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Preschool director chalks it up to a day's work

By Cindy Atoji Keene

As a preschool director, one of the hazards of the job is bringing her “teacher voice” home, said Stacey Giancioppo, director of Big Bird's Nest Nursery School in Millis. “I will say things to my husband like ‘Now use your words,’ if he is frustrated with something,” said Giancioppo, who admits that sometimes she’s frazzled by the end of the day after working with a group of 20 pre-kindergartners.

Almost 60 percent of Massachusetts 3 and 4 year olds are enrolled in daycare and preschools, a trend that shows a steady increase in the use of these programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. In some communities, an uber-competitive preschool environment means parents vie for coveted spots, but in Millis, the tot derby is less intense, said Giancioppo. “But there’s no doubting the benefits of a quality preschool education, whether it’s for academic readiness or just socialization skills,” said Giancioppo. “Parents today are far more aware of the way young children learn. I think that is a really good thing.”

Giancioppo, the mother of two sons and two daughters, has been working with young children for more than 20 years, and the proprietor of Big Bird's Nest since 2007. Like 33 percent of child care workers, she's self-employed, and says she needs to combine business savvy and management skills with patience, creativity, and nurturing. Whether she’s juggling the balancing of two checkbooks, shopping in bulk, or planning activities for both school and her family, Giancioppo said, “I never expect each day to go exactly as planned. This is not a good career choice for a control freak.”

Q: Does being a mother help you be a better teacher?
A: Yes, it’s much easier to understand a parent’s question or concern. It also helps to empathize with different factors that can affect a child's behavior or mood each day, such as a rough night of sleep, not eating a good breakfast, or a temper tantrum in the car because you wouldn’t let her wear her favorite dress that day. That is the kind of stuff you need to experience firsthand. You can't get that from a textbook.

Q: What are the most difficult lessons for kids to learn?
A: Of course it depends on the age group, but for toddlers, the challenge is taking turns and sharing, and getting along with others. Children are very egocentric, which creates a lot of teachable moments.

Q: Can you give an example of your curriculum?
A: We just finished a lesson on the 90-foot blue whale. Kids have no idea how big that is, so we drew a white chalk line down the carpet, then laid down on it head-to-toe. It took 20 children and three teachers to reach 90 feet. This puts it all into perspective.

Q: What are all these coffee filters for?

A: We use them instead of napkins to serve animal crackers. It saves on supplies, since we go through a lot of tissues and napkins – picture 20 runny noses a day during the winter months. We also go through quite a few glue sticks each school year as well as hand sanitizer, construction paper, cleaner, and other miscellaneous items.

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