The preschool encourages their students ages 2-6 years old to develop a real love of learning.
By Megan Reed
Oak Tree Learning Center is a preschool that is not using the standard pencil-to-paper or memorization style of learning. Their project based teaching style is giving their students a more meaningful learning experience.
“One of the central things to Oak Tree schools is that we use a curriculum called meaningful assessment ready experiences for pre-k; or we call it made for pre-k,” said Jennifer Carter, executive director and owner of Oak Tree Learning Center in View Park-Windsor Hills and in San Bernardino. “We create meaningful experiences so that everything that they do has an impact.”
Each month the students have a project where they learn about themes that impact society. In January they learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in preparation for MLK Day. In February they learn about Black History. In March they work on Women’s History Month projects. In April they work on projects for Earth Day, where they learn about plants and the cycle of butterflies. They prepare songs, dance routines, and poems in May for their graduation event. They learn about diversity in September and Hispanic Heritage in October.
“We want our kids to understand that it’s not about just doing worksheets,” Carter said. “It’s learning things that are applicable to life, and it empowers you to do so much beyond.”
Interacting with classmates is very important for the students, as children two and three years old start to learn the concepts of sharing, listening, speaking, and potty training. They learn important social and emotional skills so that they learn how to work with others, make friends, and push through challenges.
Students ages four and five years old participate in Oak Tree’s School Readiness program, which provides a strong foundation of learning as the children prepare to enter elementary school.
The View Park-Windsor Hills school has a predominantly Black class, and it is in a predominantly Black community, so Black history and Black cultural themes are common. Carter’s goal is to normalize Black history and Black culture for the students, opposed to focusing on it only during Black History Month.
“When we talk about Black people on a regular basis, it feels Afrocentric,” Carter said. “But we’re just talking about regular people who do great things. These are people who are important figures for our children to learn about. We don’t necessarily emphasize it as Black. We emphasize it as important. And because they’re Black, then the children make that internal connection. Then they don’t see themselves as being segregated or somehow separated from the mainstream narrative.”
Carter also builds a strong sense of local community in her students, as they use local businesses as learning experiences.
“We went to different Black-owned businesses, and we talked about what they do, and how it connects to what we do at our center,” she said. “We went to Malik Books (Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and Westfield Culver City) and he (Malik Muhammad) talked about Black-centered books that children can read. We went to Kutula by Africana (View Park-Windsor Hills) and they showed us how to put head wraps on children. So we try as much as possible to have a symbiotic relationship so that kids can see themselves in the community, and then the community can see itself in what we’re doing here.”
At Oak Tree Learning Center, the students do learning activities in 45-minute sessions, and then they have breaks where they can play indoors and outdoors.
“We don’t sit still writing all day long,” Carter said. “There’s a lot time when the kids go outside and play. We want them to build social and emotional skills.”
Oak Tree Learning Center is developing an infant center for children as young as six months old.
Carter has also launched a YouTube channel where she shares her teaching techniques with parents. These videos can be used to enrich a student’s learning experience at home.
Oak Tree Learning Center View Park-Windsor Hills is located at 4416 W. Slauson Avenue. Contact them at (323) 815-1093, and visit their website at www.oaktreelearningcenter.com.