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Preschool opens year with 45 students and five teachers

Kris Zimmer took a risk and opened the Little Learners Preschool in Kenmare six years ago, hoping a few parents would be interested in the opportunity.

9/07/11 (Wed)

Teachers for the youngest learners . . . Teachers at Little
Learners Preschool in Kenmare for the 2011-2012 school year
include (l-r) Stacey Overton, Kris Zimmer, Becky Stroklund, Kristi
Redding and Kari Cook. Little Learners Preschool coordinator Kris
Zimmer added two teachers this year to accommodate
the 45 students enrolled in her program. 



By Caroline Downs
Kris Zimmer took a risk and opened the Little Learners Preschool in Kenmare six years ago, hoping a few parents would be interested in the opportunity.
“I was thinking maybe we could scrape together 10 kids the first year and just see what we get,” she said as she was preparing for the 2011-2012 preschool session.
The preschool has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams, with enrollment for the Fall 2011 session at 45 students. That number represents a significant increase over last spring’s enrollment and caused Zimmer to hire two more staff members.
“Last year we ended with 27 kids,” she said. “That’s the most I would take with three teachers.”
Through the spring and summer, however, the demand rose and Zimmer decided to expand the preschool. When the fall session started yesterday, she welcomed four classes of 4- and 5-year-olds, and one group of 3-year-olds.
“We’re at the point now I’m saying we’re full,” she said. “We can really only fit nine kids per room in the smaller classrooms, and eight or nine preschool kids are plenty for a teacher.”
In fact, the higher enrollment has caused the preschool to take over five classrooms on the top floor of the education wing at Nazareth Lutheran Church in Kenmare. “We love being here,” Zimmer said. “We have actual classrooms and separate areas for other activities. This is an awesome facility for us to use, and I don’t know where else we could do this!”
Zimmer, the staff veterans Kristi Redding and Stacey Overton, and the newcomers Becky Stroklund and Kari Cook each have their own rooms to use for activities and lessons so the kids receive individualized attention. And those rooms are decorated with the youngest learners in mind, including animals and shapes in bright colors, miniature-sized furniture, and writing, coloring and art supplies galore.
The entire group, including the three-year-olds, gets together in the church basement for storytime, music and snacks.
“It should be an exciting year,” said Zimmer. “There are a lot of boys again, and we’re getting a lot of the brothers and sisters from older kids we’ve had, although there are several [last] names I don’t recognize.”
Zimmer’s students come from Kenmare, Bowbells, Donnybrook and Tolley, and she’s had Powers Lake kids during previous years. The preschool meets every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 to 11:30 am.
“We try to follow the public school calendar, especially for holidays,” Zimmer explained. “And we stop at the end of April to coincide with the farming season.”
She plans the lessons for the students, with input from the other staff members. “I’m excited about my staff,” she said. “They’re dependable and really patient and they all have experience with their own kids or with kids in a classroom setting.”
She laughed as she described the basic skills that are the focus of many lessons, such as lining up, washing hands, and sitting quietly to listen to a story. “It’s more all about that than the actual letters and numbers we study,” she said.
However, the preschool teachers coordinate their lessons with the expectations for kindergarten at Kenmare Elementary School. “We expose them to letters and numbers, using the Zoo-phonics Animals they do in kindergarten at the grade school,” said Zimmer. “And we do the Handwriting Without Tears series.”
She continued, “I want preschool to be fun for them and to expose them to these basic concepts in the hope this will be familiar to them when they go to kindergarten.”
Children are not required to attend preschool in North Dakota, and Zimmer said that 12 of the 18 students in the current kindergarten class attended Little Learners Preschool last year. “We know there are a lot of parents at home who are working with their kids, too,” she said.
However, Zimmer enjoys the opportunity to get to know the students at the beginning of their school experiences. “My first group of kids are fourth graders now,” she said, then laughed. “They moved to the ‘big school’ [at KHS] this year!”
Parents with further questions about Little Learners Preschool or who want to enroll their children should contact Zimmer at 701-385-3186. “Right now if people call, I’m telling them I’m full,” she said, “so I’ll put those parents on a waiting list.”