“A classroom provides routine and structure and is a place for a child to do work,” said Karen McClure-Richard, Director of the Early Learning Center in Auburn. “And that work is play.”
The classroom is their learning space and they need to be able to explore and touch. “Everything in the classroom is theirs.”
Pine Tree Society’s Early Learning Center provides educational programming for young children with special needs.
For Sarah Burtchell, the Early Learning Center is a godsend. She adopted her daughter, Makayla, from foster care at age two and a half.
“I wish I knew then what I was doing and had enrolled her right away.”
It was only after Makayla struggled in pre-school that a psychiatric assessment helped Sarah discover what Makayla needed.
“They recommended the Early Learning Center and she started going when she was three and a half.”
She’s now five and completing her last school-year at the Early Learning Center. Early intervention has made a world of difference in her life.
The staff has a common goal for all the students: to foster a love of learning to set a strong foundation for the future.
Every spring, the staff, students and their families celebrate the achievements all the kids have reached that year.
“We collect their work throughout the year and present their parents with a portfolio so they can see the progression,” noted McClure-Richard. “It’s a gift for parents and it’s also a way for us to assess how far a child has come in various areas.”
The portfolio includes everything from writing samples, to artwork, to what the child says they want to do when they grow up, to photos of them during the year.
“It’s a look back,” said Sarah. “Makayla’s portfolio included a lot her artwork and there are photos with captions noting where she was at that time with a particular skill. In September, she was able to draw a circle, for example.”
“With this portfolio, parents can see how play has purpose,” McClure-Richard continued. “For example, when we do an art project, there are specific goals we are working on. We might only place two glue sticks on the table when there are six kids. It is an opportunity for them to problem-solve, to learn to share and to take turns.”
The ability to listen and wait for the teacher to give directions is another important skill being conveyed.
Sarah’s experience as a parent is that “the staff is incredible.” She said, “They are patient and thorough and they keep you updated. Love that place!”
Very soon, the time will come for Makayla to move on to kindergarten.
McClure-Richard says, “We serve eight different school districts so when the kids transition, we try to pair parents with each other who have children moving to the same school.”
It’s a bittersweet moment.
“They came to us at a time when they were first realizing and dealing with issues. We were the first faces they saw. When it’s time for their child to transition, there’s fear and anxiety mixed with happiness.”
But all the work they’ve accomplished has given them the foundation to be successful. They know how far their child has come.”
They know that play has purpose.
Pine Tree Society helps people in Maine with disabilities lead richer, more socially connected lives. Too often, people with disabilities feel left out, even isolated. With the help of Pine Tree Society, they're not alone. We share a spirit of innovation and desire to discover new ways to break down barriers that many find insurmountable. It started as a bold new idea in 1936 and it continues every day. For more information, please call (207) 443-3341 or visit our website, www.pinetreesociety.org.