Elkhart County pre-K teachers learning new early childhood development curriculum
In the battle of getting kids ready for kindergarten, pre-K teachers are the ones in the trenches.
But they aren't in it alone, at least not in Elkhart County.
A local education-focused nonprofit, Horizon Education Alliance, recently offered professional development and training in a pre-K curriculum called Tools of the Mind for 50 local teachers.
Those participating included Eighth Street Mennonite Preschool, Building Blocks Lab Preschool (CAPS), Elkhart Area Career Center Preschool, ECSEC (Elkhart County Special Education Cooperative), Elkhart Growing Kids, Elkhart Title I Preschool, Good Shepherd Nursery School, Goshen Title I Preschool, Head Start (Goshen preschools), Little Saints Childcare and Preschool, My Pre-School and Walnut Hill Early Childhood Center.
Why Tools of the Mind?
Tools of the Mind was selected for Elkhart County children by a committee of early childhood experts organized by Horizon Education Alliance.
The committee chose Tools of the Mind in part because it is adaptable for all children, including those with special needs and English language learners, according to a statement from Horizon.
“The professional development costs for the 50 pre-school educators learning Tools of the Mind over the next two years will exceed $100,000,” said Brian Wiebe, executive director of HEA.
HEA will cover the majority of these costs, but some programs like Head Start and the Goshen and Elkhart school programs are helping pay their own way.
Tools of the Mind teaches children to regulate themselves and learn abilities such as paying attention and planning their actions, according to HEA.
"The way we put a spin on the activities is strengthening (children’s) muscle of self-regulation,“ said Jessica Peters, director of operation for Tools of the Mind.
Pre-K teachers who went through the first day of training with Tools of the Mind professionals Wednesday, Aug. 13, noticed that the curriculum is structured and academically-focused.
Meredith Warnock, who works at Elkhart Community Schools, liked that the curriculum encourages children to talk with each other about what they are learning.
"It focused on where they are developmentally, and helps with social development,“ she said, leaning over her stack of Tools of the Mind materials to make her point.
Erin Syslo, director of Walnut Hill Early Childhood Center in Goshen, also participated in the training along with several other Walnut Hill employees.
She suggested that since there’s so much information available about training children in early childhood programs, it will be nice to have Elkhart County providers on the same page, using the same curriculum.
"I’m excited to start using this in the classroom,” Amanda Yoder, a teacher at Walnut Hill added. “The self-regulating will be really good for us — and we are learning things throughout the year to get us there.”
Training was led by Jessica Peters and Crystal Day-Hess of Tools of the Mind.
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They walked teachers through activities and methods they’d be using in their classrooms, and showed videos and examples of how kids work with the curriculum.
Brian Wiebe, executive director of HEA, said that even though this year’s training session is full, other pre-K workers in the county could get involved in a future opportunity.
"Assuming that the enthusiasm for this curricular approach remains high, we hope to start a second cohort one year from now,“ he said.
Preschool directors with questions about getting involved may contact HEA associate director Kathy Royer at firstname.lastname@example.org.