Over the years, the small building beneath the First United Church on High Street has had many names. More than half a century ago, it was known as the Ladysmith Kindergarten. After that, it became the Ladysmith Nursing School.
Today, it is known as the Ladysmith Preschool, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that with each passing year, dozens of young minds are nurtured and fostered between its aging walls.
Preschool supervisor/manager Sharon Barker has been with the school full-time for the last eight years but fondly remembers a practicum she completed there back in 1981.
“It really hasn’t changed much since then,” she said.
The preschool first was established in 1973, when a group of local parents got together to bring pre-kindergarten education to Ladysmith.
They found a location, sought out volunteers and donations and began collecting teaching materials for the school.
“The community support has always been there,” Barker said.
Since then, the small staff has worked hard at keeping the program affordable and accessible to all. Due to declining enrolment, the school is currently staffed by two employees.
“When I first started, for the first few years, we always had a waiting list,” Barker said, noting there has been an understandable increase in available daycare with parents having to both stay employed in today’s economy.
Diane McMahon and her husband Barry (a Ladysmith Kindergarten graduate) sent their son Ryan to the preschool in the 1980s.
“It was good constructive early education, and it was a controlled learning environment,” Diane said. “At that time, there wasn’t LAFF and Strong Start and the early education opportunities there are now. It was the beginning of realizing that the earlier you can access education for children, the better — the more comfortable they’ll feel.”
Breann Henderson is a Ladysmith Preschool graduate who attended in the early 1990s.
“My mom said the first day she dropped me off, I was like, ‘bye mom’ and let her leave,” she recalled.
She decided to send her son and daughter there after getting positive feedback about a nephew who attended.
“My kids love it there; they love both Sharon and Vickie,” she said. “They love the dress up and how the toys don’t stay the same all year; every month, they switch out the toys, and they learn different themes for the month.”
She added that it is not all fun and games, however.
“When my son started preschool, he had no inclination to write anything at all, and by the end, he was writing his name and other short words,” Henderson said.
Barker noted that as time has gone, learning outcomes have become more advanced for today’s toddlers.
“We’ve incorporated more of the kindergarten skills into our program that normally they would be learning in kindergarten,” she said. “It’s nothing that we haven’t always done; we just have to put more focus on it.”
She said her experiences at the preschool have been incredibly rewarding.
“Every day is a fun day; there are always those children that make you laugh and do funny things,” she said.
Ladysmith Preschool offers a three-hour morning program from 9 a.m. to noon. Registration for the fall is now open. For information, call 250-245-4712.