Jenette Dean loves children. The mother of three vowed at an early age to choose a career that involved youngsters.
For the last 26 years, Dean has worked with children of all ages. Most recently, though, she has headed the PlayGym educational program for children ages 4 months to 4 years old at the Creative Discovery Museum. She also teaches an early childhood educational class at Howard School of Academics and Technology.
Most recently, she started a class that consists mostly of German women and their children, the families of Volkswagen workers.
"It's an interesting class," she said. "I teach sign language in class, and they tell me that babies in Germany are not taught sign language, nor do babies participate in 'messy' activities until they are at least 1 year old. The moms are very enthusiastic."
Henry Schulson, Creative Discovery Museum executive director, said Dean is a resource for the museum because of her expertise in early childhood education and the creativity she brings to every project.
"Children and parents love her," Schulson said.
Q: What brought you to Chattanooga?
A: My husband is from Chattanooga. He grew up in Red Bank, but we met in Germany. I was a preschool teacher at an army base, and he was a lieutenant. We married in Denmark. When he retired from the military, we moved to Germany, Oregon, Kentucky and New York before coming here for him to teach ROTC at Ooltewah High School. I love it here. Chattanooga is a great family city.
Q: When did you begin working at the Creative Discovery Museum?
A: I started seven years ago. The program was founded 14 years ago by Donna Martin. I took over when she moved. It was the first early-childhood program in Chattanooga where parents came and took the class with their children.
Q: Why do you have classes for babies as young as 4 months old?
A: Seventy-five percent of a child's brain is developed in the first year and 90 percent in the first three years. I have lots of higher-educated parents in my classes who are interested in learning how to do brain-based learning exercises with their babies. Children used to be raised sitting in high chairs, then playpens and not getting brain stimulation until kindergarten.
Q: What advice do you give young parents?
A: Stay involved. Parents are surprised at the educational things they can do with their babies, even things like finger paint. A 4-month-old can finger paint. It's a sensory experience. A 12-month-old can paint with a brush or use a marker. Artwork helps with motor development and skills. Everything we do at PlayGym is designed to stimulate the brain. When a child is positively engaged, the brain is developing new pathways.
FACTFILE ABOUT HER
Q: We're always hearing about children spreading germs at school. Do you take precautions?
A: I have a lot of moms who are concerned but PlayGym is one of the cleanest places a child can be. After a child puts a toy in his or her mouth, the toy goes immediately into the sink and is cleaned. And, I've told the parents that if their child has a fever, they have to stay at home. PlayGym is a fever-free zone.
Q: Have you ever considered changing careers?
A: Not at all. I've been working with children for 26 years. It's part of who I am. I started volunteering with deaf children when I was in high school, and I knew then that I wanted to always work with children. I don't even think about retiring. I don't even think I'd quit if I won the lottery.
Q: Explain the program you teach at Howard.
A: The Howard program began six years ago with grant money. The first two years I worked as an adviser. We helped them set up the classroom in the high school to look just like the one we have here at the museum. Kim Davis, who is the early childhood teacher at Howard, taught the class the first two years. I have been teaching PlayGym classes there one or two days a week for four years. We have been given a grant by Johnson Foundation, which funds the Howard PlayGym. They also pay for me to have two interns from Howard per school year who are interested in the field of early childhood and who are graduating seniors. Ms. Davis and I co-teach the early childhood classes when they go to PlayGym. We pair the children in the onsite child care center with students who are enrolled in early childhood elective classes. Maurice Kirby is the on-site child care center director. It serves families in the community, some Howard teachers and a few students who have babies.