Children at the Water Tower Recreation Center’s pre-school program (counterclockwise from top) Rosalie Hylton, Isabel Morrison, Lena Roth, Peter Stocovaz, Pressler Soeffing-Hammerle and Arlo Salvetierra learn about the letter ‘S’ from teacher Sarah Maneely. (Photo courtesy of the Water Tower Recreation Center)

Children at the Water Tower Recreation Center’s pre-school program (counterclockwise from top) Rosalie Hylton, Isabel Morrison, Lena Roth, Peter Stocovaz, Pressler Soeffing-Hammerle and Arlo Salvetierra learn about the letter ‘S’ from teacher Sarah Maneely. (Photo courtesy of the Water Tower Recreation Center)

by Sue Ann Rybak

The Water Tower Recreation Center, at 209 W. Hartwell Lane in Chestnut Hill, has long been a hub for community activity. Unfortunately, many local residents are not aware of all the excellent and affordable programs available there.

The Water Tower’s Pre-School Program, which begins on Sept. 9, is just one of these great programs. It runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:15 a.m. until noon. Parents also have the option to sign up their children for the extended program, which runs until 2:30 p.m.

Melanie Anderson, of Mt. Airy, whose daughter attends the program, likes that the program not only prepares her daughter academically for kindergarten, but also provides ample opportunities for child-initiated active play.

Anderson said at the Water Tower her daughter is free to be a kid. She said she loves that her child can run around, ride bikes, play on the gymnastic mats, and play outside every day.

“In January, your child is still able to run around like a maniac and get some exercise,” Anderson said. “That’s hard to find in the winter.”

That is important especially since studies have show that “as many as half of American children are not getting enough exercise – and that risk factors like hypertension and arteriosclerosis are showing up in kids as young as five.”

A study in the June 2015 Pediatrics “Active Play Opportunities at Child Care” found that young children are not given enough opportunities for active play.

Researchers said that most 3 to 5 year-olds are not getting the two hours a day of recommended physical activity.

The study said that there were “more expectations for preschoolers in the United States to be sedentary (line up, sit down for circle time, nap, or engage in quiet activities.) The report also stated that more emphasis is on academic learning versus developing motor skills such as running, leaping and jumping.

Sarah Maneely, director and teacher at the recreation center’s preschool program, said with two playgrounds, two gymnasiums, tennis courts and a baseball field, there’s plenty of space to get kids moving.

“We have a huge space all to ourselves,” she said. “Once that first cold winter day hits and they get to go into the gymnastics room, they don’t ever want to come back out of it.”

Maneely, who has supervised the program for over 15 years, recalled how one little boy last year always wanted to ride bikes in the basketball gymnasium while all the other kids wanted to go into the gymnastics room.

“We would always do like 15 minutes in the basketball gym and then go to the other gym for 15 minutes,” she said. “We try to let the kids decide what they want to do as long as it’s a safe physical activity.”

She added that the program was designed to prepare children for kindergarten. Children are exposed to the alphabet, colors, shapes and numbers through a variety of activities such as cooking, music, science, art and gym.

“It’s more about exposing kids to things then jamming it down their throats,” said Maneely, of Oreland, formerly of Chestnut Hill.

She said each lesson plan has an alphabet, color, science or cultural theme. For example, kids will be learning about the letter “A” during the first couple of weeks of school.

The class will taste a variety of apples, make applesauce, make apple prints, count apples and read a book about apples.

“We are always trying to incorporate different things about who they are,” she said.

Maneely recalled how one year one child’s mother was from Japan, so she designed one lesson plan around the Japanese culture. Some activities included using chopsticks, kimonos, and reading stories about Japan.

She said the goal was to teach children that being different is okay.

“The mother brought back a simple traditional Japanese toy for each of the kids,” said Maneely, who was a paralegal before becoming a certified preschool teacher and director of the program.

“I really love teaching,” she said. “I never would have pictured myself as hanging out with little kids all day.”

Shortly after her daughter graduated from the program, the preschool teacher at the Water Tower decided to retired.

She applied for the job and has been working at the Water Tower since then. She added that teaching keeps her “young at heart.”

“I learn something everyday from the kids,” Maneely said. “ I have had kids that have been connoisseurs of dinosaurs – Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brachiosaurus.”

She said the program at the Water Tower Recreation Center is designed to be small and nurturing, so children can feel free to explore the world around them.

Because, as Peter Gray, author of “Free to Learn,” said, “Without the freedom to play they [children] will never grow up.”

For more information about the Water Tower Preschool Program, call 215-685-9296.

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