On the Job: Teacher instills lifelong skills in valley children | AspenTimes.com

On the Job: Teacher instills lifelong skills in valley children

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

Jen Baca, of Glenwood Springs, interacts with two toddlers during play time on Oct. 7. Baca has been a teacher at the Little Red School House for three years.

Many people will say that Snowmass Village shuts down in the offseason. Businesses close, many residents go on vacation and everyone sets their eyes on winter.

But on Owl Creek Road, a group of women is making a difference throughout the year. Teachers at the Little Red School House work with children ages 1 to 5, introducing them to a school environment and helping them develop crucial social skills.

One of those women, Jen Baca, of Glenwood Springs, started teaching there in 2010. Baca intends to go back to school and become an elementary school teacher, but she was friends with the former director of Little Red at the time and came on board when she needed another staff member.

"I thought, well, might as well get my experience working with kids," Baca said.

“That’s the No. 1 thing that we teach

— how to get along with other kids (and) communicate.”
Jen Baca
Little Red School House teacher

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The 35-year-old, who said she has always wanted to be a teacher, who used to play school with her family members as a little girl, is still there three years later. As a "float" teacher, Baca works two days in the toddler room and two days in the preschool.

"It gives me a nice balance to my week," Baca said.

Every day has a structure. In the toddler room, the day typically starts with either an art- or science-related activity. On Monday, the children were painting paper pumpkins. On other days, they might play with a "sensory table" that the teachers can fill with water and other materials. The children feel and play with the materials, which is important for the sensory part of their development, Baca said.

The morning activities also help distract kids if there's some tears getting dropped off, Baca said. That's usually followed by a snack. On Monday it was mini bagels and cream cheese. Each child carried his or her cup to the counter in the small kitchen — some with a gentle reminder — and then the teachers helped them wash their hands and changed their diapers.

After that came some free playtime. The teachers let the children play and interact with each other. They read a book if a child wanted them to, and stepped in when kids weren't getting along. They finished playtime inside with some music and dancing — and, of course, cleanup. Baca picked up one toy that was near a child but told her she had to put away the book she was holding.

Baca, who has a 12-year-old son herself, said the most important thing about early-childhood education is the development of social skills.

"That's the No. 1 thing that we teach — how to get along with other kids (and) communicate," Baca said.

After free play inside, the teachers helped the students into their hats and coats and took them outside. There was still some ice under the overhang that day, which posed a challenge for the teachers, who put out a large toy to deter the toddlers from going over there. At their age, toddlers don't really learn their lesson after falling once.

Baca said after playing outside, the teachers will sit the kids down for lunch, followed by naptime. Then they'll play until their parents pick them up.

In the preschool, which is in the iconic one-room schoolhouse that has stood on the site since 1894, the teachers will practice some more academic skills with the older children, Baca said. However, she reiterated the importance of play and socialization.

"They need those social skills to survive in the real world," Baca said.

jbeathard@snowmasssun.com