Exercise equipment, the lap and leisure pool, teen center and the basketball court are all things loved by the Woodbury community at the YMCA. But for 25 years, the community center has also welcomed families and children to their preschool program—a program that initially began at the Woodbury Baptist Church in 1995.
The YMCA preschool program, welcoming kids ages 16 months to five years, operates a little differently than most local preschools. Though not a full-day program, the option for before- and after-care makes the program stand out. “Families can come as early as 8:15 a.m. (but the program starts later) and the [kids] can stay until 4 p.m.,” says Woodbury YMCA executive director Heidi Bardwell.
The licensed preschool program wasn't introduced to the current YMCA facility until 2006, when the building we all know and love today opened. With easy access to the R.H. Stafford Library and Lookout Ridge Indoor Playground, plus the YMCA amenities, the preschool program tends to stand out amongst parents.
The YMCA has always been an asset for Matthew Wash, who has relied on the preschool services since 2015— “I’ve grown up with the YMCA as a resource for childhood enrichment since I was a child … I appreciate how the curriculum follows key priorities we have as parents,” he says.
The preschool curriculum is play-based, focusing on four specific enrichment programs: 1. Kids’ Fitness, a class to develop movement skills; 2. Language—Spanish and American Sign; 3. Music and Movement, a dancing, singing and playing based music class; and 4. Water Play and Safety.
Barbara Larson first toured the space in spring 2018, when she was looking for preschool for her then 2- and 4-year-old kids, and it was clear that the YMCA was the best option. “The teachers are good at what they do … After my children started going there, I saw a clear difference in their use of letters, numbers,” she says.
Though the play-based curriculum is different than most other preschools, the heavy focus on partnering with the community is also quite unlike other preschools. Preschool site director Angela Thompson says, “The preschool connects with the community in multiple ways. [One of the ways is] volunteers from the YMCA and the community who come out and work with the children throughout the year.”
Amongst those volunteers include the recent relationships with seniors. The preschool has partnered with the seniors at the YMCA to allow the older group to have interaction time with the kids—specifically working on the farm-to-preschool program with master gardener Anna Barker.
“The students have gardening boxes … and they have been working with seniors to harvest some of [the food],” Bardwell says. This past summer, Thompson says the preschoolers harvested tomatoes they helped plant and made their own salsa—and learned about the life cycle of plants along the way, and all with help from Anna.
Thompson says, “The preschool appreciates these volunteers beyond words. We are also thankful for the lasting relationships with the children and friends from within the community.”
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