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Winter 2023 Connections

Why Preschool?

Is preschool really all that important if kids are simply read to and played with at home? Do kids even need it these days?

The answer is an increasingly emphatic yes, preschool is actually growing even more important for three reasons: It builds social-emotional skills, decreases anxiety, and establishes an academic foundation necessary later in school.

With COVID closing down schools, churches, and group social gatherings for almost two years, we are now seeing some of the impact that had on young children. And it’s not just in academics, although you hear about it more commonly in the news, with the current greater need for tutoring. However, because of COVID many young children weren’t able to participate regularly in social opportunities, and couldn’t practice important social interactions like sharing, making friends, and problem solving things that don’t go their way. As we deal with the aftermath of COVID, we’re realizing anew how critical these early stages of early childhood development actually are, and are seeing students handle these social situations in more immature ways.

“Social emotional development is so critical with early childhood, that the earlier you can introduce them to social interactions and guide them through those, the better,” South Side principal Erin Wyma ’91 explained. “In our preschool settings, teachers are able to provide students a safe opportunity to learn and practice together all of the important social skills that are necessary for their development. Having the early intervention of preschool can help students build the social emotional maturity that they need in order to continue to flourish academically in their future school years.”

A second bonus of preschool: With COVID reducing the opportunities for children to experience settings away from their parents, preschool provides a perfect opportunity to slowly get them used to being away from mom and dad for a short period of time. By doing this gradually, we see students’ anxiety decreasing—hugely helpful in later years when students attend school full time.

“It is great to be able to start building an academic foundation while students are 3 and 4 years old, but the social-emotional piece with other children, of learning how to share, working through problems, being a friend, is probably even more important,” Erin added.

You may know this already, that Holland Christian is blessed richly with exceptional and experienced preschool teachers. They are amazing, patient people who love the Lord, and love nothing more than sharing that love with very small children. But they also know how to do it in age appropriate ways, boosting both the social-emotional and academic skills, as well as spiritual joy. So just in case you have not yet met this modest, unpretentious, yet seriously talented group of preschool educators, we want to introduce them to you!

Tammy Grassmid smiling at the camera.

I like playing with cars. Sometimes she plays the cleanup song, and she tells us to clean up.
Sophia Boss '37

Tammy Grasmid ’87: 3s preschool teacher @ South Side

Tammy Grassmid ’87 carries loads of educational experience into her classroom of three-year olds: 10 years of preschool, 20 years of 1st grade, six different schools. And she has this remarkable vision for educating preschoolers not just for the future, but teaches for the present, rejoicing in who these little people are now.

“God has called me to teach at Holland Christian so that I can prepare the littlest students to go out into the world and share His love with those they meet,” Tammy said. “I use stories and verses from the Bible to show how God is in their lives and how He wants them to tell everyone about him.”

“Tammy just knows the littlest learners, how to handle behavior, and what they can handle academically,” Erin Wyma affirmed. “And she nails it every time.”

Tammy “has a unique empathy for kids who struggle,” Erin said, explaining that Tammy eagerly takes on students with disabilities in her inclusion classroom.

All this learning happens in the context of guided play in her classroom, since “play is the most important activity that preschoolers can do!” Tammy asserted. “Play is where they use imaginations and interact with their peers. Play is where they strengthen gross and fine motor skills. If there is no play, then it isn’t truly a preschool setting!”

Sarah Becksfort ’07: 4s preschool teacher @ South Side

Sarah Becksfort ’07 taught kindergarten for years, “so she knows exactly what four-year-olds need,” Erin Wyma said. “She has some of the strongest classroom management that I’ve ever seen, plus very high academic standards, and kids rise to them. Kids flourish in her classroom structure.”

But Sarah also sees her role as a partner to parents, naturally integrating faith formation into daily life: “I love experiencing the many ‘aha!’ moments that take place both in and out of our classroom,” Sarah said. “I am so thankful I get to walk alongside families in shaping some of our littlest kingdom builders.”

One of Sarah’s favorite units to teach is the Building Unit: “There are a lot of engaging building and stem-based opportunities,” Sarah said, recognizing that this learning often takes place through purposeful play. “Preschoolers reinforce learning ideas, create and maintain relationships, and better understand their own social-emotional growth through play.”

“Her classroom aligns great for students who need routine every day, and the warmth of a very loving, kind teacher bringing security for them,” Erin said.

She gives me big hugs when I'm sad.
Hazel Will '36

Preschool teacher Dawn Baker smiling at her student.

On the 1st day I just met her and she was nice and when I just got in her class I hugged her.
Ruby Veenhoven '36

Dawn Baker ’89: 4s preschool teacher @ South Side

“There is never a dull moment, every day is different, they make me laugh, and I am blessed to share God’s love with them!” Dawn Baker ’89 said about teaching preschool.

And she’s really good at it. She’s taught preschool for 11 years, and 4th and 5th graders for 12 years before that, so she is wise and experienced and calm. And continually trying new things—like going outside more with her class, pushing for inclusion, embracing new curriculum. (Yes, preschool curriculum is a thing, and yes, we have a new one, and are loving it!)

“Kids are writing words when they leave her room,” Erin said, explaining that in the spring, Dawn’s classes are already doing research projects. “She excels with literacy and the sciences, and the [students’] depth of knowledge is off the charts!” Adding, “Dawn also has a heart and passion for students who require academic and behavioral modifications to flourish into God’s design for them.”

Dawn especially enjoys teaching preschoolers about creation “because we learn that WE are the most important thing God made! It sets up how we treat each other in the classroom.”

“I love teaching at Holland Christian because I get to be a part of nurturing young children’s faith,” Dawn said. “I love that kids are so excited about their faith!”

Stacia Stoep ’04: Young Fives teacher @ South Side

As a former 2nd and 3rd grade teacher at Rose Park, Stacia “loves to make sure that her students are achieving their learning to their own highest level possible,” Erin Wyma said, adding, “She is also very loving and kind.”

One of the reasons that Stacia continues to teach at HC is “the high standards for their teachers, and the curriculum we are to implement” she said, along with “I can teach the total covenant child, and I appreciate the partnership between family and school.”

Big important religious ideas that Stacia takes to a 4 or 5-year-old level. Through lessons like their “Plants” unit, when her students learn that not only is God the Creator of all things, but they come to appreciate the diversity of God’s creation anew through a variety of multi-sensory experiences all wrapped around plants: “We get our hands dirty by planting a garden. We taste different parts of the plant. We observe growth and life cycles of plants. We go off campus and into the woods to enjoy plant life…”

“I love showing them the joy of learning and the adventure of trying new things,” Stacia said.

She helps us learn reading books. And I like to play with my friends.
Clayton Stephenson '36

Preschool teacher Allison DeLange smiling at the camera.

I like the cars. There's lots of cares at Mrs. DeLange's class.
Crew Clifton '37

Allison DeLange ’11: 3s preschool teacher @ Rose Park

If you know how much three-year-old preschool students like to move, you can see how Allison DeLange’s first degree in kinesiology and recreation therapy comes in handy for teaching preschoolers. Then try lining up a class of three-year-olds to walk quietly down two hallways to the library, while not disturbing the other learning going on in the rest of the school. And you’ll have a whole new respect for Allison and the patient, creative work she does with her super cute, energetic bunch!

“I love watching the kids discovering God’s world around them. There are so many lightbulb moments that I get to be a part of, and it’s beautiful to watch,” Allison said.

It’s not always easy to find really good three-year-old preschool teachers— they’re a rare creation, and Allison fills those shoes so well. “Allison is very warm and affectionate, just perfect for our 3s,” Erin said. “She creates lots of fun activities for them.”

But it’s not all fun activities, or playing—as important as that is—and walking to the library: “The most important thing that I want to teach kids over the course of the year is that there is a God who loves them and gave His son because He loves them so much,” Allison said. “If my students walk away knowing they are loved, I have done my job.”

Laura Rotman ’00: 3-day 4s preschool @ Rose Park

How many of our work assistants would be almost in tears talking about how much they enjoy working with us, or how important we are in the lives of their children? But Kylee Duistermars, the preschool aide in Laura Rotman’s class, and a parent of three former students of Laura overflows with compliments for Laura’s teaching: “She truly meets each student where they are,” she said. “She treats each one truly like they are the only one. She’s everything a preschool teacher should be and more.”

Laura has taught preschool for 10 years, but she also is the Rose Park secretary two days each week, so she knows all the ins and outs of the business of education, particularly preschool paperwork. But then she’s also really good at taking a small and simple preschool lesson, say on the letter “P,” and turning it into so much more. Into a whole day of delight that includes preschool pancakes and pajamas, so that the lesson is much more fun—and memorable.

“We have a lot of fun! I enjoy laughing, being silly and building a classroom where we have a lot of fun learning and exploring,” Laura said. “The preschoolers will always feel it is a safe and loving place to be.”

But then Laura also realizes fully the foundation she is laying for future Christian life: “I also love seeing Christian values and relationships which begin in preschool, continue on through a child’s life,” Laura added.

Preschool teacher Laura Rotman smiling at the camera.

I like playing in her class and doing learning stations and making crafts and going outside.
Andrew Baumann '36

Preschool teacher Leanne Bouwman helping students play.

I like how she starts our day out by reading devotions.
Emily Buck '36

Leanne Bouwman: 4s preschool teacher @ Rose Park

“I teach preschool because I love being around the littlest learners and to be able to see God’s world through the eyes of a child,” Leanne said. “I love how they come to school with a big smile on their face, ready to learn, and an open heart ready to love God and others.”

It is obvious from a few minutes in Leanne’s classroom that she loves kids and she loves her work with them. But what differentiates Leanne is “The energy she brings—she knows how to be a kid and get on their level, and get them excited about learning,” said Kathy Kuipers, Leanne’s preschool aide.

Leanne has enjoyed teaching preschool at Rose Park for 10 years now, long enough to “feel very blessed to be able to build long lasting relationships with my students as well as parents,” Leanne said. “It’s a privilege to be able to share my faith with my students, parents, and co-workers.”

Which is probably why her favorite unit to teach is right at the beginning of the school year when they’re learning that “God made me.” “I love being able to have my students observe that we all look different from each other, but we are all created by God and in His image.”

Daniella Castro-Fernandez: Spanish Immersion 3s preschool teacher @ Rose Park

Daniella is originally from Mexico, but moved to Michigan with her family in 2005 thanks to a job opportunity for her husband. In Mexico she attended college for psychology and worked for Amway as a marketing assistant. She and her husband have four children elementary age through high school. They attend Holland First Assembly of God where they actively serve the Lord, a pillar in their lives.

Daniella has been working at HC since 2016, and finds it a very rewarding experience. She originally started working in the English preschool classrooms, but when she heard about the Spanish immersion initiative, she was very excited to be a part of it!

“I love what I get to do in the classroom, and knowing that for some kids, I am a part of their first school experience,” Daniella said. “I am very committed to creating a loving environment, and to teaching in my native language–something that I am very passionate about!”

Daniela Fernandez smiling at the camera.

I love what I get to do in the classroom, and knowing that I am a part of their first school experience.

She always has a smile and welcome hug for our littlest learners.
Dinah Pereira

Perla DeLeon: Spanish Immersion 4s preschool teacher @ Rose Park

Born in Mexico, Perla came to America as a young adult not knowing the English language, so she has understanding for students in her Spanish Immersion class who are new to Spanish: “God gave me the strength and ability to assimilate,” Perla said. “This experience is helpful when teaching my students a language and culture that may not be their native one. I love having the opportunity to help set a strong academic and spiritual foundation.”

After many years of teaching preschool at both ZCS and Head Start, then teaching FLES Spanish at Rose Park, Perla was the perfect teacher to help start the HC Spanish Immersion program five years ago.

“Perla is an energetic bilingual teacher who likes to have fun no matter if she is teaching letters, sounds, numbers, or shapes,” said Dinah Pereira. “She advocates for students’ needs and is always looking for best ways to get kids up and moving around to learn through experiences.”

A peek into Perla’s classroom shows a room filled with colorful student artwork and creative play stations labeled in Spanish. Plus this hugely important quality of a preschool teacher: “She always has a smile and welcome hug for our littlest learners,” Dinah added.