Koryn Parker (’02, M.A. ’03) was riding a bus in Hawaii when she heard God say she needed to talk to Biola about creating a developmental preschool. She had only been teaching for two years before she pitched the idea to June Hetzel, dean of Biola’s School of Education.
“I have no idea why,” Koryn remembers saying, “I just feel like I need to give you this. I feel like Biola needs a preschool.” Fifteen years later, that idea became a reality when she founded Little Learners Exploration Academy (LLEA), an innovative Biola-affiliated preschool in Whittier, California.
What makes Little Learners Exploration Academy different from other preschools?
The biggest thing that’s different about LLEA is most preschools are one room. And I noticed when I took over a preschool for two years that the teachers were spending so much time just putting out materials and taking them back because we’re working with about three-minute [attention] spans. So I thought, what if we created really big areas — lands that they could go into — that were set up with all the materials they could ever want or dream and they could move around in those spaces? So that’s what we did. We have four “lands” and then our regular readiness rooms.
Can you tell us about one of these “lands?”
Little Land is like a really giant city. ... So we’ve got our restaurant. ... Right now it’s a bakery. Last month it was a pizzeria. The month before that it was a Starbucks. ... What we do here is called “prompt and play,” which means, it’s not that we direct all the children to one specific spot. We join them throughout the different spots and we bring out different themes.
Your mission statement is, “Loving and encouraging little bodies to develop and grow into whole people.” What’s one unique way LLEA helps develop the whole child?
We study an emotion every week. ... The goal is to teach children that emotions aren’t bad — it’s what we do with the emotions. And most of the time, especially at this age, emotions come out as anger because they can’t identify what they’re feeling. ... So we use a lot of mirrors to look at their face and talk about, what are you feeling right now? And then, what can we do with that feeling?
How is LLEA connected to Biola?
We work with Biola as a learning lab. ... I got to present to all the department heads at Biola about our program, and so now we have nursing majors coming and education majors coming, and I just signed a contract for speech and language students to come. ... There’s actually some nursing majors in here right now and they’re doing their units for their pediatrics class. They have to do eight hours of observation.
How does LLEA integrate faith with learning?
We don’t ask parents to be Christian to send their children to the preschool. ... We have a Bible curriculum and we do teach stories from the Bible and character traits and things like that, but it’s integrated in everything we do, in who we are. ... We talk about, “Who is Jesus?” We talk about creation and observing God’s wonderful world. Then we talk about prayer, memorizing God’s Word, telling others about Jesus. And then physical: how we love God with our bodies and how we serve God with our bodies. ... So yes, we have our Bible time, but it’s in everything.
Interview by Zachariah Jimison
Photo courtesy of Koryn Parker