Imagine Nation sets stage for early learning

Even though schools don’t require students to attend preschool before enrollment, educators at the Imagine Nation Preschool Learning Center say early learning is beneficial for a child to begin learning the skills necessary to succeed.
“It really gives the child a better start to going to school, and acts almost as a prerequisite to kindergarten,” said Coral Richardson, director and principal of the Imagine Nation Preschool Learning Center. “It’s really important for the children to have the preschool experience so they are not behind in the skills needed for learning.”
Originally, the Bristol Family Center for Boys and Girls had a preschool program and after a few years after the museum’s opening that preschool program began to be revamped.
Over the past three years, the program has been at capacity with 111 students. However, it loses about 70 each year to kindergarten enrollment.
“Initially, the preschool program wasn’t as strong as it is today, and in 2007 we recognized the need to do something that would have a profound impact on the students we serve,” said Michael Suchopar, executive director of the Bristol Boys and Girls Club and Family Center.
Since 2007, the preschool program curriculum has been adapted to go above and beyond the educational standards that are set by the state and federal government, by offering unique forms of learning and utilizing the extensive resources the Imagine Nation Museum has to offer. The program has 36 employees, and all teachers have bachelor’s or master’s degrees in education or early childhood learning. The program also receives school readiness funds and is a state licensed and NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) accredited early childhood education program, which is located right within the Imagine Nation Museum facility.
What separates the Preschool Learning Center at the Imagine Nation Museum from other preschool facilities is the creation of a unique curriculum that utilizes the museum’s resources, exhibits and more to provide a variety of learning techniques for all learning levels.
“We utilize the museum exhibits as part of our classrooms; we think outside of the box,” Richardson said, referring to the creation of “Imagine Learning,” which is the preschool program’s curriculum that is designed to take the learning experience for children to the next level by providing the museum’s resources, teaching opportunities, hands-on learning, and more.
“It is a natural mix that benefits the students, their families and the museum,” Richardson said, adding the preschool program has “come a long way from when it first began, and we look at it as always a work in progress to make it the best it can be.” She added educators at the museum are always looking at new trends and new benchmarks and standards that are being incorporated, so that the curriculum can be updated to meet those standards.
The preschool educators also have shared their concepts and curriculum at city, regional and state functions, and also were visited by a group from China, which was affiliated with Yale University. This group was touring the country and stopped at the Imagine Nation Museum to learn more about its services.
“It’s not just a preschool, it is becoming more of an early learning center,” Suchopar said.
Every family who enrolls their child into the preschool program receives a free membership to the museum. Also, lesson plans are posted each day so the public can join a lesson that may be happening at one of the exhibits.
Suchopar pointed out students can be involved in “conceptual learning,” but also benefit from experimental learning and exploring a topic to take the learning even further.
Sara Castle, the preschool program’s Curriculum Coordinator, said teachers will focus on a specific topic with their students, and then will bring small groups to a space in the museum to use what they’ve learned and incorporate it into another project or lesson plan. She said there are also special events each month where museum staff or a group or member of the public will visit the museum to use that topic in another form.
Museum staff also provides information for each exhibit regarding what the children are learning and how it can be taken a step further at home.
Richardson said she has seen a shift in parents after they get their children involved in the preschool.
“They don’t realize how much learning goes on here,” she said, adding that when families get more familiar with the museum they start to think of it as a family. “If we work with the children and the families we are able to provide a strong base, and we will have less issues in the future and children will have a love for learning and really want to go to school.”
The Imagine Nation Preschool Learning Program is offered to Bristol residents, and anyone interested in learning more about the program or looking to take a tour of the facility should contact the Imagine Nation Museum at (860)314-1400.