Anderson, Indiana

AU alum's Learning Tree ministry guides play in educational direction

Tue, 2011-01-04 10:28 -- univcomm
January 4, 2011

Peeking in a window, it may appear that these toddlers are merely playing. What the observer cannot readily see is that they are also learning.

While adults may sit down in a lecture or in front of the computer to learn, children are “sponges” that continually soak up knowledge, no matter what they are doing.

Affected by the movement in childhood education to direct toddler learning through play, Robyn Stinson, a 2006 Anderson University graduate, developed a vision of a new brand of day care.

learning-treeOpening the Learning Tree Childcare Ministry a year and a half ago, she has discovered her philosophies to be readily embraced by teachers and parents alike.

“We have center-based learning through play,” explained Stinson, director. “Instead of having a learning time and play time, the children learn all day as they play. Through the curriculum and planned activities, they apply lessons in small groups.”

[Photo: Robyn Stinson plays with Aiden Oldham, 11 months, in the infant room of Learning Tree Childcare Ministry in Anderson. Credit: Emma Bowen Meyer.]

In addition to guiding play in an educational direction, the child care makes its mark in parental communication.

“We want to partnership with parents as much as possible,” continued Stinson. “In our infant room we try to emulate the home schedules as much as we can. With the preschoolers we try to keep potty training consistent here with what is happening at home.”

Keeping a child’s two worlds as consistent as possible reduces confusion and reinforces desired behavior.

“We appreciate the personal interaction between the teachers, the children, and the parents,” said Trey Oldham, pastor of Pendleton Church of God and parent of two children in the program.

“We have weekly conversations with the teachers about educational goals and personal goals and develop a plan to reach them for each child.”

Equally important to Stinson is the philosophy of varying the experiences of the toddlers in every way possible. From providing a menu designed to expand horizons to rotating materials and toys that are available to introducing a curriculum for infants, variety is the spice of life at Learning Tree.

“Even our snacks are different than what you find at most day cares,” said Stinson. “We try to follow the USDA guidelines and offer a protein component with every snack instead of simply offering crackers.”

The variety of experiences even extends to offering chapel twice a week.

“Not only do the children learn educationally and developmentally, but we go a step above and tie the Bible into it,” said April Lakas, preschool teacher with an associate degree in early education. “We step out of the classroom to attend chapel so that the children learn to sit well in a church setting. Then we apply the Bible lesson to the daily activities.”

The Learning Tree Childcare Ministry began partnering with New Horizons United Methodist Church and Crossroads United Methodist Church in August. Using New Horizons as the site of the program, Stinson is receiving cooperation from both pastoral teams.

“We are not a separate entity – we are truly partnering with them,” she said. “They had just entered into a new partnership with one another and both wanted to collaborate with the child care ministry. The pastoral teams are directly involved in the weekly chapels.”

“It’s been a great place,” said Oldham. “We’ve really enjoyed what they’ve done and the way the church has reached out to the community.”

Stinson based her programs on her Anderson University degree in education and her extensive experience through other centers. Beginning at age 14, she has been working in various day cares with a goal of someday directing her own. Now her two children, Eli, 4, and Gwendolyn, 7 months, go to work with her and are a part of the program.

“I wanted to work at a place that I felt proud to be and agreed with the philosophies,” she said. “Here I know everyone is working up to their potential. We are very much a family and all of the children know all of the teachers in the center.”

“The best part is the kids,” said Lakas. “I’ve always enjoyed watching them grow and develop from one step to another. You don’t know what each day will hold, but it will make you smile.”

— Emma Bowen Meyer for The Herald Bulletin. Story reposted with permission.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.