Early Learning Center offers room to grow | RecordCourier.com

Early Learning Center offers room to grow

by Karen Dustman
R-C Alpine Bureau
Tracy Ikemire waits for the children to arrive at the Early Learning Center in the morning.
Special to The R-C |

It’s another busy day for teachers Tracy Ikemire and Amanda Craft at Alpine County’s Early Learning Center. On the agenda for their preschool class today: baking muffins in the morning, followed by painting in the afternoon. And don’t forget the opening circle song and chores like folding laundry.

Nestled among the pine trees near the Diamond Valley Elementary School, the tiny Alpine preschool serves children 3-6 years old, five days a week. In addition to the school’s spacious classroom, students enjoy an enclosed outdoor play area. The product of a recent nature walk hangs over a classroom table: a whimsical assortment of leaves, sticks, and feathers, fashioned creatively into a mobile.

“I’ve tried to combine my Waldorf teaching experience with my public school experience in early childhood education,” says Ikemire. That translates into a practical approach that uses context to help teach ideas. So when the story of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ was read aloud, students did more than just listen: they also dressed up as the storybook characters and got to taste a real bowl of porridge.

Even preschool meals become an opportunity to teach social skills. “One dad recently told me, ‘I can’t believe my 3-year-old has learned such beautiful table manners,’” Ikemire notes. “As a parent, you don’t always have time to teach that. But here, there’s no rush. Meals are a nice time to just sit and talk.”

And for traditional playtime activities like painting and crafts, the emphasis is simply on exploration and enjoyment. “We let them be kids,” says Ikemire. “It’s okay to make a mess. It’s okay if something doesn’t work. We have patience, we have time.”

Currently in its eighth year, the Alpine ELC program has paid noticeable dividends for the children it has served.

“Our elementary school has noticed a big difference in their kindergarten population,” says Ikemire. “When our kids arrive, they’ve learned not only their numbers and letters, but also a lot about social roles and cues. So they’re ready to start absorbing information in the classroom.”

With just four students currently enrolled, Ikemire hopes the Alpine preschool will continue to grow as more parents hear about the program. Families who either live or work in California may be eligible for free or reduced tuition, but anyone can enroll their child.

“We’d love to welcome students from Gardnerville or Tahoe families as well as Alpine County,” notes Ikemire. “Maybe the parents are working, or they’re just looking for something a little different in a preschool. We’re small, and offer more of a home-like environment. We have the time and patience to meet the needs of young children a little differently.”

For more information or to tour the facility, call Ikemire at (530) 694-2230 x 285.