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Learning the Basics

Evan Dick, 5, and Elle West, 4, read Dr. Seuss books in the Cranberry Township Early Learning Center preschool classroom March 2 to celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday. The preschool program, which is operated by the township's Parks and Recreation department, has classes for children ages 2½ to 5 years old.
Municipal preschool has built-in perks

CRANBERRY TWP — Children attending Cranberry Township Early Learning Center benefit from its connection to the township and its focus on education.

The preschool program, operated by the township's Parks and Recreation department, prepares children to enter kindergarten through hands-on, curriculum-based learning and play.

The goal is to help children develop their language, social and emotional skills, physical skills, and cognitive skills.

“When they're here, they're here for school,” said Valerie Murphy, recreation program coordinator, who oversees the preschool program.

“There's a schedule each day. They're learning, whether it's at centers or they're playing. It's specific to school.”

Being situated in the municipal building and run by township has its perks, Murphy said.

Prices stay reasonable, Murphy said. Residents who enroll a 2½-year-old child for class a week pay $55 a month. Four days of prekindergarten will cost residents $189 a month. Non-residents pay a higher amount.

The township municipal building went through a renovation in 2014, adding on the education wing for the preschool.

Children have access to a gymnasium and take trips to the library for story time without ever leaving the building.

Members from the police department, EMS and fire department visit the classrooms to give lessons.

“We're a service to the community,” Murphy said. “We're school based, and we're a brand new facility. We're part of the township, so it's nice to be able to use the resources that we have.”

Children begin writing their names, learning the alphabet, colors, shapes and how to count.

There's a snack, bathroom break and story time each day, as well as time for different activity “centers” where children make crafts, read books or practice writing. There's also time dedicated for play at the end of every day.

Murphy said the instructors attend an early childhood symposium each year to talk to kindergarten teachers about what they want students to be able to do by the time they get to school.

“It's all prep for kindergarten,” Murphy said. “They're building on the same things they start at 2½ and 3 ... and they're really mastering them.”There are four classroom options for children ages 2½ to 5 years old.The preschool class for 2½-year-olds is a one-day program for children who turn 2½ by Sept. 1 or 3 years old by March 1. The focus is on socialization and language development.“It's really an intro to leaving mom and dad for a little bit of time one day a week,” Murphy said. “Sometimes it's harder for the parents. It doesn't take long for the kids to adjust.”The class for 3-year-olds prepares students for prekindergarten programs by emphasizing daily structure and hands-on lessons.The prekindergarten program has three-day class or four-day class options and is open to 4- and 5-year-olds.Children in this program take the final step toward entering school, honing in the skills they've been learning in previous programs.Although they focus on big-picture goals like learning the alphabet and counting, Murphy said the little accomplishments are just as important for children to know — learning how to communicate needs, how to sit still and listen, how to put on a coat and what to do with a backpack.There are 10 people on the teaching staff, including lead teachers and assistants. The school year runs from September to May, with slightly fewer than 150 children enrolled this year.

Students in Susan Dhouy's preschool class at Cranberry Early Learning Center pose for picture with masks they made based on Dr. Seuss' famous "The Cat in the Hat" book.

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