Ms Turner's Story
I spoke with Ms. Turner during afternoon nap time, and had to be careful not to raise my voice too far above a whisper. The children were resting in separate cots as soft music played in the background. Silent and still like this, they looked rather angelic. But anyone who has raised a four year old will tell you that getting twenty of them to calm down and rest at once is no small feat -- it takes a talented caregiver to orchestrate. Dianne Turner has been working with children at Kingdom House for over thirty-five years. She’s been working with ages 3-5 in the “blue room” (the designated color for this age group), for over twenty years. She exudes an aura of practiced patience and love which enables her to observe, understand, and nurture each individual child’s distinct needs before they enter kindergarten.
It seems that each year she becomes more adept at picking up on subtle cues from the children, and learning to tailor to each individual child’s strengths. Before teaching pre-K, Ms. Turner worked in infant care. When I asked her what was unique about working with this age range, she emphasized the rapid pace of developmental growth that occurs before Kindergarten. When they first come in to the daycare, says Ms. Turner, they can’t hold a crayon properly because their hand muscles are not fully developed. When asked to draw or write, they will scribble with shaky, wavering, lines. But with daily practice writing, drawing, and completing arts and crafts projects, these muscles strengthen. Before you know it, they have developed the fine motor skills to draw in a straight lines, pay attention to details, and create distinct letterforms. This will give them a boost entering into elementary school.
One of the mottos in Kingdom House daycare is “Learning Through Play”. On the surface, this sounds like little more than a nice arrangement of words. If the kids are just playing, some might ask, then what kind of education are they receiving that they couldn’t get at home with their parents? In fact, while“Learning Through Play” might appear spontaneous and carefree to an outside observer, it is actually designed quite strategically. When I stopped by to observe in the morning, the children were seated around the carpet, with two children at a time circling around a small chair. As Ms. Turner cheered words of encouragement, a tape played with upbeat music. Accompanying this soundtrack, a male voice would issue orders like “Walk,” Skip,” “Hop,” “Run!” and “Gallop!” When their turn came to circle the chair, most of the children seemed to relish being the center of attention, giggling profusely. A captive audience created all the more incentive to follow the auditory instructions! Eventually, the disembodied voice would cease to issue orders, leaving only the music associated with each motion to indicate the appropriate action. Thus, in one simple activity that looks an awful lot like recess, the kids sharpen their gross motor skills while learning to listen, follow instructions, and work with a partner.
Of course, some skills are more urgent than others to develop before kindergarten - like letters, numbers, colors, and writing - the building blocks to literacy. Ms. Turner takes special care to give more intensive attention to those who seem to have difficulty in these areas, without ever berating them or making them feel like they are somehow “slow”. This way, when she sends a group of children off to practice their home phone numbers and addresses while the rest of the children attack jigsaw puzzles, it is just an activity like any other, and they don’t feel that they are somehow being punished. It is this kind of delicate yet persistent nurturing that helps young children to develop a love of learning rather than a resentment of it. I am sure it must be physically taxing for Ms. Turner to control and direct the unbridled energy of twenty-five kids all day long, but thankfully she is not alone. At any given time she is assisted by at least one other teacher, whether that is Miss Startrice, Miss Wendy, Miss Porscia, or Miss Natalie.