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Careers Through Education Month: Faculty Profile
Former Barton student uses real-world experiences to enhance online classroom experience
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Shara Neidenthal participates in free play with some of her students. Part of her child-care approach is to allow children to utilize their imagination to enhance their ability to problem solve and learn. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

As an associate faculty member of the Early Childhood Education Program at Barton Community College, Shara Neidenthal teaches cutting-edge childcare techniques. As owner of her own preschool, Neidenthal gets to practice what she teaches.

Neidenthal, who is also a former Barton student, opened Cornerstone Preschool last August in Russell. She incorporates one major child-care philosophy at Cornerstone called the Reggio Emilia Approach.

"It has a natural home feeling that helps the children feel more comfortable and competent, which in turn makes them more confident, and ultimately, more capable," she said. "The goal is to lower the levels of anxiety that can exist in the more formal and rigid classroom setting. The more comfortable a child is the more likely they are to learn."

Reggio Emilia also aims to incorporate settings and situations that encourage a natural progression of learning through imagination and discovery.

"I use a lot of natural types of toys or items made from materials such as wood that allow the children to be creative," Neidenthal said. "There are hardly any plastic toys."

The Reggio Emilia approach utilizes the physical layout of the building as well. Neidenthal said they favor an open environment with natural influences so that kids are more able to avoid a tunnel vision type of mental space.

"We utilize a lot of plants and animals so that they learn responsibility and it’s also aesthetically pleasing," she said. "I have huge windows that let in so much natural light that I don’t usually have to turn the lights on."

One other major facet of the approach is the idea of community involvement.

"Kids that age are egocentric, and they think of themselves and their own little world, so it helps to bring other people in from the community to speak and let them see that other people exist outside of their little existence and are doing other things," she said. "Cornerstone is right behind the grocery store and with the big windows they get to see the community in motion outside."

Neidenthal summarized why she chooses to implement this approach within her own preschool.

"The creativity and independence is really important to me. Also, the development of imagination is something I think is valuable," she said. "We live in a very technological age, so it takes a deliberate effort now to teach kids to use their imagination. It’s not just the ABCs and 123s, it’s more than that."

Instructor and Coordinator of Early Childhood Education at Barton Cheryl Couch said this approach is very cutting edge, and that it is being added into Barton courses. She said Kansas State University also recently began including it in their curriculum.

Barton offers certificate programs in infant and toddler education and care, and preschool education, as well as an associate of applied science degree and a associate degree to transfer on to a university. Students may also go on to pursue a teacher license with the state.

"Our program is very hands on and is designed to prepare students to have professional resources when they enter the workforce, no matter which avenue they choose to go down," Couch said.

For more information contact Couch, 620-786-1130, or e-mail