By CAROL SOUTH
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — Leveraging a combined 19 years in childhood education, Dan and Brittni Fuller created Pathways Preschool as an educational option for young children.
On December 17, their bright, airy home on Munson Avenue will welcome the first of their young students. As the New Year begins, they will build up to 12 students ages 2-5, attending three or more full days per week.
The couple purchased their home in May and spent the past six months working out details ranging from obtaining appropriate paperwork and permits to making shelving, manipulatives and puzzles to transforming their oversized living/dining room into a child's haven.
Years of dreaming and planning are coming together as the Fullers implement — after so long working for others — their vision. Everything from toys, music and outdoor play to guided learning, free play, group and one-on-one time has been shaped by years of education, practical experience and wisdom.
"We're really excited to get going," said Brittni Fuller, who has a bachelor's degree in early childhood education.
The foundation of Pathways Preschool rests in child-led play. Each decision made while setting up the program has been geared to guide," stimulate and nurture their future pupils.
Imaginative or dramatic play, for example, helps stimulate brain growth and provides excellent opportunities for socialization.
"Play is a child's work, it's how young children learn," said Dan, a Kalkaska native who has a master's degree in special education, a bachelor's degree in elementary education and an associate's degree in early childhood education. "We combine a lot of different components from curricula; we try to be very open."
Living and working not only together but using the same space for both does not faze the Fullers. They will keep certain living areas private for their lives but the majority of their home is dedicated to the preschool. Including an active garage workshop where they fashion toys, puzzles, games and other learning tools out of natural materials. Plus they have installed a variety of play equipment in their backyard.
"A lot of parents today are looking for a home-based environment," Dan Fuller said.
The couple met in Milwaukee and fell in love over the sandbox while working together at a preschool. Sharing time in that high-quality childcare setting in a disadvantaged area boosted their belief that early childhood education played a critical role in a child's future.
"A lot of brain growth occurs from age birth to six," said Brittni Fuller, an Iowa native.
The couple next moved to Seattle for a year. They worked in the same field together but their lives never took root in that urban environment.
Michigan's progressive stance toward early childhood education, including investing money in programs such as Great Start, lured them to the state. They also were surprised that the Seattle area showed minimal support for and interest in the development and education of young children.
The Fullers settled in Traverse City, specifically, because of the region's devotion to both children and quality education — including music and the arts.
After the move, they worked for a year in Head Start while searching for just the right location for their dream, which they named Pathways Preschool with the help of Dan's brother.
"This was the focus of our lives, we were talking about it while still in Milwaukee," Brittni Fuller said of opening their own facility.
The Fullers see their preschool endeavor as both reflecting and furthering the community's deep interest in and commitment to children.
"In the community context, we really want to support early childhood development," said Dan Fuller. "In Traverse City, the seeds are here."
For more information on Pathways Preschool, call 421-9148 or see www.pathwayspreschool.com.