Monday, May 21, 2001

Jeannine Camara, above, watched as her 2-year-old
daughter, Jennah, rolled out Play-Doh last week
during preschool at Kalihi Valley Church.

School gets moms
back to nurture

Stay-at-home mothers
and their children learn
at Keiki o ka 'Aina Preschool

By Treena Shapiro

Keiki o ka 'Aina Preschool operates on the principle that parents are their children's most important teachers.

At the preschool, parents and children learn together.

Four mornings a week, stay-at-home moms gather at Kalihi Valley Church for exercise, parenting classes, Christian fellowship and ideas on how to nurture themselves. Meanwhile, their children play with blocks, water, paints, playground equipment and one another.

The free program was created after the close of the Kamehameha traveling preschool program. Director Momi Durand, then a single mother on welfare, said she wanted to continue the parent participation program so her children could "have their own preschool and have kids come to them."

Today, the preschool serves more than 90 families, and Durand said she is looking into branching out into other communities.

Two-year-old Maka Onuma, below, had fun
making bubbles.

Funded by the Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Native Hawaiian Education Act, Keiki o ka 'Aina offers lessons in Hawaiian culture, and the majority of participants are Hawaiian.

The preschool is open to all ethnic groups, and Durand advertises the program as a possibility for parents in welfare-to-work programs to fulfill their volunteer work requirements. Professional development classes offered at the center also could help them return to the work force when their children are older, she said. For more information, call 843-2502.

Kim Santos and her 1-year-old son, Austin, began the program two weeks ago on a referral from her welfare caseworker. As Austin sat in her lap happily munching on crackers, Santos talked about how the program could turn out to be a saving grace.

Although she would like to work, Santos has had problems finding a job because she has no baby sitter. The state's First-to-Work program provides a child-care allowance, but it's not enough for her to pay a baby sitter to watch Austin for the 32 hours of work a week required by the state.

By volunteering at the preschool and doing some extra volunteer work after hours, Santos can fulfill her welfare obligations and keep Austin with her.

"I like it," she said. "It gives him a good chance to learn faster, and there are plenty of kids to play with."

When Kaimiola Earle's first child was born four years ago, he resigned from his job teaching at a Hawaiian immersion school to start a Hawaiian immersion day care, something that did not exist for children younger than 3.

His youngest son, at 20 months, stays home with him, along with three 3-year-olds in Earle's day care.

Although he speaks only in Hawaiian to children in his care, the Keiki o ka 'Aina program fits perfectly with his curriculum because even though the other children speak English, he remains the primary teacher for the children he brings there. Almost as soon as he arrived a month ago, he was recruited to start teaching the other people in their program Hawaiian, too.

Since he discovered the program, Earle has brought his students every day.

"I bring them over here just as a change of pace," he said.

Sierra Lopes, 5, was more engrossed with a game on the computer than in conversation, but she stopped long enough to explain what she was doing.

"You have to put everything in the right box," she said, as she used the mouse to drop squares and stars into their proper places.

Her mother, Angela, said she and Sierra had been coming to the preschool for a couple of years. It provides an opportunity for both of them to socialize with their peers, she said. Waving over to a table laden with boxes of cereal, Pop-Tarts, crackers and a pupu platter, she said: "The food is good, too. You don't have to make lunch."

Many of the families also participate in the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, or HIPPY, as they refer to it. Keiki o ka 'Aina provides all the materials, right down to the crayons, and parents and children just have to find at least 15 minutes a day to do homework designed to help students prepare for school.

Lopes said Sierra so looks forward to doing her homework every day that she requests it. The prepared curriculum saves Lopes the trouble of trying to figure out how best to educate her children.

"It's not just the same old stuff," she said. "They gave me a whole new vocabulary to talk to my children with."

Yvonne Norman raves about the changes HIPPY has made in her family. With three children, Norman does not have much time to give individual attention to her 3-year-old, Pono. But since starting the program five weeks ago, the family has settled into a routine. While the baby takes a nap, Norman's husband and 2-year-old read together, and she and Pono do their HIPPY homework.

"He has a sense of pride when he accomplishes something," she said.

Pono, displaying what he has learned about colors and counting, said: "I have crayons, red and green and red. I have two red ones."

Before running off to play with his friends, Pono said what he thought was most important about homework: "Little boys who do homework aren't little babies anymore."

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