Primrose School at Sugarloaf Parkway Blends a STEAM-based Education with Character Development

By Kim Hill

“The best part of working in early childhood education is the more your inner child comes out, the better you are at your job,” says Tanisha Turner, owner of Primrose School at Sugarloaf Parkway-East. “What kind of job can you just be a kid again and everyone thinks you’re awesome?” Ms. Turner has been an educator for thirty-two years. “It’s a lifelong passion and love for me.” She has owned the school for fifteen years, having become involved after experiencing Primrose’s benefits with her own three children. With the oldest graduating from MIT in Boston, and the second soon to be attending the University of Michigan, she says her children are proof that a Primrose education sets students up for success in life.

Primrose offers a STEAM-based program, with STEAM standing for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. “Young children can go through a scientific process and think and understand that it’s okay that you don’t get it right the first time, and that when you don’t get it right the first time you don’t stop but you try something else, you do something different,” says Ms. Turner. “You have them learn persistence, and hard work, and perseverance.”

While the concept of STEAM may seem intimidating, Ms. Turner says children ages 1 to 5 are hungry for it, they love it, and they can – no one has told them they can’t yet. “They’re not afraid to try, they are not afraid to spill, because no one is telling them ‘Don’t do it;’ they are saying ‘Let’s see what happens!’ We can teach them cause and effect here at school.”

STEAM is introduced to the toddlers through characters that teach a color, a character trait, and a skill. For example, Molly the Cow does math and teaches counting. A child demonstrating the month’s character trait is chosen as Student of the Month and everyone wears the corresponding color on a specified day. A Molly Math Bag is sent home with an age-appropriate lesson that encourages parent participation. Classroom lessons give children ideas and let them do role-playing. If the character trait is respect, the teacher can say, “How do you show respect for Mom, for Grandma, for the person in line at Walmart?” Ms. Turner explains that putting the concept in their world helps them remember when they are in that situation.

While some schools have STEM curriculums, or STEAM minus the art, Ms. Turner says the neat part about having the art component is that the children are studying artists’ purpose and mood. “It’s cute to see children say, ‘I think he was really sad because he used blue and blue makes you sad.’” Primrose has a music program as well. Children learn songs and finger plays, and parents can get an app for their phone that plays some of the songs the children learn in school.

When addressing technology in the Primrose curriculum, Ms. Turner says, “In our world technology is important, but so are the basics – socialization at this age. You can’t get socialization on the screen.” Technology use is limited to children ages three and older. Teacher-led lessons are taught in centers and students can use iPads to play interactive learning games. A favorite app of Ms. Turner’s integrates technology with science. By allowing an iPad to function as a magnifying glass, students can walk around and observe objects through the screen rather than just sitting and watching it.

The Primrose Curriculum uses the Balanced Learning approach. “We make the academic portion and the character development and social/emotional portion equally as important,” explains Ms. Turner. “We don’t have all these kids who know how to read and write and spell, but nobody knows how to share. One doesn’t really go well without the other.” Children are taught to give back to the community. The school partners with the SE Gwinnett Co-op to collect canned goods, and with Action Ministries to pack over 500 sack lunches for children locally. This is done “assembly line style” in the classrooms. Ms. Turner says even the toddlers can put an apple in the bags. Children draw pictures and put encouraging words on the bags or write notes to put inside the bags.

The school features a culturally diverse and healthy menu, and meals are made fresh on site and served family-style in the classroom. A small garden called the Primrose Patch allows kids to learn basic gardening skills where they grow crops like green beans and lettuce that can be included in the meals.

Many popular events take place throughout the year, such as Teacher of the Month, Family of the Month, Donuts for Dad, Muffins for Mom, Trunk or Treat, ice cream truck visits, and a Red, White, and Blue parade. There is even a formal graduation ceremony complete with caps and gowns. Full-time care covers ages six weeks through private Kindergarten. After school and summer camp programs go to age 13. “Our kids feel secure in their environment; they grow leaps and bounds with us,” says Ms. Turner. “Primrose just does a really good job for kids!”

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