Two school teachers are leaving their jobs to open Natural Wonders Learning Center, under construction on Westwood Drive.

New preschool to help solve day care pinch

By ANDREW MCGINN
a.mcginn@beeherald.com

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice the construction work quietly underway on a little rise of land nestled between trees on Westwood Drive.

That’s the story of quality early childhood education — it’s easy to overlook something that essentially just looks like simple fun.

But when it opens in August, the Natural Wonders Learning Center will provide a foundation for growth — for both the children enrolled there and for the future of Jefferson.

The mother-daughter team  of Annette Foster and Nicole Timmons heard the repeated calls by local economic development leaders for more day care options and will leave their jobs as elementary teachers at the end of the school year to do what they feel is best for Greene County and its kids.

“Everyone needs to do their part,” Timmons, 34, said, “and do what they’re good at.”

For them, that means putting their education and experience into a new learning center that will serve children ages six weeks to 5 years.

“We’ve always wanted to do this because we both love what we do,” Foster said.

Natural Wonders Learning Center will be housed in a new, 3,800-square-foot building on land purchased from the Krieger family in the 1500 block of Westwood Drive.

“There’s a definite need,” Foster said.

The Greene County Early Learning Center, which opened in 2005, has been known to maintain a notoriously long waiting list.

“It’s just nice to have an option,” Timmons said.

Without preschools, she said, young families aren’t likely to move here.

Not only that, but research has long indicated that the first five years of a child’s development is actually the most crucial time in a person’s life.

“It builds that foundation for lifelong learning,” Timmons said.

Specifically, according to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, by the age of 3, children with college-educated parents or primary caregivers have vocabularies two to three times larger than those whose parents haven’t completed high school.

Children enrolled in early learning programs later benefit as adults from increased earnings, according to Harvard, while society benefits from lower crime and welfare costs.

Timmons, a 2001 graduate of Jefferson-Scranton High School and a 2006 graduate of Iowa State University, currently teaches second grade at Greene County Elementary. She previously taught first grade there for four years and pre-K for five years.

Foster, a 1982 graduate of Scranton High and a 1993 graduate of Iowa State, has taught transitional kindergarten (TK) at Dayton Elementary in the Southeast Valley school district for nearly 20 years.

“It’ll be nice to work together and create an environment that’s positive and happy,” Timmons said.

Their center will be able to accommodate as many as 75 children, and will be able to accept some older children after school.

As the name suggests, the emphasis will be on playing in nature.

The center won’t have a traditional playground — the five acres surrounding it will instead serve as both a playground and a classroom.

“It’s just conducive to nature hikes and learning in nature,” Timmons said.

The curriculum will be centered around open-ended play.

“Kids spend too much time sitting in front of the TV and on electronics,” Foster said.

Their dream is to have vegetable gardens on the premises, she said.

Meals will be served family style.

As public school teachers, they often find themselves too busy subjecting young learners to assessment tests, leaving little time to work on social skills and critical thinking.

“Those years,” Foster said, “need to be positive, good years.”

Still, it won’t be easy to leave steady careers in the public school system.

“We’re going to put our blood, sweat and tears on the line,” Timmons said.

For more information about enrollment, email naturalwonders4kids@gmail.com.

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