Early Learning Center for Preschoolers at Contra Costa College

"Willola Ross, a teacher at the Early Learning Center at Contra Costa College reads Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs & Ham to preschoolers." Photo by Spencer Whitney

Every morning at about 7:00 a.m. parents drop off their preschoolers at the Early Learning Center at Contra Costa College (CCC). They begin their day in the Enhancement Room, a classroom filled with toys designed to promote their self-awareness, problem solving, and cognitive skills.

“There’s so many activities that help the children expand their experiences,” said Willola Ross, a teacher at ELC. “I grew up in a military family, and at a young age, I was exposed various cultures living in different parts of the country and abroad. I want the children to have a well-rounded education.”

Inside, classrooms are divided into different learning stations that focus on art, math, geography, drama and science. At the geography station, a map of the world on the wall connects each child’s ethnic roots to the Bay Area.

The daily schedule is jam-packed with activities in art, language, geography, and construction. The center features an enclosed playground behind the building along with a garden that the children help to water, turn dirt and plant seeds of tomatoes, corn, and strawberries.

During naptime, slow classical music plays. Ross says children bring their own lunch, but nutritional snacks (fresh fruit and vegetables) are provided in the mornings and afternoons.

Parents can choose between the traditional and Montessori classroom programs. The Montessori approach, based on the theories of Dr. Maria Montessori, is designed to take full advantage of the self-motivation of young children to develop their own capabilities.

The curriculum promotes self-directed learning and individual lessons that match the interests of the child.

The traditional method focuses on children learning through experimenting, reasoning, and questioning.

Average costs for preschools range from $4,460 to $13,158 per year ($372 to $1,100 monthly), according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA).

In California, the annual fee for full-time care in a center is around $12,000. The Early Learning Center’s full-time annual fees in comparison are roughly between $8,900 and $9,775 and also offer childcare subsidies through Cal Works and the Contra Costa Child Care Council.

The typical staff to children is 1:8 for preschoolers, where small group activities, story time, and music is incorporated into the daily schedule. Volunteers work on a rotation basis so that they gain experience working in both Montessori and traditional classrooms

“Many people don’t realize we’re located on CCC’s campus,” said Director Barbara Grillo.

“The ELC has received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which means that the center goes above and beyond all the minimum requirements.”

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