Preschool-age children are still learning important skills, techniques and more despite restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic with help from two local preschool teachers.
When the pandemic closed in-person instruction around Washington state, preschool teachers Melanie Hanes and Kaite Tidwell decided to continue their passion for helping kids learn by starting Joey School, an online preschool subscription box parents can use to teach their kids general preschool curriculum each month.
Hanes and Tidwell have operated and taught local families at Sprouts Academy Preschool on 194th Street in Ridgefield for about six years now. When the schools closed, Hanes said the duo spent a lot of time riding their bikes together and coming up with new ideas. Originally planned for the families in their preschool, Hanes and Tidwell came up with the idea of Joey School as a way to continue teaching families with preschool age children. However, after discussing the idea and reaching out to social media, the duo decided to launch the program nationwide instead of limiting the program to their families.
“We kind of reached out on some social media platforms to see what the interest level was. We had a lot of interest in California,” Hanes said. “We created our first box and sold 100 boxes.”
The duo continues to pack and ship about 100 boxes a month to families across the United States and even sends a few boxes to Canada.
Each box is fully equipped with lessons, materials and curriculum needed for parents to teach their children at home, and includes a theme for the month. The first Joey School box was all about colors. Recent box themes include arctic animals and transportation. Along with the monthly curricula, the first box ordered — and every three months after — includes a “supply kit” containing basic resources for preschoolers such as crayons, glue and more.
Hanes explained how each box is designed to have four three-day weeks of teaching material and curriculum, each with a lesson plan and any designated materials. For example, on Mondays children will complete a lesson on sensory, phonics and math. On Wednesday, students learn music and math. On the final day, music and art could be involved.
“There’s usually three activities a day and 45 minutes of focused learning for each of the three days,” Hanes said. “We try to encourage parents to break it up with play in-between and have a couple of blog posts with teaching tips on doing it and how to break it up.”
Hanes said with the break times included, each day is about an hour-and-a-half of instruction, and break times should be included because play time helps students keep their focus over the period learning.
Playtime isn’t the only fun part included, however. Much of the curriculum involves dancing, moving and art projects. Hanes said each box contains the required materials for specific art projects. The transportation box included fun projects such as kinetic sand as its sensory activity while the arctic hibernation box had water beads.
“With each box we create, I think it’s my new favorite,” Hanes said when asked about her favorite theme thus far. “Hibernation is one of my favorite preschool activities, and kids just love animals.”
Hanes said her favorite part about creating the boxes is writing the curriculum and becoming creative with Tidwell.
“We’ve been writing a lot of the stories and poems that come in the boxes. It’s been a huge avenue for being creative,” Hanes said.
On the side, Hanes is currently working on her master’s degree in physical education from Washington State University, Vancouver. Tidwell already has a degree in art education, something Hanes says contributes to the creativity, art and movement implemented in Joey School boxes.
As for the response to the program, Hanes said families have been satisfied with Joey School to this point and look forward to the boxes each month. Because the boxes come with everything a parent needs to be a teacher, the preparation time involved is next to nothing for parents on a time crunch due to other daily needs.
“Most people say they really appreciate the curriculum and the fact they don’t have to prep each day,” Hanes said, mentioning that preparing lessons could sometimes take an entire night. “At first, doing online school like this was hard for me, but the response from customers has been rewarding.”
Joey School boxes are $99 and can be ordered online at joeyschool.com, with discounts for sibling boxes for families with two kids of preschool age. The price of shipping is included in the box, and all materials needed are included.