Crystal Lawrence loves children. She had five of her own and next month, as she sends her youngest child off to college, will celebrate a silver anniversary of preparing 2,635 children for kindergarten.
“We’re celebrating 25 years,” she said about her home-based basement preschool in Tooele City called New Beginnings. “We’re pretty excited about that.”
Lawrence, 52, started the preschool in 1993 in her former home on Blue Ridge Drive. In 2007, she and husband Chuck Lawrence and their family, moved to another home on the south side of Smelter Road.
“Years ago, I just wanted to do something where I could stay at home and be with my kids,” she said.
“It just started out with a couple of classes, and then it just started getting more in demand,” she said. “ … We ended up moving locations and having two classes. Then we ended up with eight classes a day.”
This now includes 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. classes.
Lawrence began as the only teacher, but has since added two more — Brooke Castagno and Heather Lawrence. She said that core of teachers has remained nearly the same for years and all them are family members.
“We’ve always kept it at home,” she said. “The students come in on the sidewalk on the west side of my house and go right down to the preschool. It’s all fixed up just for school.”
Though Lawrence never took formal training to become a preschool teacher, she is a natural, and it is something she enjoys. She received hands-on training and it has just come from experience.
“I just like doing it. I just love being with the kids,” she said.
In May, for a kickoff of the preschool’s 25-year celebration, Lawrence said the teachers invited former students, who were graduating from high school, to the preschool graduation.
“We had them come back … and honored them and just wanted to congratulate them for graduating high school,” Lawrence said.
About five years ago, the school even hosted some of its first preschool students at a graduation.
One natural step the preschool teachers have seen after being in business for so many years is that some of their former students now have children of their own.
“That really makes you feel old,” Lawrence said.
One of the best perks of being a teacher, and especially a beloved first teacher, is rubbing shoulders with the students around town.
“I love running into them at the store, or even during the school year when you do have them,” Lawrence said. “They run up to you and they’re so excited. I just love that.”
Lawrence also gets excited when she talks about her preschool’s curriculum, which has developed over time.
It used to be that preschool was just for socialization skills, but now preparation for kindergarten is more sophisticated. It now includes letters, numbers, colors, days of the week and months of the year.
“It’s a lot more advanced now than it used to be,” Lawrence said. “When children started years ago, parents were after more of the social … Now, if they don’t have some type of preparation before they enter kindergarten, then they struggle. So, we do all we can do to help them.”
Lawrence prides herself on having a good balance of important scholastic skills and activities.
“We just have a good, well-rounded program that not only covers academics, but also the social and the activities,” she said.
One of the best ways to see if the preschool has hit its mark is to ask kindergarten teachers in the area what they have noticed.
The results have been encouraging.
“Kindergarten teachers have told us that when they test the children before they start kindergarten, that the kids that come from here are really prepared,” Lawrence said.
Two of the biggest aims that Lawrence encourages her teachers to focus on are buoying their students’ confidence and providing ample reassurance.
“Because we feel like, at their young age, if they can gain confidence and feel smart when they first start, those are the years of school that can carry them a long ways,” Lawrence said.
One of Lawrence’s favorite teaching perks is to see children overcome an obstacle they perceived was in the way of completing a task.
“I love seeing the expressions on their faces when they realize ‘I did do it.’ And then it just makes them want to try harder,” she said.
One of the most important ingredients of the New Beginnings Preschool is having fun, Lawrence said.
“We could learn all day long, but I think there’s a difference when we take some time and have fun,” she said.
Holiday traditions continue to take center stage at the preschool. Lawrence says traditions may take more work, but the kids enjoy them so much.
“You’ve just got to do it. Those things are very important,” she said. “You have those situations and I think they learn to trust you more. They’re more excited to come to school because they know they’re going to experience those fun times.”
Last Wednesday, New Beginnings finished its summer program. Lawrence said a lot of the preschool’s summer curriculum is hands-on; students welcomed firemen, dentists and policemen.
“We’ve had the dairy princess come before and make butter with them — just lots of fun things like that,” she said. “I think if you mix those fun things in, your learning goes better.”
Over 25 years, a teacher is bound to have some philosophies and stories about kids.
“They’re so easy to please. They just want to be loved, they want to have friends, they want to be accepted and be reassured,” Lawrence said. “You can do simple things and they think it’s the best day ever … The joy in their faces. It’s so fun. They just giggle.”
One really great indicator that Lawrence’s preschool program is a hit is that some mothers actually will call her soon after they give birth to get their baby’s name put on a three-year waiting list. Lawrence is happy to save the child a spot.
Lawrence has worked hard to create a good learning environment for the children and teachers. After all, this is a brand new experience for these kids to be away from home.
Lawrence said students need to know that “they’ll be fine when they are here. They’ll be taken care of when they’re here and I think that they need to be around happy teachers that enjoy what they do.”
Lawrence’s smile puts her students at ease.
“They just really remind you of what matters in life,” she said. “Too many times we get caught up in life and the hecticness of it and all the responsibilities and they just remind you of what really matters and they are so amazing.
“We have them at these beginning stages when they are so forgiving and learning the basics of how to get along with children,” she added. “They have little squabbles from time to time, but they are so forgiving and they tell each other they’re sorry and they’re best friends again.”
Adults could take a page from the kids, hold fewer grudges and be willing to be friends and forgive.
New Beginnings Preschool will continue to celebrate its 25th year throughout the upcoming school year. Teachers will post pictures of former students on the New Beginnings Preschool Facebook page so former kids can reminisce and see their picture, as well as their classmates’ pictures. Other activities will be announced on Facebook throughout the year.
One of Lawrence’s favorite stories from the last 25 years is about a student who the teachers were asking on video what he wanted to be when he grew up. Lawrence recalls the boy began to pout and threw up his arms in disgust and said, “I don’t want to grow up.”
Lawrence replied, “‘I got you there, buddy. I agree with you. Just go have fun the rest of your life.”
This is Lawrence’s philosophy — have fun, enjoy what you do and don’t be afraid to stay young. For certain, she has a soft spot and knack for nurturing young children, which makes her a fun, endearing and memorable preschool teacher.
For more information about the preschool, call 435-224-3337, email Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the preschool on its Facebook page at New Beginnings Preschool.