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  • Writer's pictureM. Winston (Winn) Egan

“I love you!”

Today I had the pleasure of attending “Grandma’s Retta’s Preschool.’ Retta, a dear neighbor of ours, hosts a preschool for her four-year-old grandson Dillon who lives hundreds of miles from her home.

The impetus for launching her preschool was the COVID pandemic. The preschool which Dillon was attending closed down because of the rapid spread of the COVID virus. Chris, Retta’s son, asked her if she would be willing to be his son’s preschool teacher. She, of course, said yes.

Now three times a week for 60-90 minutes, she treats this adorable grandson to a series of carefully crafted experiences that fit him perfectly. He is learning letter names, developing his memory skills, learning how to hold and use markers and other writing instruments, playing games, painting, and listening to stories.

Each activity perfectly matches his attention span and interests. Also, each learning experience is language-rich. Grandma Rhetta is always asking questions and engaging all of his senses. They talk and then talk some more. No activity is too long—and if Dillon’s attention wanes, she makes appropriate adjustments.

Retta uses iPhone Facetime and a large iPad to transmit her lessons. At the receiving end, Dillon’s family uses also uses iPhone Facetime, an AppleTV application: screen-sharing, and a large video screen, so everything is easy for their young Dillon to see and hear. As you will observe, these elements work very well together.

After the initial grandma greetings, Grandma Retta began with an engaging beach-digging activity.

She asked her grandson to look for buried letters in his own small sandbox. These letters had been previously buried in his sandbox by his parents. As he uncovered each buried letter, he was asked to say the name each one.

Retta then played a memory game with her Dillon. She had carefully placed several beach-related items on her kitchen island—things a family would take to the beach: a hat, dark glasses, a bucket, a shovel, some sun-tanning lotion, a ball, and a beach shoe. The display also included a starfish and a plastic sandcastle. She encouraged her grandson to look very carefully at each and every item. Then she began to remove items from the display—one at a time without allowing Dillon to see what she had taken away. Then she said to him, "What is gone?" First, she removed the hat. Then she asked him what was missing. She followed this procedure until everything had been removed from the island. Dallin did an excellent job of remembering the removed items—sometimes with a bit of prompting.

At the close of the memory activity, Retta announced snack and storytime. Of course, the selected story focused on . . . you guessed it, the beach—Curious George Goes to the Beach written by Margaret and H. A. Rey’s ( Retta found a recorded version of this story on YouTube. Based on my observations, Dillon enjoyed the story while he was eating his snacks.

With snack and story time behind them, Retta transitioned to a numbers game. The game entailed a stack of child-sized cards labeled with the numbers from 1-20. She simply asked him to sequence the cards from 1-20 on his big desk and then asked him to pick up the cards, counting from 1 to 20. Dallin is good at counting.

As the preschool session came to a close, Grandma Retta provided a wrap-up art activity. She showed her grandson how to draw a beach with a bright blue sky. He quickly went to work with his blue marker to create an intensely blue sky. I could tell he loved making his own painting.

Retta sent all the needed materials for the games and painting activities in advance of the learning session.

This she does for each class. Many of her ideas come from the website: Teachers Pay Teacher (HTTP: //www.teachers pay teachers .com). She is also a frequent customer at Dollar Store in our area.

Grandma Retta and Grandpa Rick ended the session informally as Dillon located his regular beach toys and small sandbox.

They then said goodbye, followed by "We love you." Dillon, in reply, said, "I love you." And quietly, he continued to play with his dinosaurs and other toys in his sandbox.

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