By Diane Y. Welch
For almost 50 years the Parent Participation Pre-school has not only provided an affordable child-centered, learn-through-play program for 3- and 4- year-olds, but has also educated parents about early childhood development.
Offered through the San Dieguito Adult School — part of the San Dieguito Union High School District — parents assist the teacher in the presentation of classroom activities in a fun and nurturing environment for their preschoolers. That sole teacher is Marcia Stanley, a Carmel Valley resident.
Activities include art, music, story time, games, imaginative play, and kindergarten readiness skills. Parents participate a minimum of twice a month, but may do more, and attend monthly field trips and parent meetings. Because of this hands-on approach there are about four adults teaching 14-15 children. Most pre-schools may have 20 children and one teacher, said Stanley. “So we are able to do one-on-one instruction and really find out what makes each child tick. When you find that out, the teaching is easy.”
With so much close attention to each child there is an ability to individualize the program. “For example, if you have a boy who loves cars, you can take that knowledge and talk with him about colors of cars, makes of cars, sizes of cars,” Stanley explained. Learning is an outgrowth of each child’s natural curiosity.
The school is known by those who attend as the Friendship School. “Parents find out at the beginning of the program that we stress how to get along. If you come to visit and ask the children during circle time what that means to them, they will answer, ‘It means we share, we take turns, and we get along,’” Stanley explained. And children are encouraged to be self reliant, she added.
Stanley has a bachelor’s degree in childhood development and social studies from San Diego State University, and a California teaching credential, and over the years has taught all grade levels. She is now in her 15th year with the pre-school program which suits her schedule as she is a swimming instructor from June through August.
Parents are guided by Stanley to help balance the social, emotional, physical and academic growth of each child. When not scheduled to work in the classroom they have a half hour window for drop-off and may talk to Stanley about their child. “Unlike other pre-schools we encourage interaction, we’re not rushing parents out of the door,” Stanley stressed.
Most parents learn of the program by word of mouth and want to have a hand in their child’s early development. Kathy Ling is one such parent. “I wanted to find a co-op-type program so that I could take an active role in my daughter’s preschool education,” she said. “It also gave me an opportunity to get to know the kids in her class and become better acquainted with the parents, primarily the moms.”
While working in the classroom, she was able to see first-hand the progress of the students. “At the end of the year it was nice to reflect on how far the kids had come. I was able to see how my daughter interacts with teachers, other parents, and her peers in school so I feel confident she is ready for kindergarten,” Ling explained.
Historically, the program has not had a permanent building, instead renting a variety of spaces over the past years. It is currently held in the Masonic Lodge in Cardiff.
New parents are encouraged to visit the classroom before they sign up, even if school is not yet in session. “Then they may come back when the semester starts, bring their child, and meet the other children,” Stanley said.” It also offers the chance to determine whether the child is ready. We recommend that they are at least 3 years old and potty trained but there are some 2-and-a-half year olds that are ready, and they do fine. So we are very flexible.”
The first semester (18 weeks) runs from September-January. The second semester runs from February -June. Children attend a Tuesday/Thursday class or a Wednesday/Friday class from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Children bring their own lunch. Mondays are reserved for a once-a-month field trip. Children may also attend four days per week.
Registration is open for the first semester. New applicants should register at the Adult School office on the San Dieguito Academy campus. Call (760) 753-7073, ext. 5103, to check availability, fees and requirements. Or visit