Patty Durham's two children were out of high school when she returned to college to earn her elementary education degree with a specialty in prekindergarten.
Now, "Miss Patty" as her students call her, has found her passion in preparing the Pequot Lakes School District's youngest students, those from birth to age 5, for kindergarten.
Durham, 50, of Jenkins, is a part-time Early Childhood Family Education and School Readiness teacher at the Pequot Lakes Family Center. School Readiness, offered to children who will enroll in kindergarten next year, started last week and Durham's ECFE classes start Monday.
ECFE classes often involve a parent attending class with the child, particularly for infants and toddlers, but Durham also teaches preschool-age classes where the child attends with his or her peers. She is one of three part-time ECFE teachers.
"I love it," Durham said of teaching her young students. "They are so curious and they learn so much. They're so passionate about everything. They have so many new discoveries and it's neat to watch as they explore their worlds and figure things out."
Durham, a 1976 Pequot Lakes High School graduate, spent 26 years working at her parent's resort, Loveland Resort in Crosslake. Her mother, Erma Mae Loveland, ran the resort for 10 years after her father Roger's death.
In 1998, her mother sold the resort and Durham's youngest child graduated from high school. Durham said she felt it was time to re-evaluate her life. In addition to working at the resort, she had spent five years as a teacher's aide at Pequot Lakes Elementary School and worked in youth ministry at St. Alice Catholic Church for 10 years.
She realized that she was drawn to teaching children. She taught preschool religion at her church while in high school and was a Girl Scout leader for many years. She decided to go back to school. She had attended St. Cloud State University for a year before she married her husband Bill and raised their two children. Durham enrolled at Central Lakes College in 2000 and then entered the elementary education program through Southwest State University that was offered at CLC, graduating with her bachelor's degree in 2003. She did some substitute teaching in the Pequot Lakes and Brainerd school districts and taught sixth grade for a year at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Staples before returning to long-term substitute teaching positions in Pequot Lakes and Nisswa schools.
Family: Lives in Jenkins with her husband, Bill. They have two grown children, Mary Beth, 32, and Justin, 29.
Occupation: She teaches children from birth to age 5 as a part-time Early Childhood Family Education and School Readiness teacher in the Pequot Lakes School District.
What she's reading: Music With The Brain In Mind, by Eric Jensen. She likes to incorporate music into her classes and give parents tips and this has been a helpful teaching tool.
Favorite read aloud children's story: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle. She particularly enjoys Eric Carle's illustrations and children love the book's rhythm.
Favorite books as a child: She loved nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss books, which her mother, Erna Mae, would read to her and her seven siblings.
Favorite children's singer: Raffi, whose music she uses in the classroom.
Favorite classroom activity: Children love when Durham brings out the play parachute, she said.
In 2006 Durham was hired to teach ECFE and School Readiness classes in Pequot Lakes and is now in her fourth year of teaching there. Durham also serves as coordinator of the Pequot Lakes/Breezy Point/Crosslake Early Childhood Coalition.
While her students learn the basics, such as how to get along with others and learning to share, they also are introduced to reading and math and other subjects they'll tackle in elementary school. Kindergarten has changed even since her children were that age and Durham said it's her job to make sure her students are ready when they graduate from her classes.
Durham likes to put puzzles out on her tables for her students to do. It may sound like child's play but the process of putting a puzzle together helps them build fine motor skills and strategies that will help them later in their math classes. She said Play-Doh also helps young children develop their fine motor skills and later those skills are helpful when they try to write their name using a crayon or marker. She said she's always trying to come up with ideas for craft projects that help students built on their skills and in the meantime help them develop confidence and pride in what they've accomplished.
While she enjoys working with young children, Durham said the one thing she misses about working with older children is teaching math. She wasn't a very good math student as a child and didn't enjoy it. However, her own frustrations about learning math made her realize she can use this personal experience to reach those struggling students who were just like her.
"When I teach math, I try to make sure everyone is understanding it," said Durham.
Durham has a little buddy who helps her teach her 3-year-olds, a little puppet named "Brown Rabbit" who shows up during circle time. Brown Rabbit is an energetic and mischievous little bunny who often tells Durham to tell her students the things they shouldn't do when they leave circle time to go work on a project, which allows Durham to ask her students to gently remind Brown Rabbit of the rules.
"They love Brown Rabbit," Durham said with a smile.
Durham's advice for parents is to nurture their children and become knowledgeable about a child's developmental stages. She said that many times a child's difficult behavior is typical for their age and development. For example, if a child is in a "no" stage, it means they're learning there is power in their own voice. She also recommends that parents read often to their children. She said children who are read to often exhibit a larger vocabulary and many times develop a lifelong love of reading.
One of her favorite childhood memories is when her mother would gather up her and her siblings - there are eight in all - and read Dr. Seuss books to them on the couch.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.