Miss Esther's storytime

Education is a lifelong pursuit, and it starts earlier than you may think. The Elkhorn Area School District is proud to offer early education opportunities for children from birth to five years old! Investing in early education is one of the best predictors of later success. EASD provides early learning opportunities and developmental screenings for all resident children.

Developmental and health screenings are an essential facet of early education programming. Children are often referred for screening by their pediatrician, preschool and daycare providers, and district staff helping facilitate community events. The process of locating, identifying, and evaluating children with disabilities is called Child Find. “Early identification of potential challenges and early intervention is critical in the child development process because we know that a child’s brain develops most rapidly between the ages of birth to five years old,” says Emily Lynd, EASD Director of Special Education. Lynd received her bachelor’s degree in psychology at UW Eau Claire and her master’s degree and education specialist degree from UW Whitewater. She earned her Director of Pupil Services degree through UW Eau Claire. Lynd continues, “High-quality early educational programs that focus on early brain development and inclusion with peers in the child’s natural environment have a lasting positive impact on a child’s view of themself as a learner and overall school experience.”

Let’s Play
Two years ago, the Elkhorn Area School District introduced the Peer Model Playgroup for three-year-olds in our district. The Playgroup has several cohorts of regular and special education students who engage in play and literacy activities, develop fine and gross motor skills, and work on language development in an inclusive environment twice a week for two hours at Jackson Elementary. The program received the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS) Region 2 Integration Team Award in May 2023. The Peer Model Playgroup provides all young children with the opportunities to observe, interact with, and imitate children who have acquired higher-level motor, personal/social, language, and cognitive skills in an inclusive environment.

Child with fake binoculars

Getting Ready for Kindergarten
As our littlest Elks get closer to school age, EASD offers a half-day four-year-old kindergarten program to all residents who turn four years old on or before September 1 of the upcoming school year. EASD partners with three local child care centers, Lakeland’s Little Learners, Step Ahead Preschool, and Kiddie Kottage Learning Academy, to house 4K programming. 4K nurtures social, emotional, and early academic skills. Special education staff from the school district are also able to provide services to students directly at their 4K centers, be it speech, occupational, or physical therapy. 

Montessori 4K and 5K are offered at Options Virtual Charter School for families looking for a different approach to early education. Montessori is an educational method focusing on children’s natural interests and emphasizes a hands-on approach to learning. Options Montessori 4K is a half-day program, while 5K runs full day. 

During Summer Academy, the district encourages all students who will turn five years old on or before September 1 of the upcoming school year to register for Kindergarten, Here We Come! This two-week course includes literacy instruction, focusing on naming letters, sounds of letters, rhyming, sight words, whole numbers, and more! There’s also a fair amount of arts and crafts and healthy snacks. 

Parent Connections

Miss Esther Jumping

Long before a child enters the school building, through partnership with Walworth County Health and Human Services, EASD welcomes families with newborns to the district with an EASD Birthday Bag coupon. Birthday Bags include developmental guides and children’s books and invite families to participate in early education programs hosted by Parent Connections, EASD’s early education engagement program.

Parent Connections, led by Esther Weitzel, facilitates much of Elkhorn’s early learning programming. Miss Esther, as she’s known, holds a bachelor’s degree from UW Parkside and a master’s degree from UW La Crosse and is certified in 4K and early childhood education. Parent Connections aims to help guide parents through the challenges of parenting. They can help answer parents’ questions about the ages and stages of development, as well as the health and safety of their young ones, offer support and screenings for children with special needs, and provide parents with resources available in our community. 

Itty Bitty Boppin’ Bakers is a Parent Connections event held four times a year at Matheson Memorial Library, offering free developmental screenings. Children practice large motor skills through dancing and moving and exercise their fine motor muscles by preparing a snack with help from Seeds of Hope, a local community of adults with developmental and other disabilities. 

Parent Connections also hosts weekly storytime events at Matheson Memorial Library and a monthly YouTube series. Stories are posted online for students to read along with Miss Esther. The programs promote literacy and family connections and help out over those longer school breaks and weekends.

Learning Through Sport

Child on scooter

In the 2022-23 school year, Elkhorn Young Athletes made its debut. Young Athletes provides a unique opportunity for families with children of all abilities, ages two to seven, to build confidence while targeting large motor skills such as walking, running, balancing, trapping, catching, kicking, throwing, and striking. Young Athletes is another all-inclusive program in the Elkhorn Area School District. Modeled initially off of the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program, Elkhorn Young Athletes is staffed by local volunteers, middle-school aged and up. This FREE program runs from October to March, culminating with a grand finale event in April. 

Something for the Grownups

Parents and child

Learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom, which is why Parent Connections offers education for parents and caregivers on their website. Their EDU for Grown Ups resource covers everything from establishing a bedtime routine to potty training, motor skills, speech, and more. As a child’s first teacher, parents play a fundamental role in their child’s development. EASD is here to assist in those formative years. 

Investing in our children’s education from a young age is crucial. EASD is committed to providing resources and support to help children and families succeed. If you have any questions or would like more information, please don’t hesitate to contact Parent Connections or EASD directly.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Community Connection.