Kindergarten teacher’s creativity lauded

By: Loryll Nicolaisen Journal Staff Writer
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MEADOW VISTA — What do a fireplace bellow, marshmallows, vinegar, baking soda and balloons have in common? They’re all tools Cindy Tuisku used to teach her Sierra Hills kindergartners about the changing states of matter, and the difference between solids, liquids and gases. Tuisku, who has taught kindergarten at the Meadow Vista elementary school for 13 years, believes that to truly learn something, these little ones have got to experience it, to hold it in their hands, and, in some cases, to make a mess with it. “In kindergarten you can get a nice start on reading, on math, on academics, and you get to do more fun, creative stuff, art, science,” she said. Tuisku and her class are the first recipients of a Sugar Plump Fairies ARTrageous grant. The local group aims to provide funding for creative projects through this grant program. Tuisku recently look a folk art trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, bringing home some colorful wood carvings, as well as colorful metal magnets. “I thought, I could do this,” she said. She wrote a grant proposal, “Mexican crafts for creative kindergartners,” and crossed her fingers. The $500 from the Sugar Plump Fairies was enough to buy materials for all Tuisku’s students to make porcupine sculptures out of clay and toothpicks and tooled, painted metal art objects. There was even money to spare for the class to create not one, but two felted solar systems, which currently hang in the classroom. “I love to be able to have support to do these projects,” Tuisku said. “My husband always says kindergarten isn’t a job, it’s an expensive hobby.” Tuisku said her students were delighted by the thought of having helper fairies. “The kids were so excited about getting this money from the fairies,” she said. “They know they’ve got these little guardian fairies.” Tuisku said art projects and other aspects of hands-on learning help her young students internalize what they’re studying. “It grabs them and gives them an opportunity to express themselves and it gives them another way to communicate, and they’re producing something — you have this artwork you can share, and it all came from you,” she said. As part of her grant application process, Tuisku recently shared the art program with peers at the annual California Kindergarten Association conference. Tuisku said she enjoys being one of the conference’s “art divas,” teaching projects to fellow kindergarten teachers. This year’s conference, held in January, was particularly special for Tuisku — she received the Audrey Sanchez Teacher Enhancement Award, designed by the California Kindergarten Association to recognize excellence in early childhood education. “It was quite a shocker,” Tuisku said. “When I got the message that I had been chosen, I had to play it three or four times. I thought they just wanted me to sell tickets.” Ella Dobrec, Sierra Hills School principal, said it’s no surprise that Tuisku received both the Sugar Plump Fairies grant and the California Kindergarten Association award. “She’s very artistically inclined, as with all the staff. Whenever they go somewhere they’re always looking for something to bring back and incorporate,” Dobrec said. “I think one of her finer qualities of teaching is, she’s always willing to share her ideas. She works very hard to make sure there are wonderful opportunities for all kindergarten teachers.” The Journal’s Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at lorylln@goldcountrymedia. com, or comment online at