Three early-childhood teachers honored Friday by Wonderscope Children’s Museum share a passion for their work and unique methods of teaching.
Wonderscope chose Lori Arndt, George Garrett and Michelle Foster as recipients of its second annual Early Educator of the Year Award. Created last year, the award honors outstanding early0childhood educators.
“The foundation that is built in the early years — creating creativity, imagination and all those types of things — those efforts build the foundation in a young child’s mind,” said John Lowe, Wonderscope executive director. “We want to salute those folks that are out there every day building that foundation. It’s part of what we do through our interactive displays and programs at our museum.”
Betty Paulsel, who serves on Wonderscope’s education advisory committee, said the recipients stood out because of their commitment and involvement in their careers.
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Arndt, an educator of 18 years who lives in Lenexa, visits children’s homes as an educator for Infant Toddler Services of Johnson County. Arndt specializes in helping children with cognitive delays and behavioral issues, which she said encompasses sleep, autism, eating issues and communication, among other challenges.
Home is a more comfortable learning environment for her students. Being in the home provides a different teaching style than parents and children would get by visiting a specialist’s office.
“Those kids that are having problems and meltdowns in the kitchen because they’re hungry and don’t know how to ask for it — we’d be right there during that time and help those kids figure out, teach them how to point for what they want or help the mom decide how to give a child a choice so it’s not so frustrating for everyone in the house,” Arndt said.
For Garrett, a Head Start teacher in North Kansas City who lives in Gladstone, becoming an early childhood educator was not his first choice. Garrett wanted to be a baker like his father, although his father tried to talk him out of it. When Garrett’s father gave him a job in the bakery, he only lasted a day. He then volunteered in his mother’s classroom when he wasn’t in class at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“The first day I volunteered in her classroom, I knew that was going to be the profession for me,” Garrett said.
Garrett has been an early childhood teacher since 1974 when he got his first assistant teaching job.
Garrett teaches children ages 3 to 5, whom he views as thinkers.
“My philosophy is that, yes, you give children the foundation, just like you would if you were building a house or a building,” Garrett said. “But then you just give them enough where they can build on that and do a lot of the thinking on their own. I’ve just been amazed over the years about how children can think if you ask them the proper questions to stimulate their thinking. It’s just amazing what they can do.”
By asking open-ended questions, Garrett coaches his students to think on their own.
“I’ll ask questions like, ‘I wonder what would happen if you…’” he said.
Foster is a lead preschool teacher for YMCA Maple Woods Learning Center in Kansas City.
Early childhood education can play a big part in the development of a child, Foster said. The ability to help shape her students is part of what drew her into the role.
“That was just really important to me, that I could connect with these children when they’re still young and kind of help build their brains a little bit so that they can be successful when they’re older,” Foster said.