Kids go goofy about Pluto

Tim Sampson

Astronomers around the world may say Pluto is no longer a planet, but don't try telling that to the kids in Aymee Joslin's preschool class.

When Joslin asked her class which planet they like the best, several of the 3- to 5-year-old children shouted out, "Pluto!"

"I keep trying to tell them that Pluto's not a planet, but they still say it's their favorite," Joslin said Wednesday.

Her class has recently been learning about the solar system as part of a unique curriculum at A+ Children's Academy, where the young pupils help determine the curriculum.

"We have somewhat of a plan, but we really let the kids' interests guide the lessons," Joslin said.

And that's just how Michelle Didesch, the owner of A+ Children's Academy, wants it. Didesch opened her school in September following the Reggio-Emilia method, which stipulates students be treated as responsible, competent, curious and creative human beings. A core tenet of this Reggio-Emilia method involves letting the school's students, who range from infants to preschool age, shape the curriculum.

"It emphasizes problem solving and development," Didesch said. "This way of doing it makes them much more kindergarten-ready."

The children choose the topics they would like to learn, and the staff of about 10 teachers works to apply the subjects of science, math, social studies and the arts to the topics.

Didesch said the class started studying the solar system following a unit on light that involved learning about constellations.

The school also promotes hands-on learning, which is why the kids spent part of their day Wednesday using construction paper, glitter, glue and strings to draw pictures and create models of the planets.

"Oftentimes, teachers just talk at children," Didesch said. "Our way tries to get them more actively involved."

Opening the school was a long process for Didesch. She sketched the rough drawings of the school building itself on a napkin, designing a building with lots of windows and mirrors, a building she said is more conducive to child development. After two years of putting all the pieces together, the school opened in September with about 15 students. That number has grown to about 40.

With an undergraduate degree in early childhood education and a master's from Bradley University in curriculum instruction, Didesch spent nine years educating teachers around the state before getting back to her true passion.

"This is where my heart is," she said.

A+ Children's Academy is located at 6431 N. Big Hollow Road. More information about the school is available by calling (309) 691-2998.

Tim Sampson can be reached at (309) 686-3251 or tsampson@pjstar.com.