By Christy Porter, Managing Editor
Children at the Licking Head Start happily enjoy busy days where it’s more than ABCs.
Three- and four-year-olds are kept engaged while they learn to recognize the alphabet, learn colors, how to count to 20, and how to use scissors; just as importantly they learn social and emotional skills, and how to understand and manage their behavior and reactions to feelings and what’s happening around them.
A structured day for children at the Licking Head Start begins with arrival greetings and continues with tracing letters of the alphabet, learning how to spell their names, songs with action movements, story time, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, health and hygiene that includes safe coughing and hand washing, and brushing their teeth after lunch.
Breakfast, lunch and a snack are served family style, allowing the children to scoop and serve their own food with safety. Age appropriate life skills such as pouring milk and tying shoes are also taught.
For quiet time they are provided a mat, pillow and blanket and oftentimes take a nap; after all it has been a busy day so far. They are given a positive wake-up followed by outdoor time that includes playground equipment, hula-hoops and blowing bubbles.
Snack time is a social time, when they are encouraged to not only engage in conversation, but to listen. They are expanding their relationship with others.
This is followed by “choice time” with many options such as the library, art and coloring, toys and games, a discovery zone, blocks, sand and water, and a miniature house area.
Through all this the children are developing cognitive, fine motor, gross motor, and social and emotional development skills.
Kindergarten transition and cafeteria etiquette is taught to those children who are preparing to move into a public education environment.
“We want children leaving here feeling loved, cared for and with a sense of growth and accomplishment,” stresses Teacher Carla Elliott. “I love my job; it’s a new day every day for me, just like it is for the children.”
Elliott begins her sixth year with the Licking Head Start as the children’s teacher, previously being the teacher’s aide, after beginning as the facility’s cook.
Additional staff includes Kim Smith, teacher’s aide, who has just completed her first year.
Susie Lay is the Center Manager, who has a 36-year tenure.
Rose Jett begins her second year as the cook; she prepares meals with food provided through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
Michelle Long, as the Family Advocate, does policy counseling and administrative detail; Long has been with the program for 10 years.
“We have a good team who will do whatever it takes to help the children,” said Elliott.
Licking Head Start is an early childhood education facility licensed by the Missouri Department of Secondary Education, provided by a federal grant, with all employees certified through the state. The tiers of training are dependent on the role one has within the facility, with the opportunity to continue towards a degree.
The creative curriculum follows the guidelines of those for a public school education but is not affiliated with the Licking school system; they are affiliated with the government agency Ozark Action. It provides each child with a good “head start” into kindergarten.
Progress reports for the children are shared with monthly parent meetings after school, during two home visits, two parent conferences, and when needed. In addition to hearing and sight screenings and dental care, additional accredited screenings may also be done during the child’s academic year. The co-op in Houston helps those with extra challenges; the assistance may continue with the advancement to public education.
The program is completely free utilizing an income and point based system. Finding help for families needing additional resources is also provided.
The Licking Head Start is now accepting applications and providing information for those children who will be three- or four-years-old before July 31. Eighteen student positions are available for the academic year. The Licking Head Start may be contacted at: Licking Head Start, 123 Cedar St., Licking, MO 65542, or by calling 573-674-2100, Monday – Friday, during the hours of 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Photos by Christy Porter