Grace Lutheran School’s three-year-old preschool students are taught by Tina Baird, who joined the staff in the fall of 2018.
Tina has a Masters degree in Early Childhood Exceptional Education Needs. Her BA from Valparaiso University is in communication disorders, and she has also worked in schools as a speech therapy assistant. So if you ask her to describe a typical day with three-year-olds in preschool, she focuses on interpersonal communication skills. “It’s a big word for a three-year-old,” she says, “but that’s what we’re doing.”
Much of a preschooler’s day looks like play, but when children play together, what they are really doing is learning how to solve conflicts. “That’s when all the conflicts happen, is during playing. They are learning to share and communicate their needs to others and understand what others are communicating to them.”
Three-year-olds say “what we all want to say,” says Tina, but “you can’t just tell someone you don’t like them” because they hurt you or took your toy. “We need to find a way to use kind words and be friendly.”
There’s a reason children do what they do. “So if they’re hitting we have to do more than say ‘Stop hitting.’ Why are you hitting? This is how you fix that so you don’t hit anymore.”
Grace Lutheran School is often described as a place where children grow in faith and character as well as academics. How does this apply to preschool?
In Tina’s classroom, she says, “the biggest rule is ‘be kind,’ because if you’re kind, that’s going to take you a lot of places. I think that’s where character starts in preschool.” Faith starts here, too, in a Christian school, because Jesus was kind.
Circle time in preschool offers opportunities to practice listening and other basic academic skills. As they count things, check the calendar, learn each others’ names, and say the alphabet in silly voices, children learn one-to-one correspondence, that each symbol has a meaning, and that reading goes from left to right. There are many other opportunities to have fun with academics in the preschool classroom, depending on what children are interested in and ready for. They also work a lot on fine motor skills, using pencils and scissors and picking up small objects.
Snack time is about community: “This is mine, this is yours. We’re coming together, praying together, eating together and having some conversation. There’s a lot of interesting little conversations that come about.”
Tina and her husband are the parents of two teen-agers and one preteen. She says, “I’m learning why preschool teachers are either young or middle-aged. I couldn’t do this and then go home to little kids. I have more patience and attention for the little ones now that my kids are big.”
Her family did a lot of shopping around for a church after moving from Colorado to River Forest. They discovered a lot of connections at Grace Church and found a strong sense of community here.
Tina also appreciates the families of Grace Lutheran School: “Coming here I found diversity that I wasn’t expecting. I appreciate how diverse the school is.”