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Little People Playtime Preschool celebrates 30 years

Hampshire Park District Director Youth EducatiRosemary Kesse poses with pre-kindergarten class thshe teaches Little People Playtime Preschool 441 East JeffersAvenue

Hampshire Park District Director of Youth Education Rosemary Kesse poses with a pre-kindergarten class that she teaches at Little People Playtime Preschool, 441 East Jefferson Avenue in Hampshire. Shown in the back row, from left: Austin Hagevold, Oliv

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Updated: January 3, 2013 6:24AM

HAMPSHIRE — In 1982, the Hampshire Park District ran an ad that asked residents for their ideas on new programs and classes that were unavailable in the community.

Village resident Rosemary Kesse believed that a preschool was needed in Hampshire. She also decided that she would like to run it.

“With an elementary education background, 10 years of experience in teaching first grade, and a preschooler at home, I thought I was up for the challenge,” Kesse said.

The program that she started was originally called Pre-School Fun. During its first year, it was taught by Kesse and her mother, Adeline Geisler.

“The preschool began in an unused room at Hampshire Middle School,” Kesse said. “Principal Carl Brooks and Fred Rackow, school guidance counselor and park board president, worked with Ralph Seyller, park district director, to come up with a reciprocal agreement between Community Unit School District 300 and the park district to secure the use of a room. It was equipped with four tables and some shelves. The Seyllers and the Kesses donated all of the toys. Ralph Seyller miraculously acquired child-size chairs.”

In 1987, Pre-School Fun was renamed Little People Playtime and moved to an unused room at Hampshire Elementary School.

As more subdivisions were built in Hampshire, the number of preschool students also increased. In 1994, Nancy Cunningham, Laurie Walrack and Donna Eberly joined the preschool staff to help teach the kids.

“During the 1994-95 school year, the preschool program was modified so that each week the room was able to accommodate three classes of pre-kindergarten, one class of transitional 3 to 4-year-olds, two classes of 3-year-olds, and one class of 2-year-olds,” Kesse said. “As one class would leave, there were only 15 minutes of downtime before the next class would begin with a different team of instructors. This change took place three times each day.”

Life became less hectic when a preschool playroom was built in the park district building. Classes for 2-year-old and 3-year-old children were moved from the elementary school to the new playroom.

As the population of Hampshire continued to grow, more room was needed to accommodate additional students at Hampshire Elementary. Little People Playtime left the elementary school premises altogether and moved to the park district building.

“It was with heavy hearts that we left the building, the resources, the support of the principal, and the professional atmosphere of the school staff,” Kesse said.

Preschool classes were held in the park district’s former office space, while office staff moved into a temporary trailer.

“Even when cramped into a small space with no gym, no resource center, no music room or professional support staff, the quality of the preschool program remained high,” Kesse said. “The instructors branched out to use the Ella Johnson Memorial Public Library as a resource. The nearby park was a perfect setting for outdoor education. Space was found for the piano, so we created our own music room. We even managed to put on a Christmas program with a wall-to-wall audience.”

The preschool staff in 2001 consisted of five members and two substitute teachers. The total enrollment averaged to 80 children per year.

When the park district’s new equipment building was completed, its former garage was renovated into a community room/kitchenette. Kesse and her husband, along with volunteer parents, cleaned and painted the new space. People donated materials and labor so that new carpeting and a wall of cubicles could be installed. The community room was ready for use for the preschool and other park district functions in 2002.

Five years later, the preschool moved again into its own permanent building at 441 East Jefferson Avenue, bordering Seyller Park. The facility has five classrooms and a library. It was built seven months after its groundbreaking ceremony. The facility’s open house was attended by more than 100 area residents.

In addition to introducing children to the three traditional “R”s of education — reading, writing and arithmetic — preschool teaches the “R” of readiness to prepare children for kindergarten.

Little People Playtime promotes readiness in their social skills so they learn how to make and keep friends. Personal hygiene readiness, such as washing hands more often and “catching” a cough or sneeze in the elbow, keeps kids healthier in classroom situations. “Circle time” at preschool improves a child’s reading and listening abilities as well as encouraging them to discuss books. Eating readiness teaches a child how to prepare healthy snacks at home so that he or she can bring them to preschool.

Kesse is grateful for how community members have supported the preschool over the years.

“The park district and Little People Playtime will be eternally grateful to principals George Strombaum and Gary Wright and the staff of Hampshire Elementary School for the use of their facility,” Kesse said.

Dorothy Schmidt, wife of former Village President Bill Schmidt, once read stories about “Clifford, the Big Red Dog,” to the preschoolers. Velda Grimes and Leola Widmayer, members of Hampshire VFW Auxiliary Post 8043, presented an American flag for the preschool classroom.

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