen from east Layton was definitely not shopping when her son, Tage, was in Peel's preschool. In fact, she stayed at the Peels' home during class for the first couple weeks of preschool.

"He just had a really hard time," Jensen said about her son. "He'd just cry and cry wanting mom."

Jensen would sit outside on the stairs during class and Tage would periodically check to see if his mom was still around. Eventually, he was fine with the idea of her leaving.

"He still remembers things 'Miss Heather' taught him," Jensen said. "She is super creative."

Peel said she never thought she had a gift with children.

"I just really needed a change from nursing," Peel said. She was a part-time nurse for 15 years. "As great a career as that is, I wanted to be with children."

Despite the fact she and her husband are raising five of their own, Peel decided to finish the room in their basement for the preschool.

"I was really worried I wouldn't like teaching," Peel said. "If it didn't work, then I would have the greatest playroom for my kids."

Peel had been a student teacher at another preschool in Farmington with a lady who retired not long after Peel started her preschool. While she was a student teacher, she decided to take child development courses.

"I always loved doing the student teaching," Peel said. "It was so joyful experiencing things through kids' eyes."

Peel adopted the teaching program developed by the Farmington teacher and was hoping that the 3-year-old students from the Farmington class would come to her class after the teacher retired. But, Peel said, many of them did not want to travel that far.

"I just had a few come over," Peel said, "and I thought, how am I ever going to fill up?"

Little did she know. Peel is now turning away 30 to 40 students each year.

Aside from her neighborhood fliers, Peel said she has not advertised her preschool since the beginning.

"It was just word of mouth," Peel said. "And I was grateful because it was just people who knew me and trusted that it would be good experience."

Julie Pew supervises the teachers at the Family Enrichment Center in Kaysville. She said she has also seen an increase in students.

"People are getting busier," Pew said. "So they need somewhere to take their children."

And, she said, parents are realizing that preschool-age children are very impressionable, and it's an important time of life for learning.

Egan said she noticed the attention span of her daughter, Mia, has improved since going to preschool. But academics is not the main reason she took Mia to preschool.

"It's about the social aspect, and honestly, it's a break for me," Egan said.

No matter the reason, there are common things that parents look for in a preschool:

• Creativity makes a preschool unique. Courtney Jensen said

"It's exhausting," Jensen said. "Most teachers would say, OK, I taught them well enough."

Peel said she gets a lot of help from her family. "Mr. Darren," as the students call her husband, makes special visits to the class. Plus there is a music specialist who comes weekly.

• Creativity and patience should be two positive aspects of a preschool teacher.

"You don't want to feel like you are dropping your kid off at a day care," Egan said.

Peel said she sees her preschool as much more than baby-sitting.

"I have a lot of children who come who are really unsure of themselves, shy and timid," Peel said. "It's really rewarding to watch them be able to socialize and learn skills."

If every child had an opportunity to attend preschool, Peel thinks it would eliminate a lot of problems later in public school. "They go to school feeling confident," Peel said. "It's a loving, safe environment to work through fears or acting out. Not that we can curb them, but it helps."

It is uncertain how long Peel will keep up the preschool. She said she didn't expect how "darn attached" she would get to the kids.

"It's been so rewarding that I will probably do it for a long time," Peel said. "Or at least until 2013."