As Denver grows and Colorado prepares to launch universal preschool, more families than ever are looking for early childcare/education for the fall. The task can seem daunting, but the key is to find a safe and nurturing option that draws out kids’ interests and encourages them in a fun, welcoming and creative learning environment. Just ask Christina Graham, who has worked at the YMCA (Y) University Hill Academy Preschool for nine years. As someone who discovered a love for music early in her own life, Graham is particularly delighted with the opportunity to bring rhythm and melody into the classroom.
“I sing every day—have a song for every occasion,” she shared. “Learning through music for me always stuck more and was more enjoyable. It makes learning more fun.”
Graham is the lead teacher of Preschool Room 2 at University Hills Academy, the first preschool class for children three to four and a half years old. She teaches foundational concepts like shapes, numbers and the alphabet to around 20 kids.
“We use Creative Curriculum that gives us a deep dive into different subjects,” she shared “This month we focused on water, and next month we will focus on the concept of building things.”
Exploration is a cornerstone of Y Academy curriculum and an element that Graham particularly appreciates. There is never a dull moment in Graham’s classroom. From making oobleck, trying yoga and holding their own dance parties, to learning about reptiles and magic tricks, every week holds a new discovery.
“We have a music center, a block center and a science center. We teach a lot through play and seeing what the children’s focus is on,” Graham explained. “At this young age, having many opportunities to try new things is key to discovering what you like. You can try basketball, swimming, soccer and piano classes—all that at such a young age. That is an important opportunity, and I’m really glad we can do that for the community and the kids.”
Having that strong, nurturing community is key too.
“I really like how close we can get with the families. We have families who I have taught all of their kids, and now their nieces and nephews are coming through as well,” Graham added. “You get to connect and grow with them. I’m able to see them start making connections, like the first time they see yellow and blue come together and create green. It’s so rewarding to see those connections happen and help them grow up to be the best they can.”
Graham and her fellow Academy teachers prioritize developing connections with parents and help them stay connected daily through the Y’s “tadpoles” program, where they can provide an outline of what kids are doing and send pictures and updates throughout the day. The Y Academy teachers also offer simple activities that parents can do to further classroom learning at home.
For instance, Graham “shares the teaching-based songs we are learning with parents, so they sing them at home with their kids.”
Graham has certainly seen the results of this play-based, community-centered learning at the Y. Academy teachers use Teaching Strategies Gold as an assessment tool, which includes photos of assignments over time. Graham shared that she has “some kids who can barely write at the beginning of the year and can clearly spell their name by the end. It’s really fun to see the improvement and celebrate with them as they are getting better and know it too.”
Plus, if it helps kids discover new things they are interested in for the future, that is a huge win for everyone.
“We are really proud of them,” Graham concluded. She is confident that the Y’s new Southwest Y Academy location and others will be able to help additional kids and families as they explore and grow together.
Denver YMCA Y Academy
The YMCA of Metro Denver (the Y) has been building strong, thriving and equitable communities since 1875, providing a wide variety of programs and resources for all Denverites. Y Academy has been offering excellent, creative education for families since 1989. Learn more about Y Academy at https://denverymca.org.