Near the corner of Northlake Blvd. and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road in The Acreage is Planet Kids Loxahatchee, noteworthy for being the only preschool in the local area to have implemented a formalized STEM (science, technology, education and math) program.
STEM has become a popular education curriculum tool to develop a workforce more competent in science and technology. However, starting such programs in preschool is unusual.
The school serves a total of 109 children. Most of the students come from within a five-mile radius and go on to attend Frontier and Pierce Hammock elementary schools, both of which are located nearby.
Laura James has been the director there for nine years. She has 29 years of educational experience and relocated to the area in the late 1970s.
“I decided to change our program because the children were bored,” James said. “Our program consisted of school, field trips and activities. We polled the students and found that their first choice was video games, but they were also intellectually curious about science — particularly things that explode, like the baking soda and vinegar volcano and Mentos in a bottle of soda.”
The science and technology program will help students as they move forward, she noted.
“STEM has been implemented in the public schools,” James said. “Our students can easily transition. H.L. Johnson Elementary School in Royal Palm Beach is a STEM choice school.”
Planet Kids Loxahatchee’s STEM curriculum began as a pilot program in the spring. It included art content, which causes some to refer to the program as “STEAM.” One of the earliest projects involved using recycling to create artwork.
The full program was then rolled out for the preschool’s 10-week summer curriculum during the months of June, July and August. Each day had a different plan laid out, with most weeks having a connective theme. In addition to on-site learning, the program included multiple field trips to several popular locations, including Lion Country Safari, Calypso Bay, the South Florida Science Museum and more.
One of the first activities involved hydroponic gardening. Students grew plants in containers placed in the windows. They were responsible for maintaining their plant for the course of the 10-week program and were allowed to take them home at the end.
The second week of June paid homage to the popular program Monster Fish, which incorporated the ancient Japanese art of Gyotaku fish prints — creating fish art by overlaying inked rice paper. Another popular activity that week involved racing hermit crabs that the students cared for over the summer. With outdoor activities always popular, the students learned how to cast a fishing line with the use of plastic hoops.
The third week of June was called “A Week of Fun” and included not simply a traditional magic show, but rather the explanation of the science behind the illusions.
YouTube videos have been utilized as a visual learning aid. One of the more popular videos with the students featured the late Tim Fort, known as the Kinetic King, who was featured on America’s Got Talent. The students recreated some of his kinetic explosions utilizing popsicle sticks.
Many of the students had an interest in equestrian events. Part of their education involved the study of horse racing and how the conditions of the track can affect a horse’s performance. The lesson concluded with students using their research to pick winners for June’s Belmont Stakes.
The level of excitement experienced by students participating in the STEM program resulted in several of their siblings electing to transfer to Planet Kids.
The school has 20 tablets that the students make use of, but James is quick to point out that they make sure that the devices are used appropriately. Some of the more familiar resources used by the students include Lego bricks and the popular game Minecraft. “You really have to think about it when playing Minecraft,” she said. “It’s a math builder with engineering. It also stresses teamwork.”
James sees her program as an advantage for the future. “Back in the day, 75 percent were hands-on learners and only 25 percent were visual learners,” she explained. “Technology is making [the students] visual learners. The world is connected now. The children are connected now.”
James went on to contrast the way children and adults approach new devices. “Adults become frustrated when their device doesn’t work,” she explained. “Children have such flexibility in the way that they learn technology. A child becomes excited as they figure out new features.”
Students at Planet Kids Loxahatchee are allowed a level of freedom in their choices of activities. “They take ownership when they choose for themselves,” James said.
Planet Kids Loxahatchee is located at 9267 Seminole Pratt Whitney Road. For more info., call (561) 784-5619 or visit www.planetkidsworld.com.