COLUMBIA — Ring the doorbell at Ready...Set...Learn!, a new early childhood learning center in Columbia, and Annika Lunceford is likely to open the door with a child in her arms and a trail of kids behind her.
She returns to a group of children sitting in the semblance of a circle on a mat and joins them, a child still clinging to her arms.
Lunceford encourages the children to sing the months of the year and recite the number of days that have passed in the month so far.
"We think that not only is singing fun for the kids, but it's a great way to remember what they have learned because it's put to a tune, and kids really pick up on that quickly and easily," she said.
Ready...Set...Learn! is located at 2601 N. Stadium Blvd. Children ages 6 weeks to 5 years may be enrolled at the just opened learning center. The school currently has 28 children, who come on different days, and enrollment is growing daily, Lunceford said.
Both owners, Lunceford, 41, and Katie Pease, 28, have experience working in public schools; they and two staff members all have higher education degrees.
Both Lunceford and Pease make sure certain educational components are built into the scheduled activities, many with built-in songs to help the children retain the information.
Lunceford sings to the children even while they are washing their hands after going to the bathroom.
A day with the kids
On Thursday, Lunceford was in charge of the 2-year-olds.
"Tops and bottoms; tops and bottoms; in between; in between; rub them all together; rub them all together; now they're clean; now they're clean," she sang to the tune of "Frere Jacques."
"Good job. Give me five!" she said.
Sometimes listening is hard for the children, and Lunceford is there for the teaching moment. Usually it has to do with sharing.
When a child became upset after having her toy stolen by another, Lunceford was quick to make a point:
"We have to use our words to say what we would like and what we would not like."
In a classroom down the hallway, Pease led the 3- and 4-year-olds in singing the months. Then, she asked them to say in Spanish the number of days that had passed in the month so far, which some were overeager to recite.
After the early morning lessons, all of the children lined up to go to the kitchen area for snack time where they sat at long, low tables. Before digging into Goldfish and water, they sang their school song to the tune of "This Old Man."
"ABC; 1-2-3; We're so smart, oh, can't you see. Little ones, tall ones, big ones, small ones. It's my turn. Ready, set, learn!"
Friendship to partnership
The two owners met eight years ago while Pease was caring for Lunceford's three children.
"My favorite part, I think, is when you watch the light bulb turn on and getting to be a part of the foundation that they are going to take with them forever," Pease said.
Lunceford, who has a master's degree in education, taught at an elementary school for six years before working at an at-home daycare and a preschool while her children were growing up.
Pease has a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in education. After trying to teach adults, she realized she couldn't stay away from preschool-age children, a realization that came after subbing for Lunceford.
For the past three years, Lunceford and Pease worked together at a child-care facility part time before deciding to open their own.
"We knew that this was what we wanted to do, and it came to a point where we couldn't afford to do what we love to do anymore unless we sort of branched out on our own," Pease said.
The learning center follows Missouri's pre-K standards, focusing on six areas: literacy; emotional development; approaches to learning; mathematics; science; and physical development, health and safety. These are standards set to help children actively seek to comprehend the world, construct knowledge and values through interactions and improve children's way of thinking.
Shannon Fry, mother of Grace and Jake Fry, said Lunceford has her children's interests at heart and said her son wanted to be back in Pease's class. Fry is transferring her son to the school starting Tuesday.
"They are the kind of people that you feel good leaving your kids with," she said. "To us, enrolling with them was a no-brainer."