By Alexis Newman
School is usually the second experience a child ever has in learning about the world, so setting a good foundation for education starts in preschool. One person taking on the daunting task of setting that foundation is local teacher Shannon Tatum.
Following her lifelong dream of being a teacher, Tatum now has 19 years of experience in the classroom. She currently teaches at Simsboro School, where she fosters an environment of both amusement and academics. Tatum says the kids especially like science because you can learn anything through science, and it’s true that science can be found in the world around the kids for them to learn from.
“Anything they can do hands-on is the most important to them,” Tatum said. “A lot of people call it play, but they’re actually learning through play. So even though they’re playing with Mr. Potato Head, they’re working on their fine motor skills. They’re building with blocks; they’re learning how much pressure they get to build, how much pressure they can put.”
Among the typical activities one imagines in a preschool classroom like singing and dancing and napping, Tatum’s favorite teaching topic may come as a surprise: spiders. Tatum uses this commonly feared creature as a tool of learning. The class even had a tarantula as a class pet once.
Tatum said, “You can teach them about numbers: they have eight legs, they have two body parts, they can have up to eight eyes. So, you can teach them all about numbers. You can read books. You can read them fiction or non-fiction books. And they love the big words like arachnid, and they pick up on it, and they take those things home, and they talk to their parents about it.”
Most people probably couldn’t imagine kids wanting to learn with something as scary as a spider, but Tatum says she eases their fears by telling them spiders are good and teaching them about the different types of spiders. It helps that, as she says, they’re always curious, and as long as the teacher is excited, the students are excited to learn.
“Every day, I want them to remember that learning is fun,” Tatum said. “In preschool, we’re their first step into school, so you want it to be a great experience.”
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