The 4- and 5-year-olds in Maria Lara’s class at Ferris Avenue Baptist Child Development Center have had a special celebration of friendship the last several days, as some prepare to graduate from preschool to kindergarten.

Lara has been a preschool teacher since 1977, the last 15 years of which she has been employed at the center.

Lara said she has a special love for preschoolers - and she is especially fond of 4-year-olds.

“I enjoy this age because they are so open to learning. It’s an age where they’re exploring. Oh, and I love the funny things they come up with,” Lara said.

A typical day in Lara’s classroom begins with a greeting.

“I say, ‘Good morning,’ to the students as they arrive and they say back to me, ‘Buenas dias,’ ” Lara said. “Then we talk about things like what we did over the weekend.”

Later in the morning, Lara leads her class in a Bible lesson that includes a story and discussion and sometimes another activity like drawing. Every Wednesday the children recite a Bible verse they’ve worked the previous week at memorizing.

Another activity that takes place daily is playing at centers in the classroom. Play centers include puzzles, blocks and other manipulatives, as well as centers that promote imaginative play like the dress-up center, the home center and others.

Lara teaches her students to recognize letters, shapes and colors. She said she tries to make her lessons fun - and she holds the attention of her preschoolers by employing special techniques she’s mastered over the years.

“One of the ways I keep the kids interested is by being funny. I also use different tones of voice,” Lara said. “I don’t bore the kids.”

Lara encourages interaction with and among her students and provides numerous hands-on activities throughout each day.

Besides her love for the age group and an extra dose of patience, one of the many reasons Lara has succeeded as a preschool teacher is her skill at and love for planning and creating, which she utilizes when she plans her weekly lesson and activity plan.

Each week a separate letter of the alphabet is studied and every one- or two-week period a new theme is celebrated.

“The theme this week and last week has been ‘Farewell Friends,’ ” said Lara, who explained that those in her 4-year-old class who have not yet turned 5 will be saying good-bye to their friends as they go off to kindergarten.

Activities during “Farewell Friends” weeks include making “friendship milkshakes” and playing the “Musical Names” game that is similar to the game of musical chairs, she said, adding, “We also recorded the voice of each child on a tape recorder and then played ‘Guess The Voice.’ ”

Lara finds the job of preschool teacher extremely satisfying.

“I help children, not only academically, but also spiritually and physically,” Lara said. “I know that I help them in those ways. It makes me feel good.”

In a note home to parents, Lara wrote, “The time is here for most of our children to move on to kindergarten. … It has been a great year. I have enjoyed your children. I will miss the children very much. I want to thank you for your great help and participation.”

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