Through our Preschool the Idaho Way project, we have awarded planning grants to communities across the state to establish preschool collaboratives. The goal is to bring together local experts in early childhood education to pool resources and develop affordable, high-quality early learning opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available to many families. Each collaborative will look different because each community is different.
In West Bonner County, Storybook Cottage LLC – the nonprofit arm of Priest River-based Children’s Learning World LLC – plans to partner with Lee Pesky Learning Center, Parents as Teachers, local libraries, school districts and businesses to offer free preschool for 4-year-olds in the area.
“We have had a lot of support, and the more the community sees that we offer a real quality program, we will be receiving even more support!” said Tana Vanderholm of Storybook Cottage.
The community faces a lack of high-quality early learning programs and professionals with degrees in early childhood education, Vanderholm said. Without state funding for those roles in Idaho, she suspects that individuals who would be great at working with children often seek other professional opportunities.
But families need those high-quality programs. Many parents work long hours and multiple jobs to make ends meet, often seeking weekend or 24-hour child care options.
The collaborative held a roundtable discussion with members of the public this week to learn more about what local families want to see. The most pressing topic was the need for a formal preschool program. Parents expressed concern that many programs that are called preschool in the area are really just child care in small environments, with no structure for the day or mention of assessments or curriculum. Parents also discussed how children need to feel valued in their environment so they are ready to learn. They want their children to be excited about going to school.
The Ponderay area is growing and changing, with new businesses offering employment opportunities and attracting families.
“With new people come new opportunities in the way of ideas, experiences, and excitement,” Vanderholm said. “We are very excited to see what this community can offer our young children as we grow and develop some good quality preschool programs!”