Inside the Daisy classroom at Arex House, children sit on carpet squares arranged in a circle. Their teacher, Cristina Delgado, sings a familiar nursery rhyme:
Three little ducks went out one day
over the hills and far away.
Mama duck said, “Quack, quack, quack, quack!”
But only two little ducks came back.
The kids rock side to side and flap their arms to mimic a duck’s waddle and join Ms. Cristina sporadically in the song, a word here or a phrase there, but particularly on the quack, quack, quack, quack part.
With each verse she dismisses additional children to go use the bathroom (and wash their hands!), grab their coats and sit down at a table with a book while their classmates get ready.
One child, Jovani, chooses a book called Niño Wrestles the World, by Yuyi Morales. It is a story about a boy whose dream is to become a famous Mexican luchador who outwrestles each of his opponents. That is, until he meets his match in the form of his younger twin sisters, at which point the three form an unstoppable tag team. The story and its illustrations are delightful, and Jovani’s eyes glow with excitement as it is read to him.
Jovani seems disappointed when it is time to put the books away, but this quickly dissipates when he is reminded that he and his classmates are headed outside. The children line up at the door, not unlike a brood of ducklings, to follow their teacher en route to the playground.
Daisy is one of 11 classrooms in the Early Childhood Education program at Arex House, which serves 175 children ages 2-5 and their families is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Earlier this year the program also earned Illinois ExceleRate’s Gold Circle of Quality, the highest designation awarded by the state’s pre-K assessment office.
“That recognition is coming from the classrooms,” says program director Louis Falk, praising his teachers and staff. “We have high-quality teachers and support staff in our classrooms,” he continues, “and they work really hard.”
Falk is retiring this month after investing more than 30 years at Arex House as a classroom teacher and administrator in the program. Known affectionately by kids, families and staff alike as “Mr. Louis,” he has advocated over the past 3 decades for a holistic, developmentally appropriate approach to educating young children.