Immaculate Heart of Mary School to start all-year early childhood program Print
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jun. 28, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

IHM Early Childhood
Teacher Stephanie Esser has a play picnic with preschool students at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Monona. The preschool will be part of a larger early childhood education program starting in the fall in a recently remodeled space in the school. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MONONA -- "They're going to get a whole lot of Jesus, and that's a good thing," said Callie Meiller, principal of Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) School in Monona.

She spoke on the new all-year round, full-time early childhood program starting at the school this fall.

It will be open to children ages three to five.

A new opportunity

The program is taking the place of the preschool program, which previously ran only two-day and three-day programs during the school year.

"Families really enjoyed being in our school and having the preschool here, but it was starting to become unavailable to a lot of families because of the fact that they're employed full-time," and the preschool program didn't run for the whole day, said Meiller.

In order to create a more sustainable effort for the school and meet the needs of the community, Meiller and the school began to look at creating an early childcare program that could meet the academic and care needs for the whole day.

The preschool space was then greatly expanded and remodeled earlier this year to create a "bright and beautiful" space.

Many of the learning centers, now in use, were either in storage, or used in a lesser space area, but the remodeling efforts allowed the school to create learning opportunities in a more spacious environment.

After Labor Day, the program will start, open all year round from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays.

Meiller said families can be "as flexible as you need it to be . . . you can choose to be there three days a week, you can choose to be here two days a week."

A typical day

Most of the morning hours will be filled with academic time, including play-based curriculum learning.

The school's 4K class will also be incorporated into the program during this time.

There will be different centers set up where the students can learn and play.

The afternoon will consist of lunch, at additional cost, along with free time and rest.

Faith will play an important role in the learning, including the kids attending Masses on Thursdays.

"Any exposure that they have to a faith-based environment is good," said Meiller.

Lead Teacher Stephanie Esser, along with two aides, will incorporate a "prayer shelf" she used in the preschool program.

"I try to rotate with the seasons of the Church," Esser said.

"The children love to play with and talk about our stuffed Jesus doll . . . they'll actually go play with him and talk to him."

She added that the students learn about liturgical colors, Mary and Joseph, and "we just talk generally about Jesus in our day."

"It is a faith-based program because we're in a Catholic school," said Meiller. "It is open to anybody who'd like to be here."

Kids helping kids

Esser said an added plus to the expanded early childhood program is that the older kids can help the younger kids learn.

She said she's looking forward to "the excitement of having a multi-age program where 'fours' and 'fives' can help lead some of the 'threes' and teach them some of the older skills, but also the combination of the 'threes' and 'fours' together."

Meiller added she hopes the early childhood program will serve as an introduction to the school, and parents will keep their children at IHM as they get older and "get people in the door and learn about our school; it's neat that it's incorporated with the school so [the students] will be involved in all our all-school activities."

Esser said the mix of ages in the program can help with that goal, also.

"A lot of children learn from each other and so mixing [ages], they're going to be learning things from each other and taking and giving to each other," she said, adding the faith-based program "encourages families to come and see what we're all about and perhaps stay with us in the upcoming years."

For more information on IHM School go to or call 608-222-8831.


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