55 Years of Playful Learning

By Amber Mabe

Many things have changed over the course of the last 55 years. Advances in technology, political shifts, economic fluctuations, and even changes in the way we interact with other humans, have all impacted each upcoming generation of children as they have learned to navigate the world around them. Kernersville has grown and changed as well, but one special place has stayed the same—a place that has stood as a haven of safety and explorative learning for the hundreds of children who have passed through the doors throughout the years.

In 1969, two members of the local church, Fleta Kirkman and June Motsinger, set out to start a “playschool” and together founded Sedge Garden United Methodist Church Preschool. Their goal was to provide a high quality, faith-based program for four- and five-year-olds, meeting the needs of a community that did not yet offer kindergarten or preschool classes as part of the public school system. Rooted in the belief that “children are children first,” Sedge Garden has always incorporated developmentally appropriate practice methods in such a way that encourages children to learn at their own pace. Ms. Kirkman pioneered the high standard for academic value at Sedge Garden by becoming state certified as a kindergarten teacher, while also stressing the importance of learning through play. Learning through play allows children to discover and experience learning in a way that naturally sparks interest by promoting creativity and foundational critical thinking and continues to be a hallmark of Sedge Garden UMC Preschool.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play IS serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”– Fred Rogers

When kindergarten was added to the local public schools in the mid 1970’s, Sedge Garden UMC Preschool shifted with the need, adding classes for three-year-olds as they phased out of the kindergarten class. Ms. Motsinger taught and directed the school through the late 70s and 80s until her retirement in 1990. With the early 90’s came a new director, Debbie Alexander, and the addition of two-year-old classes and the Transitional Fives class. The transitional class, which is still offered today, was designed to give school-eligible children who were turning five the “gift of time,” and the opportunity to further develop school readiness. “We want our preschool to be a bridge between home and school,” says current director, Judy Hoyle, who has led the school since the mid 90s. “We want to meet the children where they are when they come to us and lead them along socially, emotionally, and cognitively. Our teachers work really hard to plan research-based curriculum and activities so that children can develop in all the domains of learning and move forward at their own pace.”

A day at Sedge Garden UMC Preschool may look different than many other schools, as children are allowed to stand at tables while working on projects instead of being confined to chairs, snacks are eaten picnic-style on floor mats, and students are often given the choice between several activities that might pique their individual interest. Teachers encourage the development of self-confidence as children walk themselves to their classroom in the morning, learn how to manage their own water bottle and snacks, and find success in putting on their own hats and coats when going outside. These tasks, though seemingly small, go a long way in igniting the desire to learn and the confidence to persevere. “We want kids to be kids,” says Judy, “We want to help them learn to take care of themselves within the scope of being a child, and we want to give them the tools to succeed. It has been said that education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”

Sedge Garden UMC Preschool’s unique perspective on early education has left an impact on generations of students, many of whom have chosen to send their own children to the school. Angie Shearer, both a former teacher and student at SGUMC Preschool, says the preschool was the clear choice for her when choosing a school for her two boys. “SGUMC Preschool is rich in history and tradition. A landmark in the Kernersville community, their tradition of teaching play, making friends, and faith are what keeps families coming back for generations,” says Angie. “I attended Sedge Garden for Pre-K and Kindergarten. My memories are fond: of special times making friends, story time, learning my ABCs, and the loving atmosphere that filled the rooms. Those same qualities continue today, preparing children for school and life. The director and staff at Sedge Garden Preschool are committed to loving, teaching, and bringing peace of mind that calms parents’ anxiety over leaving their babies for a few hours each day. As a former staff member and parent, these qualities go a long way. I am thankful to have attended Sedge Garden UMC Preschool, to have been a staff member, and gifted my boys the opportunity to experience a wonderful institution.”

Even though times have changed, and children face different challenges and stimuli in the world than they did fifty years ago, Sedge Garden UMC Preschool remains unchanged in their commitment to meeting each child where they are and providing parents with the peace of mind that their child will receive the best experience possible. “We work with the children to get them comfortable with the new preschool environment: teachers, other children, classroom setting, outside playground, and especially transitions, which are probably the hardest time of the day,” says Judy. Though enrollment has more than tripled from the thirty-four children attending that first year, the individual care and attention given to each child has remained the same. Parent Bethany Moore says each of her three sons have thrived in the nurturing environment of the school. “From the first day with my eldest to the current moments with my youngest, the warmth and care provided by the staff make it feel like an extended family. The teachers, who have witnessed the unique personalities of all my boys, have played an integral role in their development and setting a foundation for their education,” says Bethany. “One of the things I appreciate most is how skillfully it balances learning and play. It is not just a place of education; it is a place where curiosity is sparked through engaging activities and interactive lessons.”

For anyone hoping to enroll their child in SGUMC Preschool’s outstanding programs, the timing could not be better. Through the month of March, SGUMC Preschool is offering a discounted registration fee, and is opening enrollment to new students until classes are full. For more information, visit
www.SedgeGardenUMCPreschool.com or call the office at 336-788-2230.

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