Lycoming Nursery school values play based knowledge

Celebrating 50 years of nurturing children

Students have been learning through play at Lycoming Nursery School for 50 years. The fundamentals learned half a century ago such as taking turns, sharing, communicating feelings and ideas and sitting in a group are still taught in a fun environment.

“That’s the beauty of our school, it hasn’t changed,” said Sue Dinsmore, director. “It continues to have the same foundation it always has which is a play based, parent run nursery school. For 50 years we have had great kids and wonderful parents to support us and that is why it has been successful. Our parents organize the fundraising and help make board decisions which is a large asset of our program and has helped in the continuation of our school.”

Because the school is play based the students learn their alphabet, numbers, sounds and colors in a less formal atmosphere.

Monthly field trips show students parts of the world they have never seen and introduce a wider scope of learning, according to Dinsmore. Field trips include visits to Pennsylvania College of Technology Aviation Center, Weis Markets, the Williamsport Bureau of Fire, Williamsport Area High School planetarium, fishing in the ponds at Indian Park, Montoursville, Faxon Bowling and many others.

“The teachers never stressed academics,” said Melissa Dudek, a former teacher of 25 years and director for 20 years. “We stress kindergarten readiness, social development, ABC’s and counting learned through play.”

Lycoming Nursery School is a legacy for Dudek’s granddaughter, Adelaide Babin. “She is climbing on the same equipment in ‘big room’ her mother and aunt enjoyed and using the same easels for art,” Dudek said. “It warms my heart that she is receiving that same loving education from her teachers.”

Adelaide’s mother, Laura Babin, of Williamsport, explained her daughter has always been a leader but now she has more of a voice and doesn’t ever stop talking.

“She is very inquisitive and surprises me with her random knowledge,” Babin said. “The little tidbits they pick up are astounding. I can see her personality shining through and she is excited to go to school.”

Adelaide’s teacher credits the students for keeping her young. “I love talking with the young people and hearing what they have to say,” said Dinsmore, who has been a teacher for 15 years and director for six years. “I love seeing the little light bulb in their mind go off when they learn and watching them grow.”

The school which offers three classrooms has always had a teacher and an aide. This offers a great partnership and allows the individuals someone to bounce off ideas, according to Dinsmore. All teachers are certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the school is non-profit. Classes run from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, September through May, though at one point were held Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“The reason we changed days was to give teachers a long weekend and because there were too many Monday holidays,” said Anne Bosch, who has been the treasurer for 20 years and is also parliamentarian. The school has always been located in the Lycoming Presbyterian Church, 825 Arch St. It began as the Lycoming Presbyterian Nursery School with a group of mothers who wanted more for their children. It was intended for 3- and 4-year-olds and enrollment was limited to 40 children, Bosch said. In the early 70’s a tea was held in September and a picnic in May and all parents were invited.

The school has grown to include weekly music classes, Stretch-n-Grow gymnastics, storymobile twice monthly, family gatherings, and a large indoor playroom. Stretch-n-Grow is an early childhood physical education/nutrition class taught by Joe Fortescue. He said of the school, “Every time I come here it’s my favorite place. The kids are all respectable and it’s a joy. It’s a pleasant atmosphere from the teachers on down.”

Stretch-n-Grow has been possible in recent years thanks to generous donations from Wegmans, Dinsmore said. There are no fundraisers, Bosch explained. The last seven years the school has held a Breakfast with Santa the first Saturday in December and the profits cover the expenses. It is an all you can eat pancake breakfast with sausage, a large basket raffle, 50/50 drawing and free photos with Santa Claus. Bosch said the profits cover expenses, room improvements, equipment, and a school-wide family carnival.

“We use natural materials so we don’t spend a lot,” Dinsmore said. “There is no technology in the school. It is all hands-on, face to face experiences. We also receive donations from great sponsors and the church is generous in allowing us the use of their kitchen and yard.”

A favorite tradition of the teachers and parents makes use of the church’s kitchen and multipurpose room for a large family Thanksgiving meal. Parents cook a full turkey dinner including mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn and gravy. The students prepare applesauce, pumpkin pie, apple crisp and homemade cranberry relish in the classrooms. “My favorite event of the year is Thanksgiving dinner,” said Amber Kastner, board president. Kastner’s three children have dressed as turkeys and Native Americans and sung on stage for the school-wide event. “I love seeing all the parents and grandparents. It’s a real family experience,” Kastner added.

In addition to Thanksgiving, parents, caregivers and siblings are welcome and encouraged to participate in the classroom to share special talents, hobbies and occupations. Children are escorted to and from their classrooms by their parent, which is different from other preschools where children are removed from their vehicle at drop-off and pick-up. This gives the parent an opportunity to have contact with the teacher, the classroom and their child’s friends on a regular basis, Bosch explained.

“Parents make connections with other parents and it forms a community circle,” Kastner explained. “The school allows for a family connection when the parents can participate and it’s a more cohesive environment.”

The school is “parent run” by a board consisting of teachers, parents, officers and committee members. Positions are filled in the spring and parents are always welcome to attend monthly meetings, Bosch said.

Tuition began in 1968 at $15 a month. The school continues to offer a fair price with a $120 monthly tuition for the 2019-2020 school year. Students must be 3-years-old by Sept. 1 of the school year. Applications are being accepted and questions can be directed to Kastner at 570-772-4508.